Justice, they say, is blind. People, we know, are not.
As the grand jury decision on an indictment for officer Darren Wilson was read in Ferguson, Missouri tonight a few questions ran through my mind and heart:
As a PASTOR, what do I tell the church I serve regarding this decision?
As a FATHER, what do I teach my girls about this decision?
My answers to those two questions were strikingly similar.
Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a legal expert, nor am I in law enforcement. I have friends in both professions. I know people who stand on both sides of this argument, many defending the actions of Officer Wilson, and many crying discrimination and murder. I have friends who are black, friends who are white, and friends who don't identify as either. I am very good friends with republicans and I hang out with several democrats and independents. EVERYONE has an opinion and EVERYONE'S opinions are heavily influenced by their feelings, their upbringing, and what they hear and choose to believe in the media outlets they prefer.
I'm not writing this to pick a side or prove a point. The tragedy and loss of this event demands much more respect than turning the events of August 9 into an opinion-driven political debate. The truth is, 12 people (9 white, 3 black; 7 men, 5 women) were asked to hear as much testimony as possible to determine whether an indictment should be made.
I was not one of the 12. Chances are, neither where you.
So, how do I, as a white, middle class, midwestern (living in the south), Christian man response to the grand jury's decision? Here's what is running through my head tonight:
1) WE LIVE IN A GREAT COUNTRY.
That may be a strange place to start, but I believe it is true. I truly believe that America is an amazing and wonderful place to live. This is a country that allows people to argue and debate, at the top of their lungs, everything that the government is doing, while the government protects their freedom to do so. It's a country where people are elected into office and every citizen is given the right to share their voice in that process. We live in a country that, in theory, treats everyone the same, established on a few "unalienable rights," beginning with: "ALL men are created equal."
2) WE LIVE IN A FLAWED COUNTRY.
That being said, it isn't a perfect country. Our system is flawed. Our politicians are flawed. Our government is flawed. WE are flawed. It's one thing to write that "all men are created equal," it's another thing entirely to LIVE it. If we're being honest, and by WE, I mean EVERYBODY, we all may well believe that men are created equal, but we don't necessary believe that all men should be treated equally.
I do not believe that America is the be-all-end-all country that will save the world. I do not subscribe to any thoughts, theologically or otherwise, that God has chosen the U.S.A. to be His representatives here on earth. I in NO WAY believe that every other country in the world should be like us. I AM advocating that one of the strengths of our country is it's messiness. We are a mess of messed up people, and it's in that messiness and uniqueness that we are supposed to come together, as a nation, and move forward as ONE. We are supposed to be a country that embraces differences and challenges in hopes that our uniquenesses will make us stronger. That being said ...
3) WHITE CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY.
In general, we don't. We can say that the Michael Brown shooting is about more than a race issue, and I believe that it is, but it has exposed some very nasty truths about America that we have been pushing under the rug for decades, if not centuries. And it has revealed much about the separatist nature of the American church.
This summer we took a look at the movie "12 Years a Slave" as a church. In preparing for the sermon I must have watched the movie 10 times in one week. It's a brutal movie. Very hard to watch. Do you want to know what I was the most bothered by? The beating scenes were very difficult to sit through, and there is one rape scene that I simply could not bear to watch. No doubt the brutality of the slave-era in American was unconscionable. But what bothered me the most was the inability ... no, that's not the right word ... the unwillingness of white men to stand up on behalf of what they knew was right. Truth be told, I'm not sure much has changed today. Most white American churches will either ignore this issue completely, or they will stand by and do nothing, allowing black churches to do all the fighting.
4) BLACK CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE WHITE COMMUNITY EITHER.
I know what's going to come of this one ... "Why does the black community need to stand up for the white community?" "What could the whites want or need from the blacks around them, they aren't the ones being oppressed or shot?"
Let me ask you, how often do you see black churches get involved in any perceived injustices against white people? Can you recall a time when a predominantly black church reached out to a predominantly white church and offered to stand with them in a time of disgrace, dispute, or discrimination?
A while back I met with an African American pastor/friend here in our small town of Bluffton. He acknowledged to me that his church would have a difficult time worshiping with our church for no other reason than the fact that we were considered a "white church." He didn't feel that way, but his church did.
5) SOMEONE DIED AND EVERYONE LOST.
What gets lost in all of this to me is that a young man died and another man took that life. Self-defense or not, every family member and associate of these two individuals is forever changed. Whether this was an injustice or not will be debated in history books for years to come, but please do not miss out on the truth that it is a tragedy on ALL accounts.
Michael Brown died. His parents lost a son. His friends lost a loved one. His life is over. Officer Darren Wilson is changed too, forever living with the loss of a life at his hands. His life and his family's lives are altered forever.
Ferguson, Missouri has lost too. For decades to come they will be a town remembered by and referenced as the place Michael Brown was shot ... the place black and white tensions exploded ... the place where riots took place ... the place that changed history ...
6) WE HAVE TO DO BETTER.
We ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... HAVE ... TO ... DO ... BETTER.
White Americans need to realize that racism is alive & well, seeded by hatred and fear.
Black Americans need to realize that a way of thinking (racism) is the real enemy.
White Christians need to realize that our black brothers & sisters need us to stand w/ them.
Black Christians need to realize that white brothers & sisters need them to stand w/ us.
If we ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... if we want to become a stronger nation, we need to do better. For our own sake. For our kids' sake. For the sake of our country's future. And as Christians, this shouldn't even be a topic of debate any longer! How abundantly clear does the New Testament make its case for unity? You know, phrases like, "One body," "one baptism," "one faith," "one church," or "there is neither Jew nor Gentile," or "slave or free," or "male or female," or on and on and on (check out Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Romans 10:9-12).
If we, as a country, expect to see the changes that are needed to our justice system or in letting our voices be heard, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. If we, as Christians, expect to see the Church united, as one, without color barriers or discrimination, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. Are we capable of doing this? I believe we are ... but only with a lot of help ...
7) COME, LORD JESUS.
I'm just going to say it like it is ... Good Lord, help us. Racial tensions, taking lives, anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, hate ... pride, denial, arrogance, absence, injustice ... Sin has screwed us all, and we are all in need of a Savior.
So what now? Now, with God's help, we try to find healing in all of this. We try to see a place for the Gospel to bring hope to the hopeless and peace to the peaceless. We find opportunities in OUR worlds to live compassion, to everyone. We try not to react out of fear or hate or judgement, but instead we try to respond with truth, with grace, and with love.
And at the end of the day, we pray. We pray that God will forgive us, that His Spirit will heal us, and that our kids will do better than we did.