We don’t have access to regular TV (i.e. no cable and no reception) so my news comes through the phone or computer. As I’ve looked around a little and tried to confirm my perceptions I think that I’m right in my observation that the majority of those protesting in Ferguson, MO are black. Again, this could be a media bias in regards to who gets photographed or misperception on my part but I don’t think it is.
Last week I preached from Acts 6 where tensions between Jewish Christians from different linguistic and ethnic background are resolved as those with power identify with and lift up the marginalized. In this large meeting where the full number of the Christians are brought together those with a Hebraic background take two significant actions as they relate to the weaker and overlooked Christians with Hellenistic backgrounds. First, they say that your problem is our problem. The widows of Hellenistic descent are being overlooked and it is not merely dismissed as a Hellenistic problem. Second, those of Hebraic background vote along with those of Hellenistic background for Hellenistic leaders who can address the problem.
These two actions have been on my mind as I think about the unrest in Ferguson. First, where are all the white people? Specifically, where are white Christians? Is the death of Michael Brown primarily a “black problem?” Even if we assume that the police officer was acting in self-defense, the loss of this young man and the deep pain to which it is tied is not simply a problem affecting the black community. In Acts 6 when the Christians from one ethnic background see the unmet needs of fellow believers across ethnic and linguistic lines they see it as their responsibility. Even more, if Jesus overlooked our troubles. If he did not come with his power to lift up those weighed down by sin and to stand alongside those on the path to hell, where would I be?
It is easy to write, but if I were living in St. Louis now (versus seven years ago), would I go and protest? What would motivate me? What would keep me back? Is it murkier when you are closer to the situation? As I try to extrapolate and put it in the context of Worcester, I think of the primarily African American church which is allowing us to hold worship services on Sunday afternoons in their church building. Would I encourage my congregation to come and demonstrate, to march if something similar happened in Worcester? I think so – peaceably of course. In good conscience I could not stand by.
I wonder what sort of difference it would make if the crowds protesting reflected the city’s demographics as a whole, or if even one third were caucasian? Would there be a different response from the largely white Ferguson police force, a different response from local politicians, or a different portrayal of America in international media? It is one thing to feel powerless, the victim of injustice, and it is even worse if you feel that you are alone. In a NY Times article a recent Pew Survey said that “80% of blacks thought the case raised ‘important issues about race that need to be discussed,’ while only 37% of whites thought it did.” This incredible difference of perception is staggering. As Christians we must care about this gap.
What then of the second action of Acts 6 in which the marginalized are empowered and lifted up by those with power? I’m still thinking on this one.