When the Fires Burn Out…Then What?
Ferguson, Mo. has been the epicenter of media coverage the past few days, as a grand jury delivered a decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr. The aftermath of the grand jury’s decision has been frenzied, destructive and sadly predictable. Lost in the unmitigated media coverage, protests across the country, and the political posturing is a series of tragedies that requires faithful believers to examine our own hearts about many issues that have come to the surface from this event.
While there has been no shortage of opinions on Ferguson from the media, blogs and talking heads this is an issue that the church must acknowledge and speak to because when the protests end and the fires burn out the gospel is the only hope we have.
I am a white man who has lived predominantly around other white people, so from the beginning, I admit that there is much of this I don’t understand and will never understand. This must be recognized and admitted, but I am also a father of four adopted children, none of whom are fully white, and all are at least one half black…so my heart breaks over Ferguson and for so many other events of which I am unaware.
Ferguson was truly a tragedy in every sense imaginable. Forgotten in the politicizing, race-baiting, and racial responses is that a life was lost. A young man created in the image of God no longer reflects that image. A mother and father are experiencing the pain and hurt that most will never feel in losing a child. While these are the most profound, they are not the end of the tragedies.
A community feels victimized and betrayed by their government and law enforcement. While this is a source of great debate, nonetheless, it is the reality of their perception and leads to great hostility. Law enforcement feels blamed and criticized for simply doing their job of public service that often places them in danger. A country with a painful history regarding race relations and civil rights finds itself fractured once again. Blacks see what happened to Michael Brown, Jr. as a regular occurrence of police brutality and unfair treatment where blacks are the targets and police routinely get away with violent acts. Whites tend to see these events as isolated tragedies rather than examples of systemic problems and therefore do not understand the protests, violence, and riots done in response. Who is right? Probably some of both, though it is difficult for either side to see that.
When the fires burn out and the problems still remain, what the world needs to see is a racially-diverse church unified by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, offering hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
So, what can Christians take away and learn from Ferguson? Here are some thoughts:
- Racism is a reality. It is as old as Genesis 3 and will be with us until the Lord returns. To ignore it or to assume that it does not affect all us in some way is naïve at best and sinful at worst. To assume that our new birth eradicated all racist biases we might have is sinful as well. Each of us needs to look deep within our hearts, examine ourselves, and repent.
- Racism can be both active and latent. What are our attitudes as we watch what we see on the news? What do we think about when these events are brought to our minds? We have to be careful that we don’t think our consciences are clear on this issue simply because we don’t engage in overt racism. Latent racism that exists in our minds and thoughts is just as dishonoring to God.
- Our politically-correct culture is absolutely destructive towards encouraging dialogue and efforts that could move us in the right direction. Color and race is real and obvious to all and part of being created in the image of God. It can be talked about and needs to be.
- There were no winners and losers in what happened in Ferguson. We all lost, and we continue to lose when needless death occurs. The fact of the matter is that Michael Brown, Jr. did not need to die. Many decisions could have been made that would have kept that from happening. “Us v. Them” categories are not only unhelpful but inherently unbiblical for those of us who have been born again into God’s family. Our first responses should be empathy and sadness, not winning.
- While the answers are not simple, the statistical facts remain that black men are far often more targeted and more likely to be the recipients of violence from law enforcement than white men. They live with this fear (real or perceived) on constant basis. I’m grateful for the testimonies of Thabiti Anyabwile, Voddie Baucham, Anthony Bradley, and Eric Mason as they biblically and faithfully explain this.
- There have been many claims made about “the devaluing of black lives” or that “black lives don’t matter.” This is probably not completely unfounded, as our country’s history bears this testimony and those attitudes have not completely gone away. But this is part of bigger narrative. While incidents like Ferguson make the headlines and fill hours on cable news, the truth remains that greatest danger facing black males is not law enforcement or the justice system but other black males. Black on black violent crime is far more likely than mistreatment than law enforcement and is truly a devaluing of black lives. The only other place more dangerous for black men (and black women) is in the womb, as abortion has devastated the black community. This is certainly not standing up for the worth of black lives created in the image of God. More than 70 percent of babies born in the black community are born out of wedlock and will grow up in fatherless homes. This is the single greatest issue facing the dignity of black lives.
- Peaceful protesting to bring awareness to injustices and tragedy is not only a right we grant in this country but an important component in any movement of change. Looting, violence, and destroying your local communities, however, take away from the important issues and become issues themselves and must stop.
Observations are easy, but solutions are much harder. I agree with Dr. Eric Mason who recently said that “discipleship in the church must include a theology of unity (Eph. 4). We must dialogue about race without polarizing our need to love one another.” I worry for my son who will face things that I have never had to encounter. I don’t look forward to the talks we will have to have as he becomes a man about the world that awaits him. I long for the day when the black community will be led by and look to men like Thabiti Anyabwile, Voddie Baucham, Eric Mason, Anthony Bradley, and Lecrae rather than the self-appointed and self-serving men who are in prominent positions today. I listened to Al Sharpton the other day speak to how they were waiting on and needing the federal government to step in and fix this situation in Ferguson. But what Sharpton and all of us have to remember is the solution to this is the Gospel. So much of what we are observing, especially in the responses, are signs of hopelessness that only the Gospel can answer. When the fires burn out and the problems still remain, what the world needs to see is a racially-diverse church unified by the Gospel of Jesus Christ offering hope in a seemingly hopeless world.