‘Host pastor’ of the #BlackLivesMatter Freedom Ride. Counselor to large philanthropies. Student of teenage and millennial activists. Leader of state commission advocating policy change. Bail negotiator. Street agitator. Militant mediator. Since the Holy Spirit was poured out onto the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis last August, I’ve been called and challenged to play each of these roles.
Yes. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit that fell at Pentecost as a dynamic demonstration of God’s power to overcome the barriers of language, ethnicity, gender, class, and orientation. The Spirit of hope that caused a community once rebuked for its broken dialect to speak with one voice. The Spirit of holiness that enabled a people dismissed for drunkenness to form the first fruits of the church.
We may have missed it because they because it didn’t wear robes and stoles (rather, hoodies and bandanas). They didn’t sing anthems and hymns (but chanted what some would call obscenities). They weren’t called saints and disciples (instead thugs and outside agitators). But in the week between Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9 and Gov. Jay Nixon’s state of emergency on Aug. 16, the Spirit was poured upon ‘all flesh,’ and our sons and daughters began to prophesy. What a week! It was a weeklong act of the Spirit, replanting a church in resistance for the work of reconciliation.
Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics discusses three phases of reconciliation: the world’s reconciliation to God, persons being reconciled to persons, and human beings’ reconciliation within themselves. The diverse social realities of the ethnic Jews gathered on Pentecost and the social disparities in life outcomes and expectancy based upon zip code, race, and ethnicity in the Fergusons and Baltimores of America, call us to consider a fourth phase: socioeconomic reconciliation.
Socioeconomic reconciliation is the removal of gaps in opportunity, achievement, health, thriving, and well-being that exist between groups of people in our nation and world. In the face of myriad breaches of the common human bond and experience, a breakthrough act of the Spirit today would activate and agitate the established church in her ministry: a ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation.
The ministry of socioeconomic reconciliation will require a church empowered with tongues of fire and the gift of interpretation. These tongues must speak with a prophetic voice. But we must also have the heart and capacity to translate the words of marginalized communities into the language of policy, power, and program. That is why I thank God for the compelling, confusing roles I’ve been called into over the last nine months. This form of reconciliation requires the church to fulfill of the vocation of the militant mediator, which offers as much renewal in the streets and city hall as we experience in the sanctuary.
It is the Holy Spirit that allows the people at Pentecost to understand one another. This capacity to translate the community’s voice into policy action for social change must be universally affirmed as a charism by the church. As Catholic theologian Robert Schreiter reminds us, reconciliation requires spirituality and strategy. When we marry the two, we make history.
Pentecost, of course, means “fiftieth” and was known as the Festival of Weeks. This summer, on our way to the first anniversary of the outpouring of the Spirit in Ferguson, Mo., we will honor the 50th anniversary of a prior breakthrough for socioeconomic reconciliation. On July 30, 1965, here in Missouri, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed Medicare and Medicaid programs into law. Exactly seven days later on Aug. 6, he enacted the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. What a week. Neither of these critical social reform would have occurred without the acts of an activation of a Spirit-led church. Come Holy Spirit!
Rev. Starsky D. Wilson (@RevStarsky) is President & CEO of Deaconess Foundation, pastor at Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community), and co-chair of The Ferguson Commission.