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.