In August, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson MO. A few days ago, a Grand Jury evaluated all the evidence and determined the officer was justified in his response. Since the ruling came down, there have been reports of murders, riots, attempted bombings, looting, dozens of buildings burned down and shouting matches throughout the media. You can read some of the facts of the case on NPR or C-Span.  However, what I want to examine in this post is the different voices telling Christians how they should interpret these events.

I have been disturbed by the response of Ed Stetzer who seems all too willing to divide the world according to skin color. In his warning to “white Evangelicals” he writes;

ed-stetzerIn light of the grand jury decision handed down tonight in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, I think it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk a little less and listen a little more.
Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn’t be upset and spend more time asking why some are. Yes, this case reminds us again that the racial divide is clear, as a just released CNN poll demostrated [sic].

Yes, there is a divide and some are angry, but there are many people, Larry Elder is one example, that would say Stetzer is promoting a warped worldview in the guise of a”black” worldview. More on that below, but for now read again how Stetzer sharpens the focus on another group of Christians whom he segregates by skin color.

ed-stetzerI wasn’t in the grand jury room, and I don’t know the evidence, but many godly African American leaders are hurting and they are explaining why.

I think we should listen to them.

Stetzer makes it clear that he is going to present the voices he says white people must listen to if they want to understand why some are so angry. But notice again how Stetzer uses language that puts “whites” and “blacks” into monolithic groups who respond, in his view, based on skin color. He writes,

ed-stetzerPart of my hope is that many will ask, “Why are African Americans responding differently than the majority culture?”

As I survey the diverse voices speaking out, what I hope many will ask is,

  • “Why are some people afraid of listening to African Americans respond with a different answer?”
  • “Why are those people who have black skin, but have a different worldview called “Uncle Tom” or “Not Black Enough“?
  • “Why do people try to silence diversity within the African American community?”

My concern with Stetzer’s racially-divisive rhetoric that divides Christians by skin color is expressed well by Voddie Baucham who writes,

voddie_100_100What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

I read in Baucham echoes of the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Galatians who had their own share of racial division.

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:25-29).

In Paul’s time, there was intense hatred between Jew and Gentile. Amongst the groups he listed there was a deep social divide that caused anger, yet for him, all these things passed away in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, the Church was unified beyond these worldly distinctions.

Two Voices

It is within the context of Galatians 3, that I would say there are at least two different voices speaking to these racially-charged issues. First, there is the voice that says it is all about skin color. Stetzer clearly falls into this camp when he demands “white people” acknowledge injustice (which wrongly assumes, once again, that all whites are ignorant or deny existing injustice in our culture).

Stetzer says “white evangelicals’ need to listen to Leonce Crump who writes in his article, “Will White Evangelicals Ever Acknowledge Systemic Injustice?

leonce crumpWe live in an oppressive system, strategically engineered to subvert the progress of entire people groups and benefit the progress of another. This is the injustice.

We are still reeling from the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and all associated behavior. Before the phrase “Get over it, it’s in the past” begins to form on your lips, consider my position. Consider that every time I look into my father’s eyes and see the pale blue rim around them, set back in his very dark skin, or, when I look at the texture of my mother’s nearly porcelain skin tone, I still see the residue of what I’m supposed to get over.

It is these injustices that will not allow white evangelicals to admit that they have built their lives on the backs of the oppressive systems that their grandfathers constructed.

Crump says that white people are the problem. Whites have built a system that favors anyone with white skin and punishes those with black skin.

The second voice Stetzer says “whites” must listen to that of Lisa Sharon who write about what she calls, “The Lie“.

lisa sharonThere it is—the belief that usually resides deep beneath the surface of conscious thought, safe from examination and extrication, but was born in biblical times, solidified in the days of the Enlightenment, and codified into colonial law in 1660 through the racialization of Virginia slave codes. Then 14 years after the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” the lie was embedded in the U.S. legal structure through the Naturalization Act of 1790, which barred the rights of citizenship from both free and enslaved black people.

These are the roots of the lie. Here it is—plain and simple: Black people are not fully human. In most crass terms—they are animals.

