If your ministry involves ‘restoring’ an unjust illusion of ‘peace,’ then your ministry is a lie

If your ministry involves ‘restoring’ an unjust illusion of ‘peace,’ then your ministry is a lie December 17, 2014

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”
— Jeremiah 6:14 (and also Jeremiah 8:11)

Here’s a five-sentence puff piece about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, touting its recent ministry in Ferguson, Missouri — “Billy Graham Evangelical Response Team Helping Restore Peace in Ferguson“:

Dozens of North Carolinians are helping to restore the peace in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s rapid response team headed straight into the middle of riots and violence last month, just days after the controversial grand jury decision was made in the Michael Brown case.

However instead of being met with hostility they were welcomed into the community.

“From the law enforcement community to the inner city, all components of the community are very supportive that we’re here,” said Jack Munday, international director of the team.

He says through their work, they are beginning to see the community heal.

At best, that is ineptly worded and tone-deaf. And I suppose the worst of that might be the work of the “Time-Warner Cable News” reporter, and not the fault of the Graham people themselves.

But I fear that it’s as bad as it looks — that the awful language used by the reporter here, and the clueless framing of this horrifically misguided effort, may have originated with the BGEA team and not just been mistranslated by the TWC writer transposing their press release into a “news report.”

Let’s take this piece by piece. First there’s the absurdity of the assertion in the headline, repeated in the first sentence, that “restoring the peace” in Ferguson is a meaningful statement, or that any meaning it might have might be something good.

When protesters in Ferguson or elsewhere chant “No justice, no peace,” they aren’t just repeating a catchy slogan. They’re stating a tautology. They’re reciting a law of the universe. It’s no different than if they were chanting “F = ma!” It’s simply a fact: In the absence of justice, there can be no such thing as peace.

Yet the Billy Graham team seems to think that peace is something that can be “restored” in Ferguson. They seem to think that “peace” is somehow an accurate description of Ferguson, Missouri, before the protests began. They seem to be so thick-headed and thick-hearted that they think the people’s response to the violence and injustice done against them is somehow the reason Ferguson lacks “peace.”

The BGEA;s rapid response team headed to Ferguson "to minister to police" about a month after the group's first annual "National Law Enforcement Retreat."
The BGEA’s rapid response team headed to Ferguson “to minister to police” about a month after the group’s first annual “National Law Enforcement Retreat.”

That would be an epic level of obtuseness, but I think even that is an overly optimistic assessment of what this “rapid response team” is really doing. They don’t seem to be nearly that innocent. Not when you consider the weird nastiness of the next bit in this story, when we’re told that the BGEA team “headed straight into the middle of riots and violence.”

That, apparently, is all they could see when witnessing thousands of marchers singing and praying and standing with their hands raised in the air. It takes an incredibly powerful predisposition to witness thousands of people with their hands in the air — people loudly chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” — and to see only “riots and violence.”

The BGEA apparently headed to Ferguson wearing their Wilson-Vision Glasses — those special specs that prevent you from seeing anything other than violent demons who threaten your safety whenever you turn to look at black people.

I suppose, in their defense, that the BGEA folks are more interested here in striking a “courageous” pose that will allow them to congratulate themselves on their fearlessness. They’re only emphasizing the inherent menace of black people in order to highlight their own supposed bravery in “heading straight into the middle” of every white racist’s nightmare. But in service of puffing themselves up, they’re all too willing and eager to reinforce the lethal libels that portray black neighborhoods as “dangerous” places filled with dangerous (sub-)people.

And just look at how the next bit in the story reinforces that further: “However instead of being met with hostility they were welcomed.”

Ooh! It’s just like Daniel in the frickin’ lion’s den! God miraculously protected his anointed even there in the “inner city.”

Everything about this story is premised on the idea that black people and black communities are inherently dangerous — a threat. Even when the reality of those people and communities explodes that fearful, prejudiced stereotype, it gets twisted into a weird affirmation of the premise. So the rapid response team shows up in Ferguson expecting a hostile warzone filled with angry rioters and looters chanting “Kill whitey!” Yet they encounter, instead, a hospitable community of normal human beings, saddened by loss, yet resolute. But this clear evidence doesn’t cause any re-evaluation of their original preconceptions about black people and black neighborhoods — instead it’s spun into evidence about the extraordinary bridge-building power of the BGEA’s spiritual message.

And, you see, it’s because of that — because of this extraordinary capacity of these ministers to overcome even the threatening hostility and inherent dangerousness of black people — that the BGEA wants its audience of white Christians to know that there’s hope to “restore peace” in Ferguson. They can help the community “heal” by convincing the scary people to settle down and to quiet down and to go back to peacefully accepting the status quo that preceded all of this recent unpleasantness.

They’ve done this before, you know. They’ve done this for decades. And they believe they can do it again this time around.

Look, I generally like the idea of Graham’s “rapid response teams.” They were designed to be a kind of chaplaincy flying squad, a group that has been constructively “deployed” to minister to communities in the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters. Pastoral care can be a meaningful, vital help to people who are suffering.

But what’s happening in Ferguson isn’t a natural disaster. Thousands of people in the streets affirming that “Black Lives Matter” isn’t a disaster at all — it’s God’s work. And it seems like the mission of the BGEA response team in Ferguson is to shut down God’s work — to quench the spirit.

That’s not pastoral care. That’s false prophecy.

Note that Billy Graham’s people didn’t decide to go to Ferguson on their own. They were invited there by members of the Ferguson police department. According to the BGEA itself, the purpose of the trip was “to minister to police.”

That is what this team means by “restoring the peace.” They’re there to help Ferguson police regain their peace of mind. They’re there to help the Ferguson police “restore peace” by getting all those uppity protesters to settle down and go back to accepting the status quo in which everyone knows and keeps their place.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association rapid response team, in other words, was brought to Ferguson as a tool to supplement the work already being done with tear gas, rubber bullets, and a kangaroo-court parody of a grand jury put forth as the substitute for a fair trial.

They were brought in not to serve as chaplains, but as court prophets who would say “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

We’ve already seen what Jeremiah had to say about that message and that form of ministry. Here’s what Ezekiel says about it:

“Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, ‘Where is the whitewash you covered it with?'”

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, ‘The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.'”

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