Open Letter to the Leadership of #Urbana15 and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship


By Lisa Sharon Harper  01-05-2016

People across the evangelical world were stunned after Michelle Higgins’ prophetic talk at Urbana15. On the last day of the conference, InterVarsity issued this board approved statement in support of the message of Black Lives Matter.


Open Letter:

Dear Leadership of Urbana15 and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship,

Thank you for taking a stand.

As the first major evangelical parachurch organization to take a strong stand in support of the message of the Black Lives Matter movement, you – the leadership of InterVarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference – demonstrated courageous alignment with the Legacy of the Urbana Conference, as well as profound commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Since Urbana 1967 when 200 black students filled a back room and organized to protest the lack of representation of their voice from the main stage in a similar time of unrest, to Tom Skinner’s prophetic Urbana 1970 speech, to the decision to see and address the plank of racial division in the eyes of evangelicals in the 1990s, to Brenda Salter McNeil’s call to be the reconciling generation in 2000, to the moment First Nations people first spoke and danced on Urbana 2003’s main stage the Urbana Missions Conference has been used in the hands of God to confront the colonizing impulse within the white evangelical church—the impulse to ignore or denigrate the image of God within some while assuming its full presence in others—the impulse that has led missionaries to unwittingly exercise spiritual, cultural, and economic colonization and subjugation of the image of God around the world. Since 1967 Urbana has served as a key platform where God has called out that impulse, called it sin, and lifted up the full humanity of all peoples and their capacity to lead.

The Urbana 2015 Conference took place in the heart of downtown, St. Louis, blocks away from key moments of protest in the Ferguson/Black Lives Matter movement. Ferguson—ground zero of the Black Lives Matter movement—is fifteen minutes up the road from the America’s Center. Ferguson was the first place where the rising generation (young people the same age as many Urbana attendees) stood up, organized, and pushed back against oppression on a scale unseen since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.

Furthermore, we recognize that you, the leadership of Urbana 2015, demonstrated tremendous courage to display an unpopular, but central tenet of Christian faith, that the bodies of the poor and oppressed are central to God’s work in the world. Contrary to the idea that our souls are divorced from our bodily lives, support of the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrates the truth that the Word became flesh, that the beloved kingdom is a place where we live and breathe in community with God and with one another. In supporting Black Lives Matter, the Urbana Conference participates in a centuries old evangelical legacy. A legacy that participated in abolition, prohibition, suffrage and worker’s rights. It is a legacy that is grounded in the belief that Jesus’ life and work restores our humanity and that to follow Jesus we must also participate in that restoration in the lives of those who are perpetually dehumanized in our contemporary society.

Jesus’ life opened the possibility for others to see women in new ways, to acknowledge and heal those wounded by systemic injustice, to challenge and change structures that subjugate, and to re-imagine new modes of ethnic identity. The people named in Matthew 25—the hungry, the thirsty, the immigrants, the imprisoned, the impoverished, and the sick—were not politically correct causes. These were people, made in the image of God, with whom Jesus identified. In a sense, “the least” embody the very miracle of the incarnation and the substance of his redemptive mission in the world. We affirm your choice to enter into the bodily substance of Christ’s mission; the restoration of the image of God in those who are repeatedly robbed of their lives and dignity each day. We also affirm that your support of Black Lives Matter does not diminish your commitment to individual sin. Rather it names the sins that those in power wish to hide or somehow veil under the rhetoric of ‘law.’

Read full letter and more – HERE