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Thoughts on Ferguson

It’s time to talk about Ferguson.

Even though I’m blessed to lead a wonderful multicultural congregation, and I’ve been active in leading a group of local clergy in dialogue with city officials (including the Chief of Police) about the issues of Ferguson, I have not really expressed my thoughts concerning the events around Michael Browns death.

But I believe the recent jury decision affords me as a follower of Jesus an opportunity to seriously reflect on a reality that is very much part of our culture, but which most of the time lies below the surface and is rarely acknowledged.

A poll released just prior to the verdict found that 64% of African American/Latinos believe Officer Wilson should be punished, while only 22% of whites think so.

How is it, that two groups of people can see/read about the exact same incident and respond in such radically different ways?

It’s rooted, I believe, in two radically different experiences. . .and those experiences changes the way we see things.

For example, I am a white middle aged man.  Because of that, I have a certain privileged perspective on how I see the world around me.  I live in a world that seems pretty fair, equal, just.  When a police officer pulls me over (which thankfully doesn’t happen very often) I’ve never once wondered if it was because I’m half German or because of what neighborhood I happened to be driving in.

But I have many African American brothers in which that has been a common occurrence.

And so what often happens is that, for white people like me, we fail to acknowledge that we have this privileged perspective and we assume that the experiences and opportunities afforded to me is the same for everybody.  Sadly, this just isn’t true.  Then what happens, is we end up normalizing our perspective and we have a hard time understanding, for example, why anyone would mistrust a police officer because “I’ve never had a reason to mistrust a police officer”.

So then you end up with someone who quote, ‘doesn’t have a racist bone in their body’, but who fails to see how their privilege shapes how they see and respond to people without privilege or unwittingly supports the current unjust system.

So how should someone like me, as a follower of Christ, respond in these moments?  When events like Ferguson, or Trayvon Martin bring these disparities to the surface, what should I seek to do?

I believe the answer is found in the Christmas Story.

Christmas is the time when we remember how the Creator of the Universe left His privileged position and entered into the world of the marginalized, the poor, those who were being crushed by the current system.  And why did God do it?  Because ‘God so loved the world. . .’

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live like that.  We are called to love like that.

And we know that love is not a warm sentiment.  Its an action.  Its a willingness to purposely enter into the experiences of others that are different ours.  It means entering into their grief, their suffering, their anger.  It means taking time to listen and learning from where those emotions spring. It means seeing the Michael Browns of the world not as some kid who got shot, but as a precious child of God. . . .as someone’s son. . . grandson. . .friend.

It means entering into the world of those being crushed by the current system, even if its the same system from which we’re benefiting.

If we, as followers of Jesus did that, if we admitted our privileged perspectives and purposely and humbly entered into the world of others. To learn from and share in their experiences. . . and do it along racial lines, socially economic lines, gender lines, gender ordination lines.  If we did that, we would be modeling to the world a whole different way of doing life.  We would be offering to the world a beautiful alternative to the world as it currently exists.  We would be putting on full display that which Jesus referred to as The Kingdom of God.

So my prayer is that the events of Ferguson serve as an opportunity for us in the church.  That it encourages us to be a people who not only celebrate the Christmas Story. . .but who live the Christmas Story.   To be a people who continually let go of our privileged perspective to enter into a world that is different from ours.  . .and so by doing, demonstrating the love of God found in Jesus.

Comment(1)

  1. Reply
    Anonymous says

    Mark, you are right in your assumption that it is because of two different perspectives, but you are not doing the situation any favors by being one sided at explaining how or why those two perspectives are different. Because of your one-sidedness, I think you are doing your readers a disservice. You see white people don’t think about “When a police officer pulls me over…I’ve never once wondered if it was because I’m half German or because of what neighborhood I happened to be driving in” because when white people get pulled over, they acknowledge that they did something wrong or possibly illegal, respect the officer’s authority, leave their victim cards at home and don’t claim prejudice (going with the assumption the officer is black on that last one of course).

    Maybe if our African American brothers stop listening to foul-mouthed, cop hating, gangster rap music and didn’t idolize folks like Tupac Shakur…Maybe if they stop rioting, burning and looting stores whenever something they don’t like happens, like Officer Wilson not getting punished (even though, he arguably was punished by losing his job and his livelihood). I mean, did white folks violently riot when OJ Simpson got away with murder? Um..NO. See my point here. If a group of people, no matter what group of people want to be treated fairly and justly, they can start by acting civil.

    Also, I’m’ curious as to why you felt the need to pad your percentage by including Latinos in your 64%? I’d like to know what the percentage of African Americans actually was. Your source seems like they are trying to rile up liberal nutjobs. The results might not have contrasted as much as you think if it were a African American only representation. Speaking of, what is your source for this poll?
    Looking back on this years later, Ferguson started a sad and terrible precedence that almost has normalized rioting, burning, looting and violent protesting these days. What’s sad is that these people don’t care that they are destroying the very towns they live in. They act like vicious animals. Doesn’t that remind you of a child who trashes his/her room after being sent there for punching their sibling?

    As a fellow Christian, I can appreciate your “What Would Jesus Do” attitude, but the problem is that Jesus would also be in disgust (at least I hope he would) over folks destroying their towns and acting so violently.

    Lastly, before I’m called a racist or bigot, when I talk about black and white people above, I don’t mean ALL. I mean the ones we hear and know about on TV via the news and social media. I mean the ones I am directly referring to in context, but alas, I’m sure some liberal will feel the need to call me some name like that though which is why I am posting anonymously.

    On that note, I’m out.

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