Christian Responses to #Ferguson Focus on Fear, Injustice and White Privilege

As the eyes of the nation and the world continue to focus on the St. Louis County suburb of Ferguson, where unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer, Christians continue engaging the many issues raised by the controversial case in attempts to bring clarification, understanding and open dialogue.

(Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)Protesters hold candles during a peaceful demonstration, as communities react to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Christian Post previously highlighted tweets from Christians commenting on the ongoing protests in Ferguson. Below is a roundup of diverse reflections regarding Ferguson from some members of the Christian community.

Pastor Leonce Crump, leader of Renovation Church in Atlanta, was featured as a guest on the Georgia radio program, "All Things Considered." He was first asked: What is the role of the faith community in what's happening in Ferguson?

"Well, I think the role of the faith community is primarily to see the injustice and connect this injustice to the gospel, and realize that every word that Jesus spoke and even the actions that he did when he walked this earth were not just to get us to heaven, but to give us a preview of the reality that should be," said Crump. "The reality that should be is never one where a teenager can be gunned down in the street despite what he did. We're a nation of laws, and those laws are meant to protect us."

Listen to more of Pastor Crump's response in the audio player below or read the transcript at gpb.org:

Phillip Holmes, itinerant preacher, executive assistant to Pastor Voddie Baucham, and co-founder of the Reformed African American Network, shares his thoughts on John Piper's Desiring God blog.

"As a Christian, even if you can't relate, you have an opportunity. As a black man, I don't connect with the situation as easily as some might assume," writes Holmes. "I'm not from the city or suburb. I've never had a negative encounter with the police. It's unlikely I would ever be bold enough to run from the police or resist arrest. It also helps that what many have ignorantly profiled as 'suspicious clothing' isn't a part of my wardrobe these days. Therefore, the chances of me getting gunned down by the police are slim. From what I've read, the most obvious thing Mr. Brown and I have in common is that we're both young black men."

Read more of Holmes commentary: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/you-can-pray-for-ferguson

Jemar Tisby, president and co-founder of the Reformed African American Network, has written an essay considering the various images of 18-year-old Brown that have emerged since his shooting death on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.

"Those who want to point out the injustice of yet another unarmed black youth being killed by a white cop post pictures of Mike Brown that show him smiling, young, and tender. Their aim is to craft a narrative that young Mr. Brown wasn't doing anything wrong and, in fact, was just a regular old neighborhood kid," writes Tisby.

"Then the video tape of him robbing a liquor store for cigars and manhandling the store clerk appears. Now that 'nice young man' narrative becomes much less believable. And now writing a more negative story about Mike Brown becomes a lot easier. Some were already looking for the pictures of the young man looking imposing and flashing what appear to be gang signs. Now they have stills from a robbery in progress to add to their story."

Read more from Tisby: http://www.raanetwork.org/keepin-real-mike-brown-ferguson/

Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and author of Overrated, pleads in a blog post with fellow Christians not to ignore Ferguson. He suggests "Five ways that Christians and churches must engage Michael Brown's death."

Cho writes:

"To be blunt and I say this respectfully,

The integrity of the church is at stake because when it's all said and done, it's not a race issue for me, it's a Gospel issue. It's a Kingdom issue. We shouldn't even let isolated issues in themselves hijack the purpose of the church. The Gospel of Christ is so extraordinary that it begins to inform (and we pray, transform) all aspects of our lives. So, in other words, we talk about race and racism because we believe in the Gospel.

Read his five suggestions: eugenecho.com/2014/08/16/please-dont-ignore-it-five-ways-that-christians-and-churches-must-engage-michael-browns-death/

Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist and author of Disunity in Christ, penned a post titled "The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail."

"As someone who has walked alongside black men, witnessed their suffering firsthand, lamented with them and fought for justice with them, I can see why black men who have lived under the oppressive boot of society for their entire lives would decide to stop turning the other cheek, refuse to see the police as anything other than the Red Coats, and reject 'respectability,'" writes Cleveland.

"Can you see the suffering Christ in the oppressed, even the ones who aren't responding perfectly to society's oppression? Christ doesn't just suffer for the innocent, the ones who don't have the energy to fight back, or the ones who perfectly respond to injustice. He suffers for the ones who suffer now and sin in their suffering.

"And make no mistake, our God is a God of justice. The young black men who launch Molotov cocktails at the police are misappropriating God's justice by taking it into their own hands, but the rage they feel is the rage that God feels towards injustice. In a sense, they are imaging forth God's justice to an unjust world."

Read more of Cleveland: www.christenacleveland.com/2014/08/the-cross-and-the-molotov-cocktail/

Austin C. Brown, a self-described racial reconciler, spoke with The Christian Post last August about helping Willow Creek Community Church with its diversity efforts. Brown's essay in response to the Ferguson case is titled "Black Bodies White Souls."