For Sharon, the problem is that the United States is built on a lie fostered by white people. If whites look inside, she says, they will all realize they see blacks only as non-human animals.

These are the voices that Stetzer says “white evangelicals” must listen to and accept as the truth of why people are angry.

But is there another option? Is this really the reason behind the anger we see played out on the streets across America? Yes, there is another voice worth hearing. Despite Stetzer’s desire to trade in stereotypes and frame Sharon and Crump’s argument as THE “black” response that ALL “white” people must accept, there is a different voice that goes beyond the racial profiling and comes closer to the charge given by Paul in Galatians 3.

For this second voice, we can once again turn to Voddie Baucham who puts the focus on something very different than skin color.

voddie_100_100The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.

Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.

Now does Baucham’s choice to focus on the need for stronger families in the black community mean racism, prejudice, or systemic injustice have ceased? Of course not, but blaming whites is not the answer. In stark contrast to the racially-divisive accusations promoted by Stetzer, Jesse Lee Peterson offers a much different reason for the anger we see in Ferguson.

jesse Lee PatersonEmboldened by irresponsible public statements made by race baiters like Al Sharpton and Eric Holder, the professional community organizers have been planning to create havoc in Ferguson for months. Some are looking for an excuse to loot and riot. Racist black thugs in Ferguson even issued a $5,000 bounty on officer Wilson’s life.

If blacks riot, the blame lies with the so-called ‘leaders’ and elected officials who condemned the officer without knowing all the facts and who treated the thug Michael Brown like a hero by sending White House officials to his funeral.

The problem with most blacks in Ferguson and across America is that they want to blame police and scapegoat whites for their anger rather than taking responsibility for raising their children and improving their communities.

The “systemic” problems, says Peterson, are those created by charlatans who profit by fomenting racially-charged fear and anger and pride. There is no hope of moving forward when people are willing to exchange the truth for a lie.

Watch this short interview with Johnathan Gentry who was made famous for his epic video rant against Al Sharpton and the rioters.

The facts of what happened in Ferguson seem not to matter much anymore, so we might as well move on and recognize there are deeper issues of sin exposed by this incident that impact all of us. What are these systemic sin issues?

  •  73% of black children born into fatherless homes…
  • the systemic oppression of a welfare system that breeds hopelessness…
  • immoral race-mongers who live outside these communities and only come in during a tragedy to incite violence and claim the mantle of spokesman for all “blacks”, but do so only to keep their personal power and wealth…
  • people who speak of how “blacks” should respond and how “whites” should respond as if skin color puts us into opposing homogeneous groups…
  • a poor educational system that allows the masses to be manipulated by deforming the progress of history…
  • a news media that brainwashes people with lies instead of freeing them with the truth.
  • gangs who are allowed to control our streets and kill innocent citizens and recruit vulnerable young men into their ranks…
  • a Democratic party that needs to keep people poor and oppressed and angry and afraid to secure their vote and secure their own power…
  • ideologues who willfully manipulate people’s emotions by turning a criminal into a hero and a police officer into a villain without regard to any facts or evidence…
  • people who reject the wisdom, nonviolence, and love of Jesus Christ taught by Martin Luther King Jr. and embrace the violence, bigotry, and hatred of Malcolm X…
  • “religious” leaders who promote politics as savior because they do not themselves know the freedom found only in Christ…

Yes, there are deep systemic issues at work in our culture that all people, white, black, yellow, green, purple… must acknowledge… and that issue is sin. Our hope is not to divide people into “white” vs. “black” Christians. Instead, our hope is to recognize we live in a broken world, unite under the cross of Christ, acknowledge the beauty of all people created in the image of God and work to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who are lost!

The Hope Of Reconciliation

Clearly then there are at least two voices competing for our attention… and they are very different. With such disagreement, is there any hope of reconciliation? Is there any common ground between these two distinct voices? Yes. We can all agree that the anger we see in the streets is real. Where we disagree is to the question, “what is the root cause of this anger?” If we listen to the wrong voice, we will never have peace. If we want to bring healing, we have focus on solving the real problem.

