Ferguson

Peace vs. Justice

By Rev. Mindi

Recognizing that I am a white pastor and writer on this blog, and guessing that the audience of this blog is predominantly white, my question is this: do our prayers for peace mean silence?

Often, sadly, I think they do.

In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s violent death while being in police custody, protestors took to the streets of Baltimore. It wasn’t long before more police were called in, then stones were thrown, then hundreds of police in riot gear, then fires started, then the National Guard was called in. What I hear and see from my white colleagues is “pray for peace in Baltimore.” What I hear and see from my colleagues of color is “work for justice in Baltimore.” Sometimes, I think white Christians think that peace and justice are the same thing. They are not.

True peace comes after the work of justice, not vice versa. I think all too often white Christians quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others about nonviolent protests and do not quote them about anger and the work of justice. We quote Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but not “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which King clearly calls out white clergy who have tried to silence him in the name of peace. We think that if people who are oppressed would just sit down and talk calmly and rationally about their feelings, the oppressors will then listen.

Imagine if Jesus had walked calmly into the temple and sat down at the moneychanger’s tables and said, “Listen, I want to talk to you about how you are cheating the poor by selling them doves that are not acceptable for sacrifice and are not giving a fair exchange rate for the temple currency.” Do you think they would have listened? Or would they have ignored him, or even had him removed?

Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Jesus also turned over the moneychanger’s tables, scattering the coins, and stopped the carrying of merchandise through the temple. If that doesn’t sound like the beginning of a riot, an act of vandalism, an outpouring of righteous anger, I don’t know what does. Jesus didn’t call for the harming of others. But it’s clear that Jesus didn’t care about property, either. He cared about people. And after he threw the tables around, the leaders looked for a way to kill him because they were afraid of him (Mark 11:15-18).

We claim to follow Jesus to the cross, but I bet we never got past the temple doors. We never got to where the message became uncomfortable. We want peace, not the sword of division. But calling out injustice may cause division, uncomfortableness, and anger.

I call myself out in this. I was all set to preach last November as we were waiting for news of any indictment of Officer Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. But I never got that far. Even in praying for Michael Brown’s family, I was asked to not be so divisive. I was asked to pray for the police officers and to pray for peace. And in my own fear of being seen as divisive, of causing controversy, I consented. I still was active in public conversation and social media, but within the hour of worship, I went silent after that. I didn’t want to cause trouble. I failed the church, and I failed the children of color that are part of my church family.

We cannot pray for peace without justice. Psalm 34:14 says “seek peace, and pursue it.” The pursuit of peace is the path of justice. Justice demands that the violence of murder be accounted for. Justice demands that the systemic subjugation and killing of black persons in America be stopped. Justice demands that the cries of the oppressed, through chants and signs to rocks and flames be heard. Be listened to. Be understood. Not simply condemned without accountability for the death and violence that has already taken place.

If you are like me, wanting to speak for justice but afraid to do so, please do one thing: stop simply “praying for peace.” If you want peace, as everyone knows, work for justice. Look to the prophets and preach on justice. Look to your community and find ways of working for justice. Amplify the voices of the oppressed in your community and share their stories (with their permission, of course—or better yet, invite others to come share their stories) with your congregation.  

We can pray for peace, but only if we first have truly worked for justice. Otherwise, our attempts at peace are just to make ourselves, often white Christians, feel better and safer, instead of lifting up the oppressed and seeking justice, as Christ called us to do.

(Un)Gratitude

By Rev. Mindi

I am participating in the UncoSynchro blog, a writing collaborative effort from #‎Unco14, focusing on subversive themes of faith and life. The theme for November is (Un)Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, I am not thankful, not grateful, for the non-indictment of Darren Wilson.

I am ungrateful that once again, an unarmed black teen is shot by police. That once again, a black teen is depicted as a brute, a monster, and that the police officer had no choice but to shoot and kill him.

I am ungrateful that few of my white friends are speaking about this, except to urge for people to protest peacefully, when violence has interrupted the lives of a black family once again.

