One year ago
by Rev. Dr. Timothy James, administrative secretary of the National Convocation
One year ago Ferguson, Missouri was a little obscure suburban city outside of St. Louis. It was suddenly snatched out of seclusion to national prominence when Michael Brown, an 18 year old unarmed African American male was shot and killed by Darren Wilson a local white police officer claiming self-defense. The accounts of the incident will remain controversial, particularly when Wilson was later acquitted of any wrong doing. Ferguson experienced social unrest and fires in August and November of 2014 following the shooting and decision respectively.
We are thankful, however, that the majority of protests have been non-violent.
It was a rude reminder and awakening of an ongoing systemic issue that has been a part of America’s painful reality – racism. Ferguson is roughly 70% African American with the city’s power, authority and resources resting in the hands of the white 30%. This disparity is a menu for oppression and the victimization of the most vulnerable. The federal investigation revealed more of the historic and worst practices exercised by a city, which seemed to police for profit. It is certainly hoped for and desired that things will change. Rev. Derrick Perkins, Pastor of Centennial Christian Church in St. Louis, constantly reminds me when we talk about the conditions in Ferguson and St. Louis, “We are just THAT close to another outbreak. Things have got to change.”
There has to be a better way to relate to one another and get along. Ferguson has produced the themes and slogans, “Black Lives Matter!” and “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” “Black Lives Matter!” in all actuality, has become a movement that has crossed the landscape of the nation and has even gone global. “Black Lives Matter: A Movement for All” (GA-1518), was a resolution brought to the General Assembly by the National Convocation. The resolution was adopted, after energetic dialogue. The General Assembly is encouraging congregations to take the Black Lives Matter Movement seriously and avail themselves to be safe spaces for sanctuary and participate in sacred conversation around the matters and ramifications of race. “Charleston And Beyond: Terror, Intimidation And the Burning of Black Churches (Emergency Resolution GA-1539 Revised), was brought to the Assembly by National Convocation board president, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Michael Riggs of First Christian, Tulsa. This resolution calls for the church to seek justice for those harmed, comfort those who mourn, and join with those who struggle for justice and equality until ‘justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24)”. Further recommendations for actions of accompaniment were offered to substantiate our resoluteness. I commend the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, for we are living out and into our initiative to truly be Pro-Reconciling/ Anti-Racist Church. The workshop lead by Dr. Bill Lee, Rev. April Johnson and Dr. Jack Sullivan focused on Racism in the church in days gone by and where we are now. Many honest questions and transparent discussion followed in these sacred conversations.
Unfortunately, the list of killed unarmed black males continues to grow. The incidents of police brutality and aggression continue to fill the news. Ferguson appears to only to have been the tip of the iceberg. Black Lives Matter is a movement that we cannot ignore and is necessary for the improvement of our nation. As a church we must seek to empower our African American constituents in the midst of injustice. The young people of America across racial lines and from all walks of life are working to keep the movement alive and ask the church; “to be for real”; to get out of the way and don’t use this plight for our own agenda. Young people today are determined to advocate, work and pray for significant change. In this endeavor we have witnessed the development of new leaders and there is a general awakening taking place in communities all over.
One year ago Ferguson was almost unknown but today it is well known. As we mark this anniversary with remembrance, let us also be prayerful in our thoughts and actions. I will close with an excerpt from a prayer from Sharon Watkins, our General Minster and President, “So I pray for release from racism at times like these. I pray everybody; the police – most of whom are courageous, well-meaning persons – who have to face the anger of the crowds, for protestors who have a lot to protest, for decision makers who have the authority to bring reform. I pray for the grieving, the injured, the fearful. I pray that we all will find the courage to face the truth and do something about it.” Amen. (Poisonous Threads of Racism).