The St. Louis County Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department, who is Caucasian, for the shooting death of Michael Brown, who was a young African-American, was not surprising to me at all. I’m confident that the rule of law (a term that was used a lot in reviewing this case) was upheld in the review of the evidence. I’m also not surprised by the variety of responses to the decision. Some were in favor of no indictment, while others wanted to see Wilson tried as a criminal. Those that believe an injustice has taken place will take the streets in protest and even overturn cars, burn down buildings, and steal from people who are not even involved in the case or the decision. Of course, the response to the response will largely condemn such behavior, but it does little to address the real issue. If anything, rioting creates a greater divide of the races and establishes imposing boundaries that surround any future dialogue about race.
This is true for evangelicals, as well. Ed Stetzer’s blog post about this issue is absolutely worth reading (I reposted it on my blog) because it does strike at the core of the deep-seated issues of race that go back to the days of slavery and the entrenchment of mistrust between the races throughout American history. Stetzer is right that evangelicals should not jump the gun and merely condemn the violence that comes from this decision. He’s also right that people do need to talk less and listen more to blacks about their own experiences. There is a need for unity within the body of Christ and we are to reach out to others to hear the other side of America from a largely oppressed and misunderstood race.
But once people do these very things, which can and will create greater understanding, what comes next?
These messages are certainly helpful and are meant to be an encouragement to evangelicals and to anyone who wants to gain understanding, but I also think it’s too much to ask people to completely ignore the bad behaviors or foolishness in the aftermath of the grand jury decision that create even more conflict, and yet require someone to have a dialogue about race. The vast majority of people, regardless of race, do not think it is appropriate to trash cars or neighborhoods to get attention. In fact, racial conflicts have often perpetrated the excuse for mobs to steal from others in some sort of Robin Hood-like entitlement. This has nothing to do with race, or even anarchy. This has everything to do with unrighteous justification of a philosophy–it is all about personal sin. Even during the Civil Rights Movement, arguably the most volatile time of unrest within this country, the overall message perpetrated by Martin Luther King and other leaders was non-violent protest, even in the face of the most extreme racial hatred and bigotry. I would not advocate for people to dialogue with those who blatantly sin and use justification for doing so. It won’t work because they won’t listen anyway. It certainly didn’t work during the Hough riots in Cleveland or the Watts riots in Los Angeles in the Sixties. All it did was irreparably harm innocent people and destroy neighborhoods. Neighborhood rioting didn’t solve any problems about race, and it won’t do it in Ferguson, either. We need to find the right audience for such a dialogue. That is the challenge for all people in this discussion, and especially for the evangelicals.
Truthfully, we don’t want to talk about sin in this discussion. We won’t even talk about it as we should among ourselves. We can readily point to others about their behaviors but we fail to acknowledge our own sinful behavior. We certainly won’t see it or bring it up in the media. We barely cover it within the walls of the church. Can we be honest about what creates the racial divide and start with our own sin? Our own need to be humble before God? Our own need for repentance?
Has their been injustice perpetrated by whites over blacks throughout history? Absolutely. Has there been white collar crime? Of course. Has there been black-on-black crime? Undoubtedly. Have people been swindled of their life savings? Have people been treated unfairly and suffered loss? Life is filled with injustices. God addresses these and all such injustice perpetrated by any man or woman, and it’s all the same to Him–it’s all sinful behavior:
But we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11 HCSB)
And this is the area that needs to be addressed after all of the dialogue takes place–the acknowledgment of sin. As tragic as the Michael Brown case is, Michael Brown was far from innocent. If anyone is being brutally honest about this case, the tragedy is not the perception of injustice from the lack of an indictment. It is the loss of a young man’s life who was clearly not following the Lord.
There is certainly a need for overall sensitivity to what is going on (and not merely brushing this off as not affecting someone who doesn’t live in Missouri), but in my opinion there should be a greater call for moral accountability for everyone involved. This needs to happen with the police, and it also needs to happen with the people they are sworn to protect. The concept of mistrust is well earned on both sides, because crime is rampant and because police have struggled with public anger and even within their own ranks of those who lawlessly exercise too much authority. All of this is rooted in selfishness, which is the foundation for all sinful behavior. Rather than pointing fingers at the races, can someone take a stand for righteousness? It starts with one person. Can it begin with you?
The people in Ferguson (or anywhere else) don’t get a pass on this issue if they choose to ignore the truth about Michael Brown’s case. There is seldom a good outcome for a person who willfully commits sin–there will eventually be a consequence. Full blown sin can indeed lead to death (James 1:15). I believe that once we see people begin the effort to really address these issues personally and within the family unit, which means going back to the basics, we will begin to see a like-minded approach to unity and reconciliation between the races. The evangelicals need to take the lead in these discussions. Let’s not treat sin as the third rail to avoid in such dialogue. It’s too late for Michael Brown, but it’s not too late for those who humble themselves before Jesus Christ and seek his truth, wisdom and knowledge. We all have a responsibility to seek Christ and children of all races to raise and bring up in the right way under His guidance.
I’m thankful that we have a Savior that gives us everything that we need, including mercy and grace, to forgive me for my sin and to help me when I need it most. That is what everyone needs to talk about. That’s how we need to go deeper than just talking about race.