"I've read too much, been at this too long to sincerely claim that I expected the white church to finally get it right in this present moment of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, John Crawford and Michael Brown. The white church doesn't have a great track record on racial justice, and what's worse, displays very little shame on the matter. (As a quick caveat I will say that I am grateful for the friends of all races, including white who sent messages, wrote posts, shared in the outrage and amplified the voices of black folks — I just wish there were many, many more of you). On the whole the story of Michael Brown and the assault on Ferguson didn't gather the same level of attention of ISIS or Driscoll. Many of the white Christians who changed their profile pictures to stand in solidarity with Christians on the other side of the world, were absolutely silent while black Christians right here in America were in turmoil," writes Brown.

"I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans."

Read more of Brown's essay: http://austinchanning.com/blog/2014/8/bodies-souls

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas and president of the Acts 29 Network, took to his blog to clarify comments he initially made on Twitter that resulted in varied responses from followers.

Pastor Chandler initially tweeted: "My son Reid has blonde hair and blue eyes & will more than likely never be seen as 'suspicious' by police #WhitePrivilege #Ferguson"

"The challenge with white privilege is that most white people cannot see it. We assume that the experiences and opportunities afforded to us are the same afforded to others. Sadly, this simply isn't true. Privileged people can fall into the trap of universalizing experiences and laying them across other people's experiences as an interpretive lens. For instance, a privileged person may not understand why anyone would mistrust a public servant simply because they have never had a viable reason to mistrust a public servant. The list goes on," writes Chandler.

"What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person's heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege."

Read more of Chandler: http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/more-on-ferguson-and-white-privilege/

Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and co-founder of thefrontporch.org. He wrote of concerns he had for his son, Titus, in light of Mike Brown's death and in relation to his decision to move his family back to the U.S. after serving at a church in the Cayman Islands.

"So I'm watching Ferguson and I'm thinking about Titus. And I'm thinking about the long list of African-American men shot to death for no good reason. And I'm mad as hell. And I'm scared to death. For my son. For me. For the possibility that my son could witness this happen to me," writes Anyabwile.

"I don't care about the color of the hands that pull the trigger. They could be pink, brown, sandy. What I care about is the value of my son's life. What I care about is the dignity and life-destroying devaluing of his life because in this country he is 'black.' And the absurdity of it all is that he's not 'black' in every country. Only his own. In Cayman, he was Titus. In Cayman, he was free to be Titus. In the States, he's 'a little black boy' long before he's 'Titus.' And that calculation, the 'racial' attribution that happens at the speed of sight, is deadly. It's deadly.

"Deadlier still are the many persons who seem not to recognize it. Who carry on without pause, who empathize with the shooter rather than the shot, who express concern for the family of the living but little to no regard for the family of the deceased, who talk of obeying lawful authority while witnessing the unlawful use of authority, who keep resetting the conversation to call into question the teenage victim while granting the benefit of the doubt to the grown up perpetrator."

Read more of Anyabwile: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2014/08/18/coming-back-to-america-my-one-fear/ and http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2014/08/19/is-it-goodbye-evangelicalism-or-we-join-you-in-your-suffering/

Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, drew numerous responses to her blog post, titled "On Race, the Benefit of the Doubt, and Complicity."

"What has perhaps struck me the most in the six days since Michael Brown was shot is the difference in my social media feeds. Among my white friends and followers, things pretty much carried on as usual up until Wednesday afternoon when I began to see more tweets and Facebook statues [sic] about the events in Ferguson. But among my friends and followers of color, this story elicited a passionate, focused response, right from the start," says Evans.

"This is not to say white people don't care, or that delayed responses should be chastised as 'too little too late.' Not at all. We're all learning here, and we all communicate our concern in different ways. I just wonder if it simply reflects the painful reality that one group's 'let's wait and see' is another group's 'not again!' Perhaps if we, the privileged, were in a better habit of listening, the response would have been more universally shared. Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep happens more naturally among those who have listened long enough to know the depth of one another's stories, and to know their context."

Read more from Evans: rachelheldevans.com/blog/ferguson-race-benefit-of-the-doubt-complicity

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, shares his thoughts in a post titled "Ferguson and the Quest for Racial Justice."

"As Christians, we ought to weep for the loss of life in this situation, and we ought to pray for peace in the streets of Ferguson and for justice to be done in this case. The mandate from God to the state in Romans 13 is to wield the sword with impartiality and with justice. As citizens, all of us ought to seek to ensure that this is the case, across the board," says Moore.

"We ought to be reminded though that in a racially divided world, the church of Jesus Christ ought not simply to advocate for racial reconciliation; we ought to embody it. We ought to speak to the structures of society about principles of morality and righteousness, but we also ought to model those principles in our congregations. The quest for racial reconciliation comes not just through proclamation but through demonstration.

"That's because racial and ethnic division and bigotry are not merely historical vestiges still existing in the United States, or in the often even more violent scenes we see elsewhere in the world. These divisions and hatred are older than America, and are rooted in a satanic deception that tells us we ought to idolize "the flesh." The gospel doesn't just call us individually to repentance, but also congregationalizes that reconciliation in local bodies of persons who may have nothing else in common but the image of God, repentance of sin, and the redemption found in Jesus Christ."

Read more of Moore: http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/08/14/ferguson-and-the-quest-for-racial-justice/

D.A. Horton is executive director of ReachLife Ministries and national coordinator for Urban Students at the North American Mission Board. He wrote an essay for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention titled "Michael Brown is your neighbor."

"It's hard not to weep as I watch the continual coverage of events unfold in Ferguson, Mo. Once again, a life was taken by an authority figure. The eyes of our nation turn in one of two directions: toward the injustice or away from it. In the ocean of social media, I've noticed waves of Palestinians providing American citizens with counsel on dealing with tear gas while droves of Protestants remain serene and silent," writes Horton.

"It's in these exact moments, when ethnic minority evangelicals are looking for support from other minorities and majority culture brothers and sisters, that we need to come together and minister to the hurting souls in our community. But we often find that many of our brothers and sisters are sitting on the sidelines paralyzed by the fear of not knowing how to engage."

Read Horton's suggestion of five principles Christians should consider when engaging discussions about Michael Brown and Ferguson: https://erlc.com/article/mike-brown-is-your-neighbor

Joshua Waulk, a Florida pastor, Christian counselor and a 17-year law enforcement official, writes that "The #Ferguson case is complicated." He shares his perspective as a former police officer as well as a pastor.

"I have unashamedly called for PO Wilson to not be tried in the media. I have called on Christian leaders to stop using language that is unduly sympathetic to the pro-Brown narrative, without regard for the potential innocence of PO Wilson, such as repeatedly calling Brown an 'unarmed teenager.' As I have already pointed out, you can find yourself subject to deadly force by a PO, even though you're otherwise 'unarmed,' and more important than Brown's age, was his apparent imposing physical size," writes Waulk.

"If you've never attempted to take a male of any race into custody, much less one who is physically large, who'd otherwise prefer to not go to jail at that particular time, then you can only imagine what that might entail. At the end of the day, that Brown died at 18 is tragic, but while we're sifting through the details at this point, I can only see it as an attempt to garner undue sympathy, and to portray him as a little child, which he most certainly was not. This much I know: POs have been killed by children younger than 18."

Waulk adds later in his essay: "Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ is sufficient to change human hearts, to turn seeming enemies toward one another in love, and to bring real, true, lasting hope and change. It seems cliche, but truer words have never been spoken: No Jesus. No Peace. Know Jesus. Know Peace. Man's efforts always have, and always will fall woefully short. Anyone who has hope for true, soul-level resolve coming from a verdict in either direction is grossly mistaken. Our legal system is nothing more than a salve on our broken hearts to prevent anarchy until the return of Christ."

Read more of Waulk: https://dayone.me/H33zOq

Erna Hackett, on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, questions on her blog "The Unacceptable Silence of Asian American Christians in Response to Ferguson."

"Why are we so painfully silent as debate and tragedy and grief are raging around us? Will any of our churches take time to pray for grieving families on Sunday — not only (Michael) Brown's family, but the family of John Crawford, a man that was shot in Walmart for holding a toy gun. Or Eric Garner, the father of 6 that was killed through the use of an illegal choke hold by police in New York," writes Hackett.

"My mind turned back to last summer where I led a group of Christian college students into responding to the Trayvon Martin verdict. I took a group of mainly Asian American and White students through a journey where they could have compassion and grieve over what had happened. We taught them to care about what the Black community was saying, instead of ignoring it by saying 'that's a Black people problem.'

Read more of Hackett: feistythoughts.com/2014/08/16/the-unacceptable-silence-of-asian-american-christians-in-response-to-ferguson/

In addition to personal essays from Christian leaders on Michael Brown's death, some platforms have been highlighting certain aspects of events unfolding in Ferguson. For example, Christ & Pop Culture has pointed to the work that local churches in Ferguson were doing to keep the peace and support demonstrators, while the Assemblies of God took a similar route, highlighting in an article on the responses and involvement of member churches in St. Louis County that have been impacted by the Ferguson protests.