#BlackLivesMatter as a Secular Black Political Theology: Ethical and Practical Implications of the first New Black Social Movement of the 21st Century

Kenneth D. Johnson is affiliated with the William J. Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies, in Boston. The following paper was presented at the 2016 Telos Conference, held on January 16–17, 2016, in New York City. For news about upcoming conferences and events, please visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

Introduction

The spate of killings of unarmed African American males by police and vigilante residents has continued to roil public opinion in the black community, leading to various forms of social protest, in particular by varied groups of young adult African Americans.

Preeminent among these groups is #BlackLivesMatter, which now aspires to become a national movement, sometimes in coalition with other contemporary groups formed near the same time, and displacing older Civil Rights groups and the Black Church’s ethical and protest traditions.

While #BlackLivesMatter has partly instrumentalized Black Church social protest tradition, it has done so in the service of a fundamentally secular set of ethical commitments. In the process, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has discarded the internal resources of self-critique that Black Church ethical praxis provides.

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