How Ferguson Can Kill You, Too
A dear brother, a white brother, recently told me he drove to a low-income, rough, inner-city neighborhood. Willingly, he’ll uproot his family from their cozy, opulent street to move there to join a forthcoming predominantly black church plant. Gently padding his humble car’s steering wheel, with calloused palms worn over decades, he saw a towering black man standing in the median. His lanky dreadlocks would be his most striking feature if it weren’t for his sign. It read:
“RACISTS KILLIN’ US IN FERGUSON.
WE GON’ KILL ‘EM BACK.”
My friend’s knuckles whitened as he clutched the wheel a little tighter. I can’t blame him for then thinking of the potential dangers that lay before he and his blonde, frail-bodied wife — their peach-skinned kiddos in the backseat. “Should we turn back?” could have been his perfectly legitimate question. Still, confident in God, he drove on.
Ferguson has revealed and pushed a myriad of positions – some passive, some visceral, while others are well thought through. Make no mistake: all of us, though, in some way, have reacted. Some detachedly wait for more facts, but many use this position to cover their own willful ignorance. I confess to my shame that I, a black man, employed that same thought at first. Causing this thinking is a cultural detachment that undergirds a prideful fear that paralyzes the “We just don’t knows” to seem like, to their minority brothers and sisters at least, “We just don’t cares.” Others of the majority sadly, and often subconsciously, stay entrenched in vile stereotypes – “the thug had it coming.” All the while many minorities cry out in anger, pain, and confusion.
Of course the ever-ephemeral media is turning their energies to the next drama –the Ray Rice tapes of the Twitterverse and so forth. But what of those who cannot scroll down their news-feed to the next hot topic, those of us still dealing with race issues in our homes, offices, and churches? The call-outs have been rightly made, but what next? Not so much what do we think next, but what can we practically do next? Here’s my four thoughts, for those in the church, for what they’re worth:
1. Lovingly think of an application and apply it:
Race and reconciliation are convoluted waters. While swimming in them, it’s easy to be frustrated with a fatigue that demands, “Someone fix this!” – a fatigue that experientially proves human relationships, and thus communication, are broken along with mankind. So it’s natural to and right to want this fixed.
Yet the tendency is all too often to sit back and demand that someone else fix it, usually through some type of magic-bullet solution– a poignant application that can be swiftly and universally applied. A quick fix.
The irony, though, is that when you ask the demanders what they envision such a solution to practically be, they fumble through what amounts to no vision at all. Suddenly, what’s been made to sound so easy to come by ain’t all that easy when you try to come by it.
Hear me squarely – to desire these solutions is a good thing. But it’s the easy thing. To think of them and apply them is much harder.
So if you’re demanding a solution, why not divert some of that energy to coming up with a solution and then practice it. As a Christian, I can’t endorse Ghandi’s theology. But I do love truth, and he has some of it in saying, “be the change you want to see the world.” Brothers and sisters – there is no magic bullet to fix these messy race relations fraught with centuries of painful history. But there are principles we can apply, as churches and individuals, from Scripture. These take thought, time, great patience, loving action, and sacrifice. And their fruit may lie as seeds in the ground ‘til we do.
2. Lovingly listen to those different from you and study for them.
So Scripture’s principles and commands must be the Christian’s marching orders. Scripture says that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (). One way to do that is to ask questions before you assume, accuse, or speak. If you’re seeking to empathize, listening is an indispensable part of the process.
But Scripture also says that we should speak with some knowledge, lest we prove ourselves fools (). Many people (myself included) often let that fear deter them. So we take the easy route – shrinking back instead of studying up to speak with some wisdom. Now staying quiet may be godly humility, or it may be sin.
So why not take the hard route and study up so you can speak up. Is it maybe that hard routes don’t feel good and thus right? Good things can be hard. Love is hard. So we should listen to those with differing perspectives and study. This demands thinking of yourself after others – a basic Christian mindset (). A brother said it well to me: “we err personally when we take our own personal crusades and try to force them on others.”
Now the difficulty here is that we’re all busy. Between ISIS, Ray Rice, Ferguson, and your kids’ hard day at school – what issue do you choose amidst the fray? Well again, Scripture must guide. The most fundamental principle Scripture gives is “to love your neighbor as yourself” ().
So pick the issue(s) that’s most affecting, well, your neighbor. If you live in a small town and Ferguson is the issue – think on that issue. If you live in a small town and a local rape case is the issue, then think on that issue, regardless if it holds national attention, so that you can love those closest to you.