I could go on and on, but I want to lift up some other voices—what you can read, and how you can respond:

12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson Here is a sample of what white persons can do to educate themselves about the history of racism in the United States and how white people can act.

#StayWokeAdvent The hashtag #StayWoke has been used on Twitter throughout the last 100+ days since Michael Brown’s death. People are reflecting on the season of Advent and how we can actively participate in God’s justice here on earth. This is part of the Faith in Ferguson blog, following the #FergusonTheology hashtag.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Read it all the way through. If you are white, reflect on your place in that letter. How are you responding to the events in Ferguson?

I am ungrateful that this keeps happening. Just this week, a twelve-year-old boy was shot and killed by police. He had a BB gun pistol with him. He was playing with it on a playground. Someone saw him and called the police, but even in the call to 911, the caller said it was a toy gun.

I am ungrateful for toy guns. I cannot tell you how many times this summer at various playgrounds boys were playing with water guns and other toy guns and pointing them at me and my son. I was upset about it. After all the school shootings we have had, which I am also ungrateful for, I am ungrateful that parents still think toy guns are all right to own and fun to play with. I am ungrateful for the fact that no one bats an eye when white children play with them, but when a black child plays with a toy gun, he is assumed to be aggressive and assaulting other children.

I am ungrateful for our culture of preserving property and rights to own property, specifically guns, over the rights of children and teens and young adults to live.

I am ungrateful for the response of burning cars and looting stores and throwing rocks at police officers. I am. But I am much more ungrateful that we focus on those actions rather than all the other actions that have led up to this moment. I am ungrateful for our history of slavery, of segregation, of racism that is engrained in our society. I am ungrateful for the schools to prisons pipeline.

I am ungrateful that the white mainline church will continue to remain mostly silent on Ferguson, on Michael Brown’s death, on racism in general.

I am ungrateful that white voices continue to permeate the discussion, calling for order and restraint and setting the boundaries and limits of conversations about racism. I am ungrateful that so many believe racism is of the past.

I am reminded, however, that our Savior was also of a people and culture despised in his day; that he was labeled a criminal unjustly; tried and convicted, sentenced to death by capital punishment; and that he rose on the third day.

He rose.

This is not over. Justice will rise. Black voices will not be silenced. For that, I am grateful.

Racism, Ferguson, and the Mainline Liberal Church

By Rev. Mindi

At the time I am writing this, a state of emergency has been declared in Ferguson, Missouri, as the results of a grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown on August 9th, 2014 are soon to be released. Officer Darren Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting of the unarmed teenager.

If you haven’t been paying attention, there have been protests every day since Michael’s death. Peaceful protests. In the first week, much attention was paid to the “riots” which were, in fact, twelve businesses that were vandalized, mainly by out-of-town people according to reports. There have been no officers harmed in any of the protests, but plenty of protestors have been shot at with rubber bullets, assaulted, and arrested. Yet the protests have continued on, and they haven’t been in the media’s eye because they have been peaceful. Because they have continued on, day after day, demanding justice for Michael Brown and for other young black people who have been killed by police violence.

The state of emergency declaration means the National Guard has arrived. Police have been militarized. They are ready for war, against a people who are crying out for the right to live, the right to exist. I hear people say “It is the 1960’s all over again,” but in reality, this has been the daily life of Black Americans. When I speak to my black friends, this is the fear they live: that they will be pulled over, that they will be assaulted, that they will be presumed guilty when they walk into a store or walk down the street, that they will be hurt or killed without question. This is not a fear I live with as a white person, but it is a fear made real to me as I hear stories from the black members of my church, from the black children who have been kicked out of stores for fear of shoplifting when they were just talking loud.

Racism is rooted in the heart of America. It is rooted in our Constitution that only saw black people as 3/5ths of a person. It is rooted in our forefathers and foremothers owning of slaves. It is rooted in our economy, our history, our social construction and our community planning. It is rooted in the heart of the American church, too.

