In the six months following the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, many of us have struggled to understand what we see on television, in newspapers, and through social media and the internet. Not reported or highlighted, is the involvement of churches and communities of faith in meeting the challenges associated with these events. In this time of grief, frustration, and even hope, a number of Disciples congregations in St. Louis and beyond have been faithfully engaging in shared mission, conversations and community fellowship opportunities in response to these events.
Recently, the General Cabinet of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) went to Ferguson, to share in a day-long conversation and dialogue with local Disciples pastors in the St. Louis area. The focus of the visit was on exploring how the wider church can walk alongside our local churches to respond and offer a meaningful and positive Christian witness in situations such as those experienced in the United States in light of the events in Ferguson and other parts of the country.
We lament the recent tragic deaths of young black males in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Cleveland and in Los Angeles—as well as the killing of two police officers in New York City. In keeping with our commitment to our Pro-Reconciliation and Anti-Racist mission priority, we understand these events as more than simple matters of crime and policing. Through this lens we begin to see that these incidents highlight ongoing inequalities in our society. They serve as a reminder that racial injustice persists much deeper in our common life together than we care to admit. We also become aware of the nature of unconscious bias that shapes the actions of individuals as well as the larger systems of our society in ways that often elude our direct observation and recognition. The sin of racism continues to stand as an affront to the Good News of our faith and as a wound in the heart of our nation(s) and church.
We reaffirm the message from our Disciples Reconciliation Ministry in early January that declared, “What happened on a remote intersection in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, was tragic for the community and our nation. The death of Michael Brown and the incidents that followed have opened the door to a conversation for which we can no longer remain silent. Christ is beckoning us to break the silence, and to act in accountable ways toward one another so we can all be set free.”
Our journey to Ferguson reminded us that, as Christians, our focus is on the dignity of all persons—as equal children of God—and the call truly to be neighbors, as reflected in Christ’s charge to his disciples, “love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34
Growing out of our conversation, we offer the words prepared for a litany responding to the events in Ferguson: “Let us not rush to the language of healing before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound…Let us not speak of reconciliation without speaking of how we can repair the breach and how we can restore the loss.“[i]
The season of Lent draws Christians into prayerful reflection, penitence, lament and self-discovery as we focus our thoughts and lives upon Jesus and his sacrifice for the sin of the world. Perhaps, in this season, we might give up our desire for easy prepackaged answers fed to us by television pundits and delivered to us in 140 character parcels. Outside there is a wilderness of mistrust, inequality, racism, and violence that we often ignore or avoid. We remain in our homes; we remain in our churches; we remain in our silos of thought and perspective.
Listening to the pastors challenged us as Disciples. We were moved by the stories of hardship and hope in our conversations. As a “movement for wholeness,” we acknowledge our brokenness, particularly by the sin of racism, and join hands with our members and congregations in St. Louis and across the country who are committed to healing in the lives of the church and community. We urge the Church to deepen its commitment to promote anti-racism through local efforts toward intentional dialogue and action for justice and healing.
We call on all Disciples congregations to reach out in their local communities and become part of the ongoing conversations and actions.[ii] This means we must seek out willing partners in conversation from communities and churches of different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to explore more fully the implications of inequality and racial injustice for our lives as Christians. These sustained conversations must have as their focus the dignity of all persons, and we must commit ourselves to praying together for understanding and healing. Some of us have been having this conversation for a long time; we will need to marshal the endurance to continue it. For others, the conversation will be new, perhaps even awkward and uncomfortable. With the covering of prayer, however, the needed patience and understanding will accompany and effect sacred and productive conversations.
We went to Ferguson not as those who have answers, but to listen and to learn – and, most of all, to seek to understand how we might make an authentic witness for racial justice in our own lives, in our churches, and in our nation and world.
May this Lenten season become for us a sign of the healing love of Christ.
National Hispanic Pastor
Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries
President and Publisher
Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press
Gary W. Kidwell
Christian Church Foundation
Council on Christian Unity
Erick D. Reisinger
Disciples Church Extension Fund
Ronald J. Degges
Disciples Home Missions
Julia Brown Karimu
President, Division of Overseas Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries
Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Todd A. Adams
Associate General Minister and Vice President
Higher Education and Leadership Ministries
Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation
Mark D. Anderson
National Benevolent Association
Timothy M. James
Associate General Minister
Administrative Secretary, National Convocation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
North American Pacific/Asian Disciples (NAPAD)
James P. Hamlett
Pension Fund of the Christian Church
[i] Dr. Yolanda Pierce, United Church of Christ minister
To better understand how we are unintentionally subject to implicit bias – take the online Implicit Association Test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/