Ferguson Is America
As events continue to unfold in Ferguson, MO, it becomes ever more clear how the violence, the anger, the resentment, the fear, and most of all the division between African-Americans and whites show us who we are as a people. It would be wonderful to believe we are our best selves. It would be even better if we lived our best selves. The facts of the matter, however, demonstrate not only the systemic violence that continues unabated against minority communities, but the lack of any desire by whites to take a stand against injustice, oppression, and a death penalty meted out not by judges and juries but police officers in the course of their duties.
I’m writing this Sunday morning, August 24. I’m writing this before I head off to church, to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, the Father of Jesus Christ who died and rose to deliver us from slavery to sin and death. I’m writing this before I join millions of American Christians in what continues to be the most segregated hour of our weekly lives. We live in separate worlds. We experience the world in different ways. We come to understand who we are in our relationships to society at large and the power structure through different historical lenses and different – vastly different – experiences. And we continue to worship as if our Gods were different beings. We say the same words, we sing the same hymns, we pray the same prayers. The words, however, mean something very different because we in white America continue to pretend that our experiences and definitions and history define a norm to which all others must give credence.
In a Reuters article carried on Yahoo News today, authors Nick Carey and Edward McAllister paint a picture of Ferguson divided by race, by sympathy, and by whether support is offered to the existing power structure or the very legitimacy of that power structure is called to question. One of a group of whites gathered in a bar in support of Ofc. Darren Wilson says, without understand the way her words indict Wilson, the Ferguson Police Department, and the United States: “It’s not about black or white, it’s about rule of law.” The insistence on color-blindness and the rule of law give away the game. As long as we refuse to recognize the reality of race, and how it impacts how the law is upheld, Fergusons will continue to happen. As long as “the rule of law” means police impunity in minority communities, Fergusons will continue to occur. As long as white people refuse to stand with our fellow African-American sisters and brothers and demand accountability from those in authority, Fergsuons will continue to occur.
On a side note, I do wish people would stop saying things like, “He/She’s been tried and convicted in the press!” Because that is precisely why we have a free press: so we the people can be exposed the abuses of power and demand change. The standards of evidence for public discourse are not the same as those in a court of law, nor should they be. For example, years ago I was chastised for calling Mark Foley a pederast. I had, as the cliche says, tried and convicted him. I made the point there was enough evidence in the public record to insist my description of Foley’s unsavory sexual predilections was both warranted and fair. Whether or not he had ever committed an actual crime was irrelevant. I would say the same about Ofc. Wilson. Whether or not he committed a crime under the statutes of the state of Missouri or the United States is irrelevant. That he killed an unarmed young man, a young man who carried no weapon, had committed no crime, and represented no threat other than being a young African-American male is the single, indisputable fact of this entire on-going story. Whether or not Wilson was an upstanding police officer, personally harbored neither hatred in his heart nor fear in his soul for African-Americans, or the Ferguson PD had a history of racial tolerance that was exemplary, above board, and transparent are neither here nor there. The long history of sanctioned violence against African-Americans determines the narrative focus, not Wilson’s personal morality.
And here we are on Sunday morning. I’m going to go to a predominantly white Church and worship a God that I hope will hear pleas for racial justice. I hope the Holy Spirit rips the scales from our eyes so that we can see the hurt, pain, rage, and fear among communities of color. I hope we are able to see in the shot and bleeding bodies of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell the broken body of Christ. I pray that we are willing to demand justice for their deaths, demand an end to racially-motivated official violence. Most of all, I pray that as we as a congregation gather around the communion table, we remember all our fellow Christians not only of other faith traditions and confessions, but other races, nationalities, languages, and histories are gathered with us because it is God who calls us to God’s table. I believe the sacrament is the first place for healing to begin. Let it be so in all our churches today and in the days and weeks to come.