Emerging Voices

Ten Practical Ways White Christians Can Respond to Ferguson

simez78 and John Gomez/Shutterstock.com

Many people are saddened by the events Ferguson and left confused as to how to respond. simez78 and John Gomez/Shutterstock.com

Like many of you, I’ve been overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the events that have transpired in Ferguson, Mo. And at times I’ve felt helpless, 350 miles away in Cincinnati, as friends of mine are in Ferguson praying, marching, organizing, and working for peace and justice.

In my conversations with friends of color, I have witnessed their pain and frustration and deep angst over the events of Ferguson. The past two weeks have hit very close to home for them.

With white friends, the response has been mixed, but the overwhelming sentiment is one I’ve already identified: helplessness. I am not satisfied with this response. I believe there are ways we can respond, bear witness, be in solidarity and work for justice in this moment. Our love for God and neighbor demands we engage. If you are like me, you are praying without ceasing for the Shalom, peace, and justice of God to reign in the hearts and minds and streets of Ferguson and throughout this nation and world. So how can we pair our prayers with constructive action?

Here are ten ways white Christians can respond to Ferguson.

An Invitation to Disruption: A Call to White Churches

R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Man holds sign at QuickTrip in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 15. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

It was July 19, 2013, and we were leaving New York City for a spiritual retreat, six days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman “not guilty” in the death of Trayvon Martin. The sadness, anger, and weariness was well worn on the liturgies, prayers, and preaching of many of the churches in our Harlem neighborhood.

We found ourselves joining local church leaders and a few pastors in a conversation about justice that would eventually make its way toward a broad range of matters: the gay rights of questioning teens, clean water for children in Africa, and many of the frequent places conversations go with folks who are concerned with “loving our neighbor.” And so we sat, we listened, and were genuinely moved to openly share about the challenges and opportunities that have come with cultivating safe spaces for GBLT folks in our church community. TOGETHER we also inspired one another as we offered our collective experiences with integrating the arts in fundraising for international relief efforts.

And as Jose and I sat, listened, and shared TOGETHER, we found ourselves with heavy hearts waiting …“Would the conversation broach the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?” It didn’t.

And as we sat TOGETHER in sacred solidarity with compassionate, justice-minded pastors, who happened to be white, somehow we found ourselves feeling quite alone. So we mustered the courage to ask, “How have your churches responded to the Trayvon Martin verdict?” My question was met with silence. The silence that met us did not betray aloof or timid spirits, but rather uncertainty about whether their one voice could really make a difference, or that somehow they did not have the right to “speak on behalf” of brown and black realities. 

The Church Has Left the Building

Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com

Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com

Last year I spoke at a missional church conference in Southern California. The guy who spoke before me asked every one of these missional pastors do a simple exercise.

“Turn to the person sitting next to you,” he said, “and tell them the names of your neighbors on every side of your house (or apartment) and share one story about their lives.”

The room went abuzz.

After a few minutes the speaker called the audience back and asked: “How many of you could share the names and stories of each of your neighbors on every side of your house?” No one raised their hands.

The speaker asked how many could share the names and stories of a few of their neighbors. Only about three people in an audience of about 200 raised their hands. This was a missional conference.

Where is the Joy?

Deep sea divers. Image courtesy littlesam/shutterstock.com

Deep sea divers. Image courtesy littlesam/shutterstock.com

How do you talk about joy in times like these and not sound like a traveling salesman with a bottle of snake oil up his sleeve?

Recently, I received word that Robert Gittelson, the cofounder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, had died suddenly from a massive heart attack. Over the next seven days, the prolific 63-year-old comedian and actor, Robin Williams, committed suicide, and revered screen legend, Lauren Bacall, passed away at the age of 89.

 

Silence for Peace

Irish countryside, Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com

Irish countryside, Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH / Shutterstock.com

“If, as Christians, we believe that peace is rooted in Christ, then how we build that peace within us, in one way, is through the disciplines of solitude and silence; through spending time with God. Solitude is not necessarily extremely easy process, because it will bring to the fore all sorts of things that are within us. We will get to know ourselves in a fuller way. In solitude, where you know that God is with you, you can just be with God, and there is no need for a mask. Also, your humility might grow because you will see yourself as you really are — in a way that needs to be healed and transformed.”

