“A riot is the language of the unheard.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Are we listening? We as a Christian community have to learn to listen across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. Our brothers and sisters in Ferguson are mourning without hope. Our brothers and sisters don’t feel heard and destroying property gives voice to the voiceless.
Now let me be clear, rioting is wrong. With that said, it’s important to understand that this type of rioting is a misplaced cry for shalom. The community in Ferguson is crying out for things to be woven back together the way that God intended them to be.
It is clear that we have a significant population of people in America who do not believe that the justice system is fair to ALL people and we have some other people who believe that the justice system is perfectly fine. No matter what your opinion is on the matter, this reality is not Shalom, therefore we need to pray…
How Can the Lord Come Into Our Ferguson Situation?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
Love expressed in Christian community is the coming of the Lord in the “already but not yet” Kingdom of God. The world will know that we are Christ’s disciples if we love one another. But the unfortunate reality is that racial and socioeconomic segregation exists in the majority of churches in America. Where is our moral authority as a church to criticize the outworking of the racially and economically segregated town of Ferguson, MO?
Again, we should never condone violence or looting no matter who is doing it. But with that established, we still need to understand that people are mourning with despair because they don’t have anywhere to go. And a segregated church offers few answers and little hope.
Would the reaction in Ferguson be the same if the church in America was a multi-ethnic, socioeconomically diverse community known for its love for one another? When the Gospel is demonstrated in Christian communities across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, love is expressed and surrounding communities are transformed.
I know I’m not joining in the looting, but I still feel a sense of responsibility when I see that the Body of Christ is just as segregated as the community of Ferguson.
Church, we have to repent for our love not being in action across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic divides.
How Do We Prepare for Advent This Year in Light of Ferguson?
Step 1: Repent
Racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic segregation is so normative in the majority of our Christian communities that our hearts have become hard and numb to God’s passionate desire for diversity in the Body of Christ. We have to repent of our sins of division in order to make room for the Lord to come in our divided churches and divided Ferguson.
Can we pause and pray, “God, please forgive us, we repent! Come, Lord, Come.”
(If you want to have a deeper understanding of what we are repenting for, please start your journey by reading, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith.)
Step 2: Put Love into Action
Love expressed in Christian community is the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus gave us the commandment to love one another, and Paul gave us the instructions on how to put our love into action in Romans 12:9-16:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13
Our love in action has to be sincere in order for Christ to come the way that we need him to come in our communities. We have to hate what is evil and cling to what is good even when we might be blinded by our personal biases. When a brother or sister points out a wrong perspective for us, we need to love goodness more than we love being “right” or avoiding the shame of being “wrong.”
Can we learn to honor our brothers and sisters who are racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically different than us better than ourselves because they bear the image of God also?
Come, Lord, Come!
In love, can we minister shoulder to shoulder across divisions to show people the glory of our God who is reconciling ALL things in Christ?
God is on a mission of reconciling all things and restoring all things, therefore we are to be partners with God in this work. What would it look like for us to come to the community of Ferguson (or the ‘Ferguson’ in your community) in a listening posture to say, “Hey, I see that you are frustrated, burdened, angry, and in despair. Can I listen to your story? Can you tell me what I can do to partner with you?”
Come, Lord, Come!
Step 3: Mourn and Lament Together as a Community
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:15-16
As we enter into our country’s commercialized season of Christmas, it will be easy for the Body of Christ to be caught up in celebration when we need to learn a dimension of intimate love that only comes through mourning and lamenting together.
Mourning and lamenting together as a Christ-centered community builds a solidarity and longing for a unique coming of Christ and His Kingdom that only comes for those that mourn. In our Christian culture of endless celebration, we rarely take the time to mourn and lament, and therefore we are missing dimensions of the Kingdom of God that would equip us for times like we are facing today.
Come, Lord, Come!
Can we shed our pride? Can we confess our biases? Can we join in solidarity with our brothers who are on the lower end of the economic and racial caste system in America?
Our mourning in solidarity offers hope to the hopeless. People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. Love in action will demonstrate the coming of the Lord, then, now, and in the future.
Come, Lord, Come!
The majority of my ministry is in cross-cultural situations where I am helping the Body of Christ (mainly in evangelical circles) overcome challenges to cultural diversity and reconciliation within their Christian communities. I have so many friends across various races, ethnicities, socioeconomic levels, and church traditions – and we talk about diversity and reconciliation a lot. However, even in this space, I carry the double conscious burden of being an African-American male in this country.
I’ve had numerous experiences of unfair policing even as a professional speaker going to and from professional conferences. This is a burden that is mostly shared alone or with other Christian people of color. There are a handful exceptions to this rule, but generally my white brothers and sisters fall into one of two categories: 1) they find it hard to believe that our policing and/or justice system is not always fair, therefore there must be a reason other than being black; or 2) they are overcome with ‘white guilt’ and they choose to not engage in this part of my journey.
Not only is this a journey that I carry alone, but my wife and many other black women carry the burden of fear that their husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, or nephews will be arrested, convicted, and at worst killed unjustly.
Come, Lord, Come!
Our Road to Reconciliation
In the summer of 2013, I saw the Kingdom of God in June, the Sunday after the Trayvon Martin verdict.
My church community, East End Fellowship, is a multi-ethnic socioeconomically diverse church that is located in a gentrified community. We have millionaires, homeless people, and everyone in-between in our church community. We are a racially and ethnically diverse community, so it was essential to address the Trayvon Martin verdict.
When I say we are diverse, that also includes political diversity. We have people who are advocates for the second amendment and the laws that protect these types of rights. We also have people who don’t trust our justice system. With the type of diversity that we have in our community, it was only love in action that would keep our community together through a tough time like the Trayvon Martin verdict.
Although we didn’t know it at the time, the Holy Spirit had led our community in practicing Romans 12:9-16 throughout the year, so when the Trayvon Martin verdict came out, we were ready to journey together in solidarity.
Community prayer is a common practice within our community’s worship gathering. People stand up and share testimonies of rejoicing or confessions of laments and we pray together. This particular week, one of my sisters in our church who is blonde haired, blue eyed, and very culturally and racially white started to pray about the Trayvon Martin situation. Her heart was broken. The trembling in her voice that came from tears turned into wailing and screaming. To be honest, it made me uncomfortable, but it was at that time the Lord came into my heart and began to heal me of wounds that I have accumulated as being a black man in America. I was in need of healing and I didn’t even know it.
We are all in need of healing in this area and we don’t even know it.
Our community has the practice of writing songs for our context and that summer we had written a lament that we shared for the first time at that service after our time of community prayer. The worship team sang “Purge Me” and after the song was over, there was a deep silence that felt like minutes. Then the silence was broken with wailing and crying. This was a moment that I would never forget. Our community finally learned how to mourn and lament together.
The Lord came to us in our brokenness and moved us further down the road to reconciliation.
East End Fellowship and I give you this gift of our story and this song during this season of Advent:
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith by Mae Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, Troy Jackson, and Soong-Chan Rah
- The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America by Edward Blum & Paul Harvey
- Arrabon: Learning Reconciliation through Community & Worship Music by David Bailey