Fight Over Ferguson or Focus On Solutions:
How Should Evangelicals Respond?
William Dwight McKissic, Sr.
Battle lines are being drawn among evangelicals regarding how to properly interpret and consequently communicate the happenings at Ferguson, within the context of a biblical-kingdom worldview. One side sees the problems of Ferguson as rooted in history; particularly the history of racial and economic injustice in America. I will address this side later.
The other side is articulated by JD Hall and Randy White.
- The JD Hall/Randy White “Evangelical Worldview of Ferguson”
The JD Hall/Randy White “Evangelical worldview of Ferguson is an isolated incident between a “criminal” running from a store robbery” and “an officer with an exemplary record and quality personal character was in fear that his life was in jeopardy from someone who, by all reasonable accounts, has a lengthy criminal record and troubled personal character, and the officer exercised necessary force to eliminate that threat.”
Those who simply view this as an isolated fight between a “criminal” with a “troubled personal character” and an officer with an “exemplary record and quality personal character” would then view the protestors in the streets of Ferguson and around the country and world as a “mob”, “not a hurting community”, a group with a “lack of values” and “questionably sincere outrage”.
JD Hall is a Calvinist Southern Baptist Pastor who views Officer Darren Wilson as completely innocent in his interaction with Mike Brown. Based on his description of Mike Brown as a “criminal”, in spite of the fact that there is no public record of Mike Brown ever being convicted of a crime, he “demonizes” Mike Brown just as Officer Darren Wilson did.
Hall then goes on to indict, the ‘Black churches’ of the Ferguson area who have done little but fan the flames of bad behavior, whether lending the pulpit to the communist community organizers raising an army of anarchy or offering their facilities or “sanctuaries” for rioters.
From Hall’s perspective “the mob shouldn’t be upset,” and “a mob is rioting in Ferguson who are not being called to repentance by the churches they attend.”
JD Hall summarizes “the evangelical message” in response to Ferguson and to those disturbed by the verdict, ought to be: “The evangelical message needs to be, ‘We understand you have grievances. We understand you feel you’ve been wronged. Let’s discuss that, but first go home, tuck your kids in, and go to bed early so you can get up in the morning and be a productive citizen. Then, let’s talk.’”
The “go to bed early” and be “a productive citizen” remarks represent paternalism at best and racism at the worst. The Black church “lending the pulpit to…communists” is absolutely untrue and reflects a low view of the Black church. The Black church purposefully housing “rioters” is also untrue.
All of the above quotes from the beginning of this article are attributed to JD Hall. He represents one side of the evangelical spectrum. The side that he represents is one reason I seldom use the term “evangelical”. I recognize that it is not a term most Black churches who hold to “evangelical theology” normally would use to describe themselves as such. Reason being, they fear guilt by association with a JD Hall mindset.
Again, the JD Hall faction of evangelicalism would view Ferguson as simply an isolated fight between a “troubled criminal” – who again has no prior criminal conviction on public record – vs. – an upstanding, innocent, police officer with a quality personal character and an exemplary record. I will label this view “The JD Hall Evangelical View of Ferguson.”
The following statement by Randy White seems to sum up his thesis and explains why he just doesn’t get it when it comes to the fight in Ferguson.
“Seems to me that racial reconciliation is a good thing and is a social issue, not a doctrinal or theological issue, and certainly not a “gospel demand.” If there is something Biblical that expresses racial reconciliation as a gospel demand, I’ve missed it.”
WOW! That is an incredible, reprehensible, biblically incorrect and racially offensive statement. To maintain that “racial reconciliation” is not a theological issue defies Malachi 2:10, Acts 10:34, Acts 17:26, Ephesians 4:4-6, Galatians 3:27, Revelation 5:9; 7:9 and a host of other Scriptures. I now understand the isolated, caviler, offensive and insensitive posture that JD Hall and Randy White have adopted. It is consistent with their theology that “racial reconciliation is not a doctrinal or theological issue, and not a gospel demand.”
2. The Russell Moore/Ed Stitzer Evangelical Worldview of Ferguson
Just as JD Hall makes it quite uncomfortable for me as a Black Pastor, being a Southern Baptist, having just read Russell Moore’s “FERGUSON AND THE PATH TO PEACE”, my chest is pumped out being a Southern Baptist. Thank God for men like Russell Moore, Ed Stitzer, and Thabiti Anyabwile, all Southern Baptist personalities attacked by JD Hall because they represent and articulate the other side of this evangelical coin. These men view the happenings of Ferguson not in isolation as do Hall and Randy White at First Baptist Church, Katy – they view the happenings in Ferguson as rooted in history and different life experiences for different social groups.
Dr. Moore actually presented a balanced and biblical values oriented statement that reflected an appreciation, understanding, and sympathy for both sides of the Wilson-Brown saga. Moore accurately expressed the differences in how Black and White believers tend to process and reach resolution on a matter like this. He did not attempt to give correction or critique to either side; only understanding.
Given the fact that the SBC is no longer a monolithic White Southern conservative racist convention any longer, it would be highly unwise, racist, and inflammatory if Russell Moore made a statement as the one that JD Hall made.
I am not sure where Bart Barber would land as it relates to being strongly in the Hall camp or Moore camp. My gut tells me he would be somewhat ill-at-ease with Hall’s verbiage. Nevertheless, Barber made comments that I found understanding the roots of the Ferguson conflict that Hall seems to completely separate from the conversation. Barber stated,
“The only solution is to try to figure out a way for communities like Ferguson, MO, not to exist. …All the way back in the 1870s, the St. Louis area was creating a toxic racial situation in the city. … Once you have a place like Ferguson, MO, located in a metropolitan area with a problematic history situated as a community with a large racially monolithic community, with a police force that looks nothing like the populace, with an environment of bad blood and crime problems, you’re going to have conflict. Try all you like to solve these conflicts one-by-one as they come up, but the only solution is to change that environment and put an end to communities like Ferguson, MO.”
The State of Missouri has a history of world changing and life altering decisions. In an article located at http://www.ThisDayinQuotes.com/ you will find the infamous, oft-quoted conclusion of the Supreme Court’s decision, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, was that current or former slaves and their descendants had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Many believe that this is the root of the current Ferguson conflict.
Barber views the roots of the Ferguson conflict as historic, systemic, and in need of change. That is a healthy and solution oriented evangelical view similar to Moore’s in my judgment. JD Hall took on a paternalistic view that will be widely rejected by Black evangelicals.
Barber, Moore, and Anyabwile all recognize the historic roots and relationship of the problem and without declaring guilt or innocence on either side; they begin to point toward solutions.
3. Evangelical Ferguson Solutions
Thabiti Anyabwile offers evangelicals solutions to Ferguson that we should take seriously and work on together, regardless to where we stand on the Ferguson verdict. His post is entitled, “THE FERGUSON GRAND JURY HAS GIVEN US OUR MARCHING ORDERS.” It is filled with solutions. The most prominent one being enacting a federal law requiring all police to wear body cameras. I’m sure Hall and White could also agree with police being required to wear body cameras.
Furthermore, the North American Missions Board Church Planting emphasis is one that I wholeheartedly endorse. It is inexcusable to plant monolithic churches today unless the neighborhood in which they are planted is monolithic. In other areas, we need to with intentionality, plant multiethnic churches. Ferguson may be a good place to start.
My encouragement to evangelicals is for us to stop fighting over Ferguson and focus on solutions.