 

Three Ways to Maintain Yourself While Maintaining a Movement

Man on a wheel, Hermin / Shutterstock.com

Man on a wheel, Hermin / Shutterstock.com

In July 2010 I joined with around 100 freedom fighters in Chicago, many of whom had traded the previous year of their lives to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. And we knew it was not going to happen in 2010, at least as we had imagined. Many in the room were exhausted, and defeated, and spent. The response from the campaign was to talk about the next hill to climb rather than deal with the pain and exhaustion in the room.

Doing justice is hard and exhausting work. We are compelled to action by the urgency of the suffering and pain and evil that mark life for so many in God’s world. And the work is never done. Win or lose, there is always another hill, another peak, another challenge that lies ahead. So the temptation is to keep on keeping on, and to rise to the next challenge.

For the past 20 years, I have either been a pastor or a community organizer, and for many of those years I have been both. For pastors and organizers, there is always one more email to write, one more call to make, and one more strategy to be explored. To be blunt, burnout and exhaustion are the order of the day.

Cory Booker, Rand Paul Shine Light on Shadow Side of U.S. Justice System

Eugene Parciasepe, Christopher Halloran  / Shutterstock.com

Cory Booker, Eugene Parciasepe / Shutterstock.com; Rand Paul, Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

There comes a time in every society when it must face its shadow side — and deal with it.

Societies have myths, legends, and superheroes that lay the foundations for national identity, reinforce beliefs about the self and the other, and shape nations’ collective memory. They exist to make us feel good about ourselves, but as a result, they lie to us and distort collective memory.

As prophets did in the days of abolition, the anti-lynching movement, and the Civil Rights movement, modern-day leaders, like Michelle Alexander, have traversed the country shining light on the myth of equal justice in our justice system.

And on Tuesday, the unlikely duo of Sens. Cory Booker (D – N.J.) and Rand Paul (R – Ky.) joined together to address this myth by introducing the REDEEM Act.

"I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey, and this bipartisan legislation does just that," Booker said in a news release. "The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders reoffend."

Silence: A Path to Action

Boat on a silent sea, Hofhauser / Shutterstock.com

Boat on a silent sea, Hofhauser / Shutterstock.com

I had such a hard time packing for my weekend away — cramming my bag with a stack of contemplative practice books, an anthology of my personal prayer journals, candles, an array of writing of instruments, and an iPod fully loaded with chanting monks and Hillsong worship songs. What does one take to a three-day silent retreat? Apparently a lot of noise.

My husband I were in the throes of church planting in Harlem. Our commitment to reimagining church not as a building, but as an incarnational community living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ had left our calendars fully loaded with “to do” lists for neighborhood barbecues, marches against “stop and frisk” laws, and prayer circles that met in our home.

And I was tired.

'...That All Men Are Created Equal'

The 'Betsy Ross' flag and the Statue of Liberty. Photo courtesy WELBURNSTUART/sh

The 'Betsy Ross' flag and the Statue of Liberty. Photo courtesy WELBURNSTUART/shutterstock.com.

People know.

Not just Americans, but the entire globe.

People know that the founders didn't mean it then, nor does this nation mean it now. Sure, the words were written down, and our leaders frequently point to them as evidence that we are good. But no one really meant them. They were merely a means to an end.

Back in 1776, when representatives from a bunch of colonies wrote the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," they did not in fact mean all men.

But people know that.

Deep In My Heart

By Federal Bureau of Investigation Workers (Federal Bureau of Investigation) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the senseless slaughter and lynching of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner during Freedom Summer in Mississippi. They gave their lives to insure that every person in Mississippi would have the right to vote and be a full citizen of this nation. This interracial trio believed with all their hearts that it was worth it to put their bodies on the line for racial justice and dignity, and they paid the ultimate price.

We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida remind us that much work remains, and that white supremacy may have taken different forms, but it is alive and well. And today, white supremacy operates most powerfully at the subconscious level. And it has to do with an innate feeling of superiority.

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