The voice we need to hear begins again with Baucham who, in his article, describes his own negative experiences with police and concludes the following,

voddie_100_100Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.

It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.

I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!

As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs.

Baucham has been angry, he has been where Crump and Sharon are at, but he recognized blaming “white” people and blaming “the system” only fosters an unrighteous anger that solves nothing. Baucham goes on to write the following,

voddie_100_100In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.

The immediate lesson from Ferguson is that when we rebel against God and participate in sinful activities, we will reap the fruit of our sin.

Moving beyond Ferguson to the bigger picture, there is another voice I wish could speak directly to this circumstance. I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Hutcherson a few times when I lived in Seattle. Unfortunately he passed away in 2013. Still, we can learn from his story.

120208073211-pastor-headshot2-left-teaseI was born in Anniston, Alabama, in the 50s and had to fight for my equality most of my life. You see, there were many who thought I should be treated like a second class citizen, drink from a different water fountain, sit in the back of the bus, be counted as three-quarters of a person, go to a different school, eat and sit in the black section of restaurants, use a different bathroom; you know, be separate but equal. Then came Dr. Martin Luther King and all that started to change and praise God! I became a Christian in 1969. Today [as a Christian], I find myself again being put in that same category as a second class citizen, and I am not going to have that same fight.

Although Hutcherson has passed from this life and cannot speak about Ferguson, he did speak out strongly in a similar circumstance regarding the Trayvon Martin case. His voice is worth hearing.

120208073211-pastor-headshot2-left-teaseIt seems that being black allows us to not look at the truth even when it is screaming in our face because we just can’t help ourselves. It is hard to believe that blacks can be guilty of wrongdoing in our society. You know when you look at the truth of blacks making up 30 percent of the population and yet the majority of those incarcerated are black men and women. Can someone please tell me if it is not true that in Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and New York that blacks are killing blacks, you know, black on black crime? In those cities blacks perpetrate serious crimes with guns over 70 per cent of the time. Now don’t miss that comparison of 30 percent of the population committing over 70 percent of all crimes in our largest cities. There are many blacks who think whitey wants to get rid of us and the way we are killing each other the only thing they have to do is get out of the way and we will accomplish that ourselves. Then it does seem logical that most of the people that are in jail would be black.

Don’t turn me off because this is a conversation we must have. Black people will never be the great people that we truly are until we put Jesus above our blackness.

No one is innocent of this racial divide if we don’t do something to promote change. I am not talking about more talking; I am talking about doing.

I am struck by Hutcherson’s assertion that no one is innocent. We cannot blame “whites” or “blacks” alone. Each of us shares in the problem and each of us must share in the solution. In Christ Jesus, there are no longer white and black, there is only brother and sister. Therefore, the “white evangelical” response should be no different than the “black evangelical” response. There are white racists. There are black racists. Racism is a sin condition, not a skin condition. We need to stop profiling one-another based on skin color and start treating each other as individuals; each responsible for our own actions. If that sounds familiar, it should. It is the very same thing taught by Martin Luther King Jr. many decades ago.

martin-luther-kingI have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

In large part, King’s dream has come true. Although some voices want to distort the truth of history, white people have laid down their lives to help bring equality and freedom to their black brothers and sisters. Whites have marched hand-in-hand, fought injustice, gone to jail, and suffered attacks to help lift oppression. As a nation, we have not always lived up to the values enshrined in our Constitution, but people of every ethnic background have struggled together toward the beauty of equality. For Stetzer, and others, to then deform this history and blame “whites” and “the system” is a slap in the face to all of those who have suffered so that others can overcome.  And to segregate “white” from “black” Christians is an outright rejection of what Paul taught regarding the power of the Cross of Christ.

Hope and healing will not come easily, but as I read the wise words of NFL player Benjamin Watson, I believe there is hope that some people are listening to the right voice. He writes, in part,

benjamin watsonI’M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take “our” side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it’s us against them. Sometimes I’m just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that’s not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That’s not right.

I’M HOPELESS, because I’ve lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I’m not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.

I’M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

When it comes to Ferguson and race, there are many voices speaking out. How will you discern the truth? Which voice will you listen to?

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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