In the mainline liberal church, we have been slow throughout history to take up the cause of justice. We put our hands in our pockets or cover our ears, thinking the church doesn’t have a voice in this. We get involved slowly, reluctantly, whether it be against racism or against misogyny or against homophobia and transphobia or against ableism. And the truth is we have never, ever recovered from our sin of racism, a sin that also caused us to wipe out tribe after tribe in the name of Jesus when the church came to the Americas.

As we raise our rainbow flags, remember that LGBTQ voices of persons of color need to be lifted up and heard. As we work to include people of all abilities, let us remember the persons of color with disabilities. As we work to include more women in church leadership, let us work to include women of color into the pulpit and other leadership positions. White persons end up taking up the space in other marginalized groups. Racism still prevails, even when we think we are working for equality for all.

Pray for Ferguson now. Follow the #Ferguson hashtag on Twitter and social media. Sign up for the daily newsletter at This is the Movement. And pastors, church leaders and others: read the Faith in Ferguson blog and follow #FergusonTheology on Twitter. Preach on injustice and racism, especially this Sunday, as the grand jury decision will probably be out by then. If you follow the lectionary, the Matthew 25 passage preaches Ferguson. Involve your church in anti-racism work. If there are protests planned in your city, perhaps your church can be a safe place for organizers to gather, for protestors to rest. Or think of the protestors needs: water, hats, gloves, prayer. What can you do? What would Jesus have you do?

A Reflection on #Ferguson

By Charlsi Lewis Lee

Disclaimers: I do not live in Ferguson, Missouri. I do not identify as African American. I am pale and Caucasian and middle class living in South City St. Louis.

I am also angry and heartbroken. I am discouraged and saddened. And I am full of tears.

Driving to work today, I took the long way. It's the way I go to work when I know that I need to slow down and take a deep breath. This route is off the interstate, running through an extremely wealthy city in St. Louis County. It is beautiful.

But . . . there is no one out on the perfectly manicured lawns. There are no tear gas containers lying in the middle of the street. There are not excessively well-armed police officers forming a line with armored trucks leading the way forward. And there certainly is not a young unarmed black man lying in the middle of the street with six bullet wounds.

I am angry.

I am angry that it's so easy for us to separate ourselves from the struggles of those whose skin appears different.

I am angry that I cannot even imagine what it is like for a person of color to stroll down the street, or walk through a store, or drive through an unknown, predominantly white neighborhood.

I am angry that as much as I love and celebrate diversity in this world, in my city, in my life . . . I am still afraid.

This week the words “white privilege” have been bandied about in blogs and articles. So, I might as well jump on the band wagon. I am afraid that my “white privilege” allows me to ignore the realities of life for young men and women like Mike Brown.

I am afraid that I will allow myself to get too comfortable in my “white privilege” to even recognize it for what it is.

I am afraid that more young black men have to die ridiculous deaths before the majority of us with “white privilege” will stand up and speak out.

But somewhere deep down inside me I think I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the angel’s words, Christ’s words and God’s words “Do not be afraid” will become manifest in me and in all of us.

I'm hopeful that we will be so outraged by the injustice and pain of racism that we will step out on faith and hold onto one another.

I have hope that those who perpetrate injustice on others will be shut down because they will be called out by our weeping voices singing the songs of our faith.

I have hope that God’s love is stronger than our hate.

That God’s grace is bigger than our misunderstanding.

That God’s forgiveness is bigger than our sin.

I have hope that those of us who forget that we are privileged because we are white, and that those of us who don’t recognize that privilege, will both take the difficult lessons we're learning in Ferguson as a lesson in faith—faith in the Jesus who heals, feeds, and loves calls us to honor, respect, and cherish the life of every person. Every person. There are no exceptions.

I am angry. I am afraid. But I have faith.

I know that God’s peace and God’s justice does not look like my own.

I know I can learn from the chaos of Ferguson. But, I don’t want another person, another unarmed black man shot down because he might be threat. I know that is not God’s peace. I know that is not God’s justice.