“In these downbeat times, we need as much hope and courage as we do vision and analysis; we must accent the best of each other even as we point out the vicious effects of our racial divide … Do we have the intelligence, humor, imagination, courage, tolerance, love, respect, and will to meet the challenge? Time will tell. None of us alone can save the nation or world. But each of us can make a positive difference if we commit ourselves to do so.”
― Cornel West, Race Matters
Ferguson. That name will mean something volatile and frightening to us for a long time to come. A tragedy occurred there that has reminded us that there remains a frustrating racial divide in America. I have prayed hard about how we can bring something hopeful out of this horrible reminder of a truly fallen and broken world.
It’s easy for us to criticize Michael Brown. He had done and was doing things that did not make him a good role model for anyone. It’s also easy for us to criticize Officer Wilson. An unarmed 18 year old is dead. Michael’s family and friends think that Officer Wilson was reacting with racial prejudice. The reactions of many white people indicate that a lot of them believe that Michael Brown was a criminal because he was black. The angry rhetoric will not stop, because people on both sides of the divide will continue to use this incident to promote themselves and their own causes. Even the pleas of Michael Brown’s family could not stop those who wanted to use this as an excuse to destroy things and attack people.
The question I want us to ask ourselves is this: could this happen in the same way in our neighborhood? For those of us who say we belong to Jesus, we should be doing all we can to make our community a less-angry and less-volatile place. I have three suggestions for a start:
1. Pray for Michael Brown’s family and friends and community. Whatever you think of Michael’s actions, he was a soul for whom Christ died. His family loved him and will always miss him.
2. Pray for Officer Darren Wilson and his family and friends. In a moment when he feared for his life, he responded to what he thought was a threat with only a few moments to react. Now, he has resigned his job and is living in hiding indefinitely because of threats against his life and his pregnant wife.
3. Start now to build positive relationships with your neighbors and co-workers who are of a different race than you. Listen to their stories of what life is like in their community. Be willing to hear when they say they are afraid. There are many white police officers who are not racist. But there are enough instances of racial profiling in police departments in America to make this fear a real one for black people. The real key to overcoming our racial divide is sincere friendships and courageous partnerships with those who are different. One of the saddest aspects of our Christian faith is that God’s people remain as racially divided as the rest of the world.
4. Pray for yourself and your church. Pray that God will bless you with opportunities to help heal the anger and frustrations in your community. Remember that no human effort can stop every tragic thing from happening. But as Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible.”
The Ferguson episode has raised many fears and frustrations. It is a tragedy, and we would like to prevent anything like that from happening again. Instead of spitting venom and hatred, I invite you, God’s people, to spread new hope and healing and the good news that God can transform our lives and through that transformation, God can heal our communities.
Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC