Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors is pushing back against televangelist Pat Robertson’s claim that the movement she helped build is “destroying” Christianity, calling Robertson’s suggestion “inflammatory and dangerous.”
The 90-year-old Christian Broadcasting Network founder had disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement as a “stalking horse for a very, very radical anti-family, anti-God agenda.”
“They’re talking about destroying, essentially, Christianity as being racist,” Robertson said Thursday on an episode of his show “The 700 Club.”
“Of course we want to stand with oppressed people against police brutality, but we don’t want to go along with a lesbian, anti-family, anti-capitalist, Marxist revolution. We don’t want that for America.”
Cullors defended Black Lives Matter in a statement Saturday, pointing out that Christians are part of the movement.
“To insinuate that our movement is trying to destroy Christianity is disgraceful and outright offends our Christian siblings who are a part of our movement against racial injustice,” Cullors said.
“Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation recognizes that our vision may not be agreed upon by everyone, but to blatantly disregard our work and equate it to destroying a religion is reckless,” she added.
Christians have, in fact, been part of the protests of police brutality against Black Americans for years, with clergy members acting as buffers and mediators between protesters and police ― or getting arrested themselves in acts of civil disobedience.
Robertson’s comments about the Black Lives Matter movement came as the television host reflected on protests in Rochester, New York, over the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died one week after police placed a “spit hood” on his head and forcibly restrained him during a mental health crisis. Footage of the incident was released Sept. 3, a little over a week after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and after a summer of protests against police brutality and racism.
Robertson had previously indicated some sympathy toward racial injustice protests. In June, he criticized President Donald Trump’s response to protests in Washington, D.C., after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis.
On Thursday, Robertson said he believed that Black lives matter. But he added that the movement had been “hijacked” by “radicals” who are seeking a “Marxist revolution” and want to upend capitalism and “the nuclear family.”
Robertson has long drawn criticism for his inflammatory positions on Islam, LGBTQ issues and feminism. His “700 Club” has considerable reach ― about 650,000 U.S. households watch Robertson’s show every day, according to CBN. The network also has close ties to President Donald Trump’s administration and regularly features high-ranking White House officials as guests on its programs.
While Robertson’s views aren’t always mainstream ― even within American evangelicalism ― his take on Black Lives Matter isn’t that far removed from those of his fellow white evangelicals. In June, J.D. Greear, president of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, publicly stated that he believes that Black lives matter. But Greear was careful to separate himself from the organization behind the movement, claiming it had been “hijacked by some political operatives.”
Most white evangelicals don’t believe that police killings of Black Americans are part of a broader pattern of racism in policing, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey conducted in June. About 72% ― more than any other religious group surveyed ― said instead that police killings of Black Americans are isolated incidents.
Cullors co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 in response to the acquittal of a neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teen, in Florida. Cullors has said in the past that she believes the fight for racial justice is a “spiritual fight.” She has incorporated prayer and spiritual rituals into her activism for Black lives.
A few days before Robertson’s comments, Cullors accused the right of “demonizing” the movement and policing its spirituality.
“Attacks on African faith practices are not new. Attacks on indigenous faith practices are not new. In fact, even attacks on charismatic practices in the black church are not new,” Culllors wrote in an Instagram post on Sept. 5. “These are all ways that white supremacy try to strip Black folks of divine salvation and the right to connect to the divine.”
Cullors, now a practitioner of the West African tradition Ifa, was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. In her Saturday statement, she said she believes “Christianity was built on empathy; not hate.”
“It is our hope that Pat Robertson and anyone else who believes we are destroying Christianity with our work would join us in our movement as we will continue to galvanize these moments of division and false character accusations as fuel to move our country and world forward,” Cullors said.