Here are the facts: in August, a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed African American teenager. Yesterday, the prosecutor in the case reported that a Grand Jury decided not to indict the officer on any of the charges available. Last night, the streets of Ferguson erupted into violence and chaos.
In light of those facts, I wanted to discuss the deeper issues – because in any case like this, there are always deeper issues.
As I watched person after person interviewed about this case, I remembered back to my adolescence when the OJ Simpson trial was about to end. It was 6th period at Byrnes High school, and the white students were on pins and needles hoping the verdict wouldn’t turn out bad because fights had been threatened at our school. Watching the news break last night reminded me of both that and the Rodney King verdict and ensuing riots in LA.
In LA, there was an organized mob that had made their minds up based solely on race and not on the facts of the real issue. We like to believe this country has come a long way when it comes to race, but the truth is that nearly everyone I have talked to about this situation made their minds up based on the color of their own skin. Whites believe the police officer should have done what he did, and blacks believe the kid is innocent and is the victim.
As a result, when the court failed to indict officer Wilson, the true color of this country came out once again.
Truthfully, many white people believe they do someone a great favor if they invite an African American into their white homes. They believe a lack of racism is simply not hating the other race. What they fail to see is that a true lack of racism is loving others – regardless of their outer appearance – as we love ourselves.
Immediately in this case, the church has taken sides based on the color of skin and not the real issue at hand. It’s not time to ‘take back America’ as many of my Christian friends like to say. For the first time, we must act like Jesus and go love our brothers and sisters across the metaphorical aisle.
The most ironic thing is that if this were taking place in Haiti or another nation right now, the church would send aid and do what it could to help. But since some in the church see the protesters, rioters, and looters as thugs, we simply turn our backs and condemn rather than comfort the legitimate hurt that many of them are feeling.
I find the actions of the people looting and taking advantage of the situation sad at best, but they need Jesus. The most critical issue is not the lack of an indictment but the lack of hope. In Ferguson right now, there is a lack of hope, a lack of grace, and most certainly a lack of peace. It won’t be found in the National Guard, and it won’t be found in a speech by the President. It will only be found in the love of believers like us. If Jesus were walking on this planet today, there’s no doubt He would have walked straight to Ferguson and loved on the least lovable. If He would, why won’t we?
For too many Christians for too long, the advancement of the gospel has revolved around personal comfort, personal conviction, and personal convenience. For too many Christians for too long, real issues such as race relations have been swept under the rug and relegated to the status of “‘that’s just the way it is.” If nothing else, the disaster currently taking place is providing a platform for discussion. And discussion is what we desperately need – no more Christian acceptance of the status quo.
To my black friends, it is time we come together and discuss these issues with honesty and stop using kid gloves, worried about political correctness. It’s time to stop violence! Not just white to black or black to white, but all violence. It is hypocritical to think that violence will end when violence is celebrated in entertainment and music. We become what we celebrate.
Whites must stop the name calling and racial profiling, and blacks must stop giving in to a cultural norm that has led to crime in most major cities where gangs are celebrated and considered normal. The Ferguson issue is terrible and very sad, but it could be a catalyst for change that is needed in this country.
It is NOT just a black and white issue; it’s a clear picture of the need for Jesus and His great love across all lines and hate. At the point that black and white Christ followers come together, love each other, and embrace each other’s culture with the hope of Jesus being what brings us together – we have a chance to change the world. Until then, we are playing games and believing in an ideal that is impossible because it literally goes against what Christ came to accomplish. Hate is the greatest killer in this country – not cancer, AIDS, Ebola, or any other disease. We must stop worrying about Republican vs. Democrat or black vs. white. We need to worry about saved or lost, hopeful or hopeless.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue – regardless of whether Wilson should have been indicted or not – the reality is that there are lingering issues of race that need to be confronted. There are discussions that need to happen, and there is change that needs to take place. There are members of society who are so disgusted with their perception of where they stand in the world that they are willing to burn buildings to gain the attention they feel they are denied. Perception is reality, and as long as people perceive that they are “less than” or discriminated against, our work as believers living out the gospel is unfinished. Our calling to love the least of these is undone, and our mission as love-bearers is unfulfilled.
Pastor Mark Pangel