Ferguson could only happen in the United States of America.
Start with the original American sin of the enslavement of Africans, justified by secular and religious Americans. Follow slavery with a century of lynch law, government imposed segregation, and a total failure of justice for thirteen percent of the American population. If Ferguson does not trust the establishment, who can blame Ferguson?
If American Christians had rejected racism, as most of the global church has, then Ferguson could not have happened, whatever the truth of the events that happened in Ferguson, because Ferguson is partially (either in the shooting, the rioting, or both) a reaction to our history. Part of this history is the failure of the historic white Christian majority to unite and stamp out the sin of racism while worrying more about the reactions to racism.
While decent Americans and true Christians mourn death, rioting, racism, and race-baiting, a loud group (the Dark Enlightenment) has arisen in many social media circles to embrace the evils of American history. Let’s be clear that despite the claims of the “new” racialists, operating in the Dark Enlightenment, a movement neither dark or enlightening, Christianity and racism are incompatible:
No Christian person can be a racist and intellectually consistent as a Christian, because the Lord God created all of humankind in His Image. White racism rejects the humanity of our Lord Jesus: no Nordic superman He. No Christian can be a racist and emotionally consistent as a Christian, because God’s call is to love all men and women as family. All groups will stand before the throne of God at the end of time united.
And yet since for all our history most Americans have been Christian, and most Americans were white, Christian white Americans must take a majority of the blame. White Christians failed to act as Christians. This inconsistency harms our brothers and sisters, undermines good we have done, and is a horrible sin. A religion of humility has no place for wicked false pride in one’s “race,” assuming “race” has any real meaning.
The Dark Enlightenment writers in my Twitter feed often threaten to leave Christianity, if the Church does not shape up on race. They know Christians are “now” a global, multiethnic faith. While the Church is made up of sinners, this particular type of sinner, the racist, should repent or leave since no prodigal child has the right to bring the style they intellectually sit in to church. The Church is multiracial by nature: Ethiopia was a great Christian nation before my ancestors heard the Gospel. I stand with my brothers and sisters in Iraq, China, Kenya, Nigeria, or Mexico over the pagans of my own “race.”
You are right about one thing if you are of the Dark Enlightenment: if you are a white racist, worship the Nordic gods and not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is for every human being.
I do not know what happened in Ferguson and I know that I will never know. Why? Our history and our present situation promise the politicization by both parties, the exploitation of the horror by race-baiters, and mounds of spin. How will we ever know justice was done?
Racism exists and African-Americans still do not receive justice to the extent America promises justice or to the same extent white Americans receive justice. A nation where a terrorist organization, the KKK, ran whole regions in living memory and where lynch law was common in parts of the country in my parent’s lifetime is not one that can be sure that Michael Brown was treated justly or the police will not be made scapegoats. We have erred too often.
No conservative Christian can look at the military style response to rioting with comfort. Too much police power is incompatible with limits to the government and the Ferguson police reaction to rage in the city appeared disproportionate. Again, American justice cannot get the benefit of a doubt when it comes to the death of an unarmed young black man.
And yet the rioting is unjustified, race baiters exist on both sides, and it might be that this reaction by the police will turn out to be have been (barely) within the limits of the law. We must be patient as the state and federal government investigate, but not so patient that we do not mourn and weep for the dead or confront the hard truth that deaths like this happen too often.
Ferguson exists, because deep inequalities and inequities exist. The particulars matter, especially so the officers can receive whatever justice is appropriate, but too much injustice happens to dismiss the problem Ferguson has raised if Ferguson itself turns out to be a bad example of the problem.
Does anyone doubt that even if this slaying is somehow within the law, that our reaction to it is tainted by our history? It is the product of our failed attempts, on the right and left, to deal with our heritage of slavery, segregation, and racism. If we have made progress, and it has been slow enough to seem like token motion at times, then we know we have not gone far enough.
Our ideals as a nation, our ideals in the majority Christian population, are so high that our continued failure reeks. But this much I know: we must not give up on our ideals. The “Scottsboro boys” never received justice, but we now have a chance to do better with this investigation. The noble speech by Captain Johnson in a local church is a start. Johnson tolerates no rioting, is protecting his officers, but knows six fatal bullets in a fleeing, unarmed man is terrible and fit for an apology.
What can I do? I can speak out against racism, especially when it appears in my own party or in new “conservative” forms. I can examine my own conscience for racist ideas and repent when I find them. I must reject the easy condemnation of these particular police officers until more is known, reject blanket condemnation of all people, or refuse to recognize progress that has been made. Instead, I must vote for justice, pray for peace, and acknowledge the promise of Christian harmony and American justice are not realized.
Langston Hughes, one of our greatest poets, was prophetic when speaking from the pain of his experience of racism he said:
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!