A warning, though: let’s not consider ourselves so preoccupied that we think our issues must be mutually exclusive – so that when we’ve tackled one we’ve done our duty. No, Christians discipline themselves for godliness (). We should have time to pray for our brothers and sisters persecuted in other countries and think about those issues most plaguing the person next door. And after studying and listening, we should act by speaking and giving of our gifts.
3. Lovingly call out willful ignorance and deploy your gifts.
One practical thing Christians must do is lovingly call out their brothers and sisters who choose to be ignorant. And this need not be unilateral — whites to blacks and visa versa. Whites must call out whites. Blacks must call out blacks. But this proves difficult given that Christendom in the U.S. is no more. is not the mantra of American culture – is. “The smile has become the standard of love,” my pastor says. So our proclivity is to hurt man by fearing man as we forgo speaking in ways that might help them, though it may challenge them.
Yet we must not let brothers and sisters simply shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, I just don’t know” or assume “America is post-racial!” Hear me, some people need time to think. I’m not speaking of reproving them, but rather those who refuse to think. Realize: you can be the very means of pushing someone to see that this issue is affecting those close to them, and that to love those people better means they must strive to have enough familiarity on the situation to at least be able to genuinely say, “I’m sorry” and ask, “what is this like from your perspective?”
Yet let’s couple our rebukes with encouragements. We can offer condolences to those hurting regardless of how different they are than us; for if one is hurting, all are hurting (). Christian, are these dark, painful times not a wonderful time to employ your spiritual gifts?
Here’s an example: One person may have the gift of faith (). What a wonderful opportunity to go to the brother wrestling with the goodness of God in this time and help build his faith by speaking an encouraging word.
Or maybe your gift is serving (). Why not have someone who is unlike you over for a meal and ask them to share their perspective? Not comfortable leading that conversation? Invite someone over who is gifted in leading or exhorting (v. 8)! The body is wonderfully gifted by the Spirit of God and thus uniquely equipped to act, as united individuals together, for the common good.
But it seems many of these smaller acts, like taking a brother out to lunch, are quickly deemed “trite” because they’re not MLK’s march on Washington. Yet I think we pass on these little, mundane deaths because we simply don’t want to die to self at times, especially when others may not notice. Laziness loves attention. So we’d rather eat by ourselves and have our ease with a side of arrogance. We’ll shrug, and think that because we don’t do the greatest act, we shouldn’t do any act.
Yet could there be 10 mundane deaths for us to pursue, 10 ways Ferguson may spur the killing of sin in ourselves for the loving of others? I am near convinced this battle of winning more and more people to love those that are other will be won at the individual level. It may begin with the King’s marching, the Anyabwile’s crying out, but it must trickle down to common individuals dying to self to love the other. That’s why the Bible is chalk-full of one-another commands! And that is why we must know it.
4. Lovingly know your Bible, lovingly pray your Bible, and lovingly act your Bible.
Knowing our Bibles makes us better and better lovers of others. It’s our Bibles that command us to pray (). Sadly, it seems that prayer is increasingly regarded as useless – something I think reflects a growing, systemic American individualism. It’s seen as something we can do, but something that’s not really doing anything. What foolishness! Prayer is always practical. It’s something every believer can do. It’s God’s appointed means of bringing about the tangible changes we may long for. If you’re despairing, why not borrow the words of men like Jehoshaphat, who prayed such mighty, humble words: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Christian, return over and over to this Bible and know it.
Because it’s our Bibles that say all human relationships are corrupt (), but that it is possible to be content in every situation (). It’s our Bibles that say we cannot transform the world; God will (). Yet it’s our Bibles that say God still wants his people in the world, too ()! And it’s our Bibles that give us models like the Good Samaritan to glean from.
First, the Good Samaritan didn’t wait for all the facts before he helped the wounded man. He could’ve said, “Well, this guy could be dangerous…” But instead he acted. He generously employed his spiritual gift of contributing (). He literally put his money where his mouth was. And notice a second interesting point: He went about his business and came back to the wounded man (v. 35). His service didn’t ruin him completely. And even if it had, was Christ not ruined completely for our sake?
So, Christian ask yourself, have you become the passing priest who is too preoccupied to love? Who is too busy wrestling with who your neighbor actually is that you conveniently forgo them? Remember, it was a man trying to get out of love, and into heaven, who asked the Lord Jesus who his neighbor was (v. 29).
Here’s some good reads to study up on Ferguson and loving those who are other:
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (ESV)
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV)
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (ESV)
7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; (ESV)
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)
7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. (ESV)
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (ESV)
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (ESV)
7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; (ESV)
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (ESV)
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (ESV)
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (ESV)
17 “For behold, I create new heavens
and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
or come into mind. (ESV)
15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. (ESV)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (ESV)
8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (ESV)