Monday, December 1, 2014

So what's my role?

For those who are tired of hearing about Ferguson and all things associated with the topic, please feel free to stop reading now. Today, I make no claim of saying something new, nor do I pretend to offer anything exceptionally profound. I simply aim to share what the Lord has laid on my heart. Since there is a possibility that my white suburbanite situation is not entirely unique, I will briefly share how I intend to respond to what’s been revealed in my own heart over the past week.

I am ignorant of all the evidence and facts surrounding the tragic death of Michael Brown that came as a result of an altercation with Officer Darren Wilson, but I can tell you that those details are not nearly as important as you might think. The real issue at hand, at least in regard to our national unrest, has very little to do with the grand jury’s decision or the subsequent rioting and looting. There has been a prevalent lack of sympathy shown from white Christ-followers toward our fellow black brethren, which is especially disappointing during a time like this.

As I have scrolled my timeline looking at post after post on Facebook, I’ve watched believing friends talk much about justice and due process; discussions and comments have focused on how Michael Brown got what he deserved. It appears to be the false assumption of many that most blacks are in support of the lawless destruction of the St. Louis area businesses and neighborhoods. Yet, that clearly is far from the case. And rather than hearing what is at the root of this unrest and disappointment, many are quick to insist that it is time to move on.

So if folks are upset and protesting, why might they be so enraged? Is this an isolated case or does this look strikingly familiar? Is there more at play here? Have blacks historically been discriminated against? Surely, you don’t think we’ve completely moved beyond this issue of race? The truth is that most of us cannot know what it is like to walk the streets of one’s own neighborhood in fear. There is no experience that I have had in my life that can rival that which is common in many urban black communities. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot empathize. My moments spent as the minority in a brief scenario do not even compare.

Now I want to be very clear in stating that most of our law enforcement officers are good men that represent their precinct with honor and dignity. Daily they risk their safety and comfort so that our families can enjoy an atmosphere of peace and safety that they help provide. I have friends that are policemen that I would vogue for in a heartbeat. Unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that some abuse their power and authority.

So then the question: Is something less of a reality if we have personally not experienced it? Is it impossible to grieve for the loss of a young man’s life no matter the cause? Additionally, can it only be sad in certain situations? Are there some criteria that must be met? I’ve been to lots of funerals and memorial services, yet I’ve not heard anyone say, “Well, you know he probably died of a heart disease because he ate fried food so often.” Or, “Yeah, she smoked so many packs a day that she deserved to die of cancer.” No, no, no. No way!  You know why people don’t say those types of things? They dare not utter those phrases because such words would be cold, unnecessary, and extremely insensitive. You don’t pile on, you sympathize; you listen and work hard to understand what your friend or family member is going through. And isn’t that ultimately the point. We so often fail to respond like family, because we struggle to see ourselves as family. No matter how much we chirp about being the same – all image bearers of God, we still see each other very differently.

Despite Scripture’s call to unity (Philippians 1:27, 1 Peter 3:8, Romans 12:16, Hebrews 13:1), we, even as the church, are content to accept our limited understanding of each other and continue on going about our business. Jesus’ prayer for us is that we might be one – in mind, in purpose, through adversity (John 17:9-16, John 17:20-23). Instead of heeding the heart of our Savior, we often allow such events as we’ve recently seen, to divide us all the more. We make it about politics or poverty, conservatives versus liberals, us versus them. Is that the answer? Does that bring us closer together? Does that really unite us in peace? Friend, you may label me whatever you like, but know this: Jesus is my banner and His Gospel is my creed. And this Gospel not only calls each of us to more, it empowers to live accordingly. We must deny ourselves and die to our agendas and preconceived notions, if ever we are to live in the fullness that is available through Christ.

Again, I cannot know your heart but I can tell you a bit about mine. This whole thing has been tough. It has been sad to watch so many unloving exchanges in a time when the very opposite is so desperately needed. But I’m also saddened by own position. Though I’ve done my best to listen to what many black leaders have said and I truly long to play a part in our nation’s healing, I’ve been reminded that I am so isolated in my lily white circles of influence that I honestly can’t relate at a meaningful level. There is a well-developed chasm between my world and that of others (in this case blacks), and without a purposeful plan to engage differently, the distance will only grow farther apart. As the church, we must have a voice in times of national crisis. We must be able offer clarity and direction and point to the hope of the Gospel as we labor toward racial reconciliation. So as a pastor with a very limited number of ethnically and racially diverse companions, my ability to serve the body as well or as fully as I should is somewhat hindered.

So what to do? Well, first I must acknowledge where I’ve missed the mark. Then I must educate myself, which I can do this through reading and research. However, I must also seek education by way of experience. It is not enough to talk about having black teammates in high school or African-American classmates in college. Mentioning that we bump to Lecrae in our mini-van, or that I listen to E-mase on podcasts, or that I weekly read Thabiti’s blogs is insufficient. I must pursue real, meaningful, relationships with other black pastors and community leaders. If I truly believe that there is a richness to be found in diversity, then I must become diligent in seeking it out personally, as well as working to facilitate opportunities for the body corporately. To speak of diversity’s beauty in theory alone would be trite; just as it would be wrong for me to rail against you for not tithing, if I had not given so much as penny either.

fixes the NY's Arch problem (via @drmoore).

As I begin to wrap this up, may I ask a question? What has your response been to Ferguson? Contemplation of how I answer this simple question has been quite revealing. And guess what? I have again been reminded of my need for repentance and God’s grace that produces growth; the Holy Spirit must continue to sanctify me through and through. I could be ashamed of my blind spots and the prejudices I’ve grown up with or I could press into Jesus and plead for help. I choose the latter.

Again, I’m not here to judge or guilt anyone. I’m here to apologize for my empty words and ask for your prayers. Pray for me; pray for our church; plead for our nation. Might we grow together – first as those united in Christ through our various local bodies, then collectively as a country. Pray that God would raise up a generation of leaders – men and women that would tirelessly strive toward God-honoring, Spirit-filled, Christ-exalting, racial reconciliation and unity. 

We can pretend this whole thing is really a non-issue and for the most part, we can live in a way that will make such a thought seem true. For as long as we stay within the bounds of our predominantly white cul-de-sacs and gated communities, we will be largely unaffected in our day-to-day activities. Though the beach is becoming crowded, there’s still room for you to duck your head in the sand. But the truth remains – there is far more at work and at stake in this very hour than we might care to admit. Eventually after the protests subside and mainstream media moves on to the next big thing, the problem will still be in our midst. There is need for us to work toward racial reconciliation in our communities and fair treatment for all our citizens. And as Christians, we must take the time to evaluate our role in God’s redemption movement.

I’d be happy to die an old man, having to never again witness such racial turmoil as was displayed as a result of Ferguson, but that dream is unrealistic. For in this world we will have trouble. May we learn from history and our own mistakes, and might we be better prepared to lead in the future. Lord, prepare Your bride to guide in grace and truth, as a trusted voice and a faithful example. Father, for Your glory, make it so.

Matt Fowler - Family Pastor of HS

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