A Church’s and Pastor’s Response to Ferguson

UnknownIt’s Tuesday November 25th and I’m sitting at home watching CNN. Earlier today I ran into a friend who encouraged me – implored me – to respond to what’s happening in the news. I don’t feel qualified, but I do feel obligated.

Let me start this way – I’m not black. I’m not poor. I’m don’t live in Ferguson. I’ve never been a police officer and I’ve rarely fired a gun and never at a person. I can’t pretend to know what it feels like, and I don’t claim to. I’m a white pastor in his 40s living in Oklahoma City. Should I even say anything?

I often speak to things that I don’t exactly know about. I pastor women and call them to faith and repentance, even though I’ve never had that experience in my life. I haven’t been single for over 20 years, but I sit with men and women who are single all the time. I’m not divorced. I’m not Asian or black or Hispanic.

So I’m both reluctant but also sympathetic. It seems to me there is a broiling anger, one that “the facts” don’t exactly line up with. I don’t know what happened in the actual incident. No one does. We can try our best to reconstruct the facts and come to some conclusions. We can pour over the evidence. We can debate. We can protest. We can wonder. But we can’t know.

I do know that Ferguson is overwhelmingly black. I do know that only 3 of the 53 police officers are black. I do know that Michael Brown died. I do know that Darren Wilson shot and killed him on August 9th, 2014. After that, things get fuzzy for me as to the specifics.

Why were/are only three of 53 police officers black? Was that because only three applied? Was that because the process was disciminatory? Was that because of injustice in Ferguson or in St. Louis or in our nation?

Was this a fair grand jury? Was this handled properly? I have no idea. None. I couldn’t say. It feels fishy, but I don’t know what happened. I know that the people who live there seem to think it’s very very wrong, wrong enough to take the streets in Ferguson. In fact, people did that all over the nation. I wonder, What would it take for me to do that?

Why was the verdict released at 8pm on a Monday night? Why was this handled this way? Was this really the contingencies that were prepared for? Really?

Did the police attack people with tear gas? Was that justified? Why did people feel like they needed to go violent?

Why are people going another step and looting and rioting? Is that because people don’t feel like the justice system protects them? Certainly. Do you know what you would do if you felt like the system doesn’t protect you? I don’t. I’m protected. I’m privileged. I don’t think I would throw bricks, but I do know that there is evil lurking within me. Racism. Hatred. And I want people to pay. I want justice, even if it’s not directly associated with anything that happened. It’s easy to say that I would or wouldn’t do things, but I don’t know.

Racism is real. It’s present and very real. It lurks and it’s both overt and covert. It’s wrong in every way, and most people don’t ever want to admit it. It’s real in Ferguson. It’s real in Oklahoma City and all over the country and the world.

God hates injustice. He hates it personally and he hates it culturally and he hates it institutionally.

So what do we do? What should we do?

– Let’s pray. That may seem so trite and “Christian” but it’s powerful and effective. Pray for grace, mercy, justice, peace and kindness. Pray for repentance all around.

– Let’s continue on. The church is by nature – or is supposed to be – subversive. My belief is that a Jewish rabbi died to save my sins and redeem my life. Every week I gather with others to take into my life his body and blood. I take time out of my busy week to hear something, to say something and to do something.

– Let’s listen. You may be reading your favorite news source. I’m not sure if you have changed your mind or if you have confirmation bias. I’m not sure that we all need to pour into black churches and black communities in the next few weeks and months. But we do need to talk to our black friends – wait, do you have black friends? Are you asking them what they think? Are you listening to them or are you dismissing them?

Listen. Befriend. Show up. Stay around. Don’t just try to fix anything. Be for someone and something instead of blaming and insisting that your framework is the right one and you understand what it’s like.

– Let’s do something different. I’m not sure what you should do. Perhaps we could support black communities. Perhaps we could work on getting more black police officers. Perhaps we could consider that we ourselves don’t know what to do, and we could ask for help for our own lives. We could admit things. We could pray for things. We could practice kindness and forbearance. We could speak up against injustice whenever we see it. We could work on things in our own neighborhoods and speak up for those who don’t have the same voice we have.

– And let’s not pretend this is something easy. It’s pretty easy for me to watch the news and write a blog and come to a judgment. But that’s not the same thing as walking with people where they are. I don’t want people to patronize me or dismiss me, yet I so readily do that to others. Let’s work and let’s pray and let’s be different and let’s trust that God will make all things right, all things new. The church should – must – be on the front ends of this both personally and institutionally.

Headshot 2 Nicole Hager