The small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri has captured the attention of our city and to some degree the world. As followers of Jesus watch the events unfold, our hearts our crushed with the pain and raw anger on display in a mid-western suburb. Make no mistake, if Ferguson can erupt in this kind of racial violence any city in our nation is capable of the same experience.
As much as we might wish to ignore this issue or convince ourselves it is being overblown by the media, the truth is that racial tension is all around us. The anger, pain and the conflict in Ferguson are indicative of the racial divide that remains in our nation.
I have a son who is policeman. Very recently my son was the first responder on the scene of an active shooting. Upon arrival he provided first aid to the victim, secured the scene and communicated information about the shooter who fled before he arrived. As a father I am fully aware of the daily danger that my son faces. What if the shooter had returned? That is why I see the events in Ferguson very differently than others. I see these events through the eyes of a white father of a policeman. To me and to many like me the situation is simple. Wait and let the investigation play out. Give the police every benefit of the doubt. After all I am a white dad of a white policeman. I understandably experience a growing rage when hateful remarks are made about police, who like my son, for a very modest salary, daily make the choice to protect you at great risk to their lives.
In recent years God has led me to spend the majority of my ministry in the community with black youth and black leaders. As a result of this my eyes have been opened to a different world view as experienced by people who have very different experiences than my own. My wife Jill and I were privileged to have a high school young man, who was homeless, live with us a couple of years ago. His name is Charles and he is black. In many ways he was like our boys at that age. In many ways he was not. His world view, the experiences that shaped his life were vastly different than anything I or my sons experienced.
Black pastors whom I respect and I love communicate with passion, anger and fear their experiences within their context related to Ferguson. It serves no purpose for me to dismiss these very real and raw emotions as ones not based in reality, my reality. This does not make these raw emotions and the divide they cause go away. Rather it makes the divide deeper. I have to understand that my privilege blinds me in some respects to the pain and fear of those not like me.
And issues such as Ferguson can serve to stir the sin of racism that is possible within my own sinful heart. Satan is a master of using our most passionate feelings to convince us we are right and everyone else is wrong. Racism is real. Racism is a sin. As all of us are vulnerable to the sin of greed, lust and pride. We are also vulnerable to the sin of racism.
Jesus displayed for his disciples how to deal with the ingrained racism of his day. John chapter 4 records that Jesus went through Samaria. To be blunt. Samaria is the place too near to you for your comfort — the place filled with people you don’t understand, you don’t like and who threaten your world view. Samaria includes people who are near geographically but are far apart culturally. Jesus needed to go through Samaria because as Dr. Tony Evans reminds us ”Spiritual needs overrode cultural differences.”
Jesus did not cease being a Jew to minister to the Samaritan woman. She knew by his speech he was Jewish. Battling racism does not require us to be someone we are not. It does require us to see the spiritual needs of those who are different than we are as more important than our cultural preferences. Jesus expressed his desire to share a drink of water with this woman. He was interested in her spiritual needs but he was also willing to see her as a person and share life with her.
The Samaritan woman sought to engage Jesus in an ongoing racial debate. Do we worship in Samaria or Jerusalem? Jesus responded by not being drawn into the centuries old racial debate but pointed her toward scripture, toward God and the coming Kingdom. There is our response. Dr. Tony Evans states. “Its not about being black or being white but being biblical. Black is only beautiful when it is biblical and white is only right when it agrees with God’s holy Word.”
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV). Samaria is the place followers of Jesus are commanded to go. We are not allowed to bypass Samaria as we take the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Racism is a tool used by Satan to rob God of His glory. Our feelings of anger and fear toward those of different races, who see the world through a very different lens, are used by Satan to prevent us from radical lives of generosity and compassion. We fight racism in our hearts by spending time at the foot of the cross. Each day and sometimes several times each day we must recall the great divide that Jesus crossed as he purchased our salvation. We were his enemies. Yet in love the Father sent the son to redeem us and reclaim us. As we have been dealt with so generously in love across a great divide, so we should deal generously in love across every cultural and racial divide for God’s glory, the advancement of the kingdom, the transformation of our communities and our own joy.
For further reading on this issue, consider reading the bloghttp://www.johnmyeats.com/unfinished-works/ferguson-and-you by the Dean of Midwestern Baptist College, Dr. John Mark Yeats.
Also consider the book Bloodlines by John Piper. A free download is available here http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/download-bloodlines-for-free.