It was November 25, 2014, as I found myself having the “Ferguson” conversation with a young African-American female. She stated that she was not surprised by the decision of the grand jury. For her, the issue culminated in another wasted black life at the hands of an abusive police officer. I am sure her sentiments reflect the thoughts of thousands.
After her comments, I asked her, “How much of the grand jury’s explanation of their decision did you listen to yesterday?” She replied, “None.” I told her that I had listened to the entire presentation by Prosecutor McCulloch and that based upon what he discussed, it seemed like the right decision.
My comment was quickly followed by her accusation. “There you go siding with the white man,” she said. I took offense to her comment, but still wanting to have a civil conversation; I outlined specific points that I believe justified the actions of Officer Darren Wilson. Again, her response was disheartening, “… that’s just the white man’s truth.”
What Color Is Truth?
Subsequently, I asked her, “What color is truth?” There was a pause and then no answer.
Facts are stubborn things. Daniel P. Moynihan once said, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” I will not bore you with the facts/truth behind the Michael Brown incident. For those seeking to review the facts as best as they can be reconstructed, a copy of the grand jury’s transcript can be found here.
However, the problem in Ferguson, Missouri, and America in general goes much deeper than the facts. Once the narrative becomes emotive and a large segment of society accepts the story, the facts are irrelevant.
It’s easy for the heart to cloud the mind thereby making the facts inconsequential. After all, the truth is never coercive. No one has to believe the truth. We are all living proof of this. Every one of us at some time in our lives has looked truth squarely in the face and said, “Stolen waters are sweeter.”
So why are so many of us amazed when false narratives find fruitful ground as thousands of protesters walk the streets of Ferguson and across the nation with their hands raised in surrender, while carrying sighs exclaiming, “Don’t Shoot”? This same scenario was carried out in the U.S. Senate by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, giving the account a sense of legitimacy. All of this converges to make a courteous conversation on the matter seems impossible.
Candid Conversations within the Church?
However, that is what I believe the majority of us want—rational and polite conversations on racism. Even so, as a Christian, I have another concern. How can we dialogue with those outside the faith about racism when we are unable to have candid conversations within the church about these topics?
I am not saying none of us can, clearly this is not the case. Still, I do believe that too many of us cannot and some of us do not want to. One need only read books like Divided by Faith and Christians and the Color Line to evidence this truth. Unfortunately, America cannot wait until the Body of Christ gets its house fully in order before we speak to the nation.
So, the church will have to multitask. Speaking the truth in love we must simultaneously dialogue among ourselves and our fellow citizens.
How do we start?
We must listen first because we are often viewed as coming into the conversation from a perspective of power and insensitivity. Furthermore, we must be ready to hear hard things and endure stifled frustrations real and imagined. After we have heard the concerns of the African-American community with open minds, Christians must honestly investigate our public outcry.
Next, we must analyze these issues in community.
Then we must be ready to respond biblically to all concerns. Herein, we have sought to understand as we seek to be understood.
Hearing Hard Things
Yet, the onus is not only on Christians. Those outside the church are equally responsible to accept and hear hard things.
What are these hard things? For African Americans, it may be the truth about ourselves. Perhaps we are willing to play the race card when there is no evidence of racism. For whites, it may be accepting the fact that racism is more prevalent than one wants to admit. For blacks, it may be acknowledging we are our own worst enemies. For whites, it may be realizing that you are more complicit in our demise than you want to believe.
The Ferguson conversation is more than a dialogue about the missteps of a young man, and the regrettable actions that a police officer felt he had to take. For the nation and the church, it has become a discussion about evil (racism), justice, love, truth, and forgiveness.
These are concerns we all have in common. They are topics that Christ has uniquely equipped the church to guide our nation through successfully.
The Rest of the Story
In Part 2 of this conversation, I will attempt to drill down more deeply into these topics. And, with Christ’s aid, we will arrive at solutions that will address our fears and move us towards individual and national healing, assuming that is truly what we want.
Join the Conversation
In this post, what is a new perspective for you—a new way of looking at the Ferguson conversation?
What might you say differently or add or subtract or say, “Amen!” to?