Over the course of the last few days national and international media has zoomed in on a community most of the world has never heard of in Ferguson, Missouri. The source of conflict has to do with the death of a young black man, Michael Brown, who was shot, unarmed, by a police officer.
Precise details of the conflict between the police officer and Michael Brown remain uncertain as the officer says one thing while bystanders and witnesses offer a different, and damning, account.
Rand Paul, in an article on Time magazine’s website, offers this perspective, “If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.” I too might have responded with a smart-alack response as a youth. Neither Rand Paul or I would have been shot.
There is a distinct difference Michael Brown and the two of us, Rand Paul and me.
Subsequent protests by members of the Ferguson community has been met with what Russell Moore calls, “a virtually militarized response from law enforcement in the area” in a post on his blog.
The police have responded with riot gear, tear gas and the arresting of journalists attempting to cover the event. Below is a tweet/link by Pastor Scott Maze to an article recounting two journalists’ experience with the local police.
Of course, we don’t yet know all the details, and we may never know them. Also, police do have the right to protect themselves as they serve and protect the community.
On the other hand, the Christian rapper, Trip Lee’s tweet is a helpful reminder of our responsibility to the police and the police’s responsibility to every citizen:
This situation, for lack of an adequate word, is symptomatic of a wider problem in our greater American culture – namely the issue of race relations and perception.
One of the ugliest aspects of this tragedy was the initial portrayal of Michael Brown by the media. The picture below from NBC New’s tweet is a perfect example of the irresponsible portrayal of Michael Brown by a major media outlet.
Of all the pictures that NBC News could have picked from Brown’s Facebook page they picked one that portrays him as a thug. This represents a persistent and pernicious problem in American race relations.
Brown just graduated high school and was headed to college this fall.
I have a similar picture on Facebook, but I doubt NBC News would have used it. Why? Because there is a distinct difference between Brown and me.
The use of this picture did not go unnoticed. It spanned a social media storm of response through the hashtag, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. This hashtag is a protest that posses the question of which picture would the media have used if they were in Brown’s shoes. Two pictures, one thugish and one friendly, are posed together.
One affirms a misperception. The other challenges perception. If our culture doesn’t change, which picture is the media more likely to use?
Racial reconciliation largely remains just an idea. But Christians should not be content with mere ideas.
As Russel Moore advocates, “the church of Jesus Christ ought not simply to advocate for racial reconciliation; we ought to embody it.”
This is where the gospel comes into play. A key component of the gospel is that Jesus embodied through the incarnation a solution to the world’s greatest problem – our separation from God. As John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The church must follow Christ’s example. We must embody solutions. We must be leaders in the areas of reconciliation.
Our family, friends and church family know that Janet and I have two amazing sons, aged 4 and 5, and are in the process to adopt a third child.
What most don’t know is that Janet and I had the opportunity to adopt a child this past December. As we heard the details, we prayed but felt led to decline for a variety of reasons.
One reason was that the child (it turned out to be a girl) would look just like us.
After a great deal of prayer and the seeking of guidance from dear friends and family, Janet and I decided to change the parameters of our adoption from open to any race to just African-American or bi-racial.
What scares me about this decision is what my son or daughter may have to face that I never had to think about.
If I have a boy, will dads and moms in my church allow their daughter to date my son? Will I have to advise him against wearing a hoddie or posing as a thug?
If I have a daughter, will moms and dads in my church allow their sons to date her? Will I trust black young men to date her in the same way I would trust her to date white young men? (Of course, I will have a great deal of distrust with whichever boy!)
How will I talk with him or her about what happened to the future Michael Browns?
These are not easy questions with easy answers. But Christians are not called to a life of ease.
Janet and I want to embody change and reconciliation. As a pastor, I am called to lead from the front.
Join me in incarnating change, however that might look like for you.