Jim Wallis: Franklin Graham's Comments On Ferguson Police Shootings 'Embarrassing' and 'Divisive'

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SojournersJim Wallis

Last Thursday, Franklin Graham posted the following on Facebook about obeying the police (I respond below):

Listen up--Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It's as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority. Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear, and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority "because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account."

This is my response:

Dear Franklin,

The real issue here goes much deeper than obedience to the police or lack thereof. We all need and should obey good police officers whose important mission is to serve and protect—but that must be done equally and without racial bias. Most African American men, in particular, could tell you their own personal stories of mistreatment by white police officers; which had nothing to do with them not obeying them. Many black women and other people of color could tell you stories too. You should be listening to them.

The reality is that there are two policing and legal systems in America; one for black and brown people and one for white people—and that is now well documented showing it is most stark for black men, and especially young black men.

Please read the Department of Justice report clearly proving strong racial bias in the Ferguson police department. Then read the Presidential Policing Commission Report (with six police commissioners on the task force) which shows this is a national problem.

Why do you speak only about the Bible's command to submit to authority and not the many Scriptures which challenge the sin of racism? Remember, in Christ there is "no Jew or Greek." Also, the Bible does not say that the law is always right: Jesus challenged the laws of his day when they were unjustly applied or interpreted, and the Apostle Paul wrote epistles from prison.

The accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement were only possible because many brave Americans, including many Christians, non-violently disobeyed unjust laws and the authorities who sought to enforce them.

It's time to listen to and learn from Americans of color, including our black brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to why all black parents have to have "the talk" about white police with their sons and daughters. Your Facebook post makes you seem, at best, oblivious to the racial inequity in this country's policing and criminal justice system, which is also still deeply embedded in our American society. At worst, your post reflects your own racial biases--unconscious or conscious. It makes me sad to read such things coming from a leader in your position. So until you are equally willing to "listen up," please stop making such embarrassing and divisive statements.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners and author of On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good. You can follow Jim on Twitter: @JimWallis.