I’m reluctant to speak to an issue as raw and sensitive as the events that have unfolded in Ferguson. It’s an open sore, but not a flesh wound. Just because the surface will scab over and be all but forgotten like so many events before, does not mean that the body is healed. It is symptomatic of an internal disease, made manifest by external events.
Last night before the Grand Jury announcement was made, Lecrae tweeted :
“When people say ‘Why are you making this a racial thing?’ They’ve unknowingly answered their own question.”
You can choose to reduce this to a legal issue between two individuals and determine who was “right” and who was “wrong”, but you would be missing the full picture. As Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observes “People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution.”
As followers of Christ, we are called to hold ourselves to a higher morality then nationalistic legal systems. According to the letter of the law it could well be that Michael Brown deserved what he got and that Officer Wilson was justified by his actions “legally”. Or we could feel a great shame today; a deep pain that our “house is divided,” that it cannot stand up to the scrutiny of principals that are higher and more transcendent then a grand jury’s opinion, a police handbook’s rule of engagement, or our favorite news channels’ opinion of what is “right”.
There is nothing “right” about any of this. Michael Brown’s crime of stealing and bullying a shop owner was “wrong”. His aggressiveness in the face of authority was “wrong”. His aggressiveness seemingly suicidal decision to confront a police officer after already being wounded was “wrong”.
The looting and torching of your neighborhood is “wrong”.
I could fill pages about what “they” did as “wrong”.
But there are other “wrongs”, systemic “wrongs” that propagate a generation of Michael Browns: angry, young men who disdain their existence. Conscienceless mobs who vandalize and loot with impunity are symptoms of a broken and divided house.
As I wrote after the Trayvon Martin incident “the underlying causes that perpetuate a culture of distrust and hysteria that escalates into violence and young men being killed, is not “their” problem, it’s “our” problem and our disgrace.
All you have to do is look at these facts I came across from the NAACP to see that we are a divided house:
- From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people.
- Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
- If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
We are broken and no “legal” response has worked or will work. As believers we know that the law kills and grace brings life (2 Corinthians 3:6). The paranoia of our divided house gives Officer Wilson a legal license to shoot, and Michael Brown a conscience license to resist at all cost. Both fall short of a measure of humanity characterized by restraint. A restraint born out of sacrifice and selfless risk. As Solzhenitsyn says, “voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everyone strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames.”
A new battle will now begin to toughen laws and militarize our police force on the right and to liberalize laws and demilitarize on the left. Unfortunately neither of these propositions address the cancer of hate, distrust, inequities, pain and immorality that live inside us.
We, in theory, have civil rights in this country, but what we increasingly lack is civil obligations. When my right of happiness supersedes my obligation to love the Lord my God with all my heart, mind and soul and to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:30), I have misinterpreted my existence. This is not a pithy Christian mission statement, this is the core, the root, the center of my existence as a Kingdom citizen; this obligation to love trumps all my rights.
Whether black or white Christians are called to courage—a courage born out of Christ’s courage, a courage that offers grace over law, sacrifice over happiness, and obligation over rights. Dr. Martin Luther King said “My call to the ministry was not a miraculous or supernatural something. On the contrary, it was an inner urge calling me to serve humanity.” If that obligation to serve is manifest by civil disobedience to overcome unjust laws, as in the case of Dr. King, or for me to serve an after school-tutoring program in the urban core, our obligation is loving service.
Ferguson is on fire. It is emblematic of the fire in all of us that needs to be quenched. A below-the-surface racism, regardless of shades, accents or other differences involved, is easily agitated and ready to flare at a wrong look, a misstep, an overreaction. Isaiah 45:18 declares “For the LORD is God, and he created the heavens and earth and put everything in place. He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos. ‘I am the LORD,’ he says, ‘and there is no other.’”
Submitting ourselves to His authority is the only way out of this chaos.