From Archbishop Foley Beach: The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York have been tragedies, and in the United States these events have been the catalyst for important conversations about race. Bishop John Guernsey, our Dean of Provincial Affairs and Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic (anglicandoma.org), recently wrote in his diocesan newsletter about these tragedies and the racial tensions we are experiencing in many of our communities. I commend his words to you for your consideration and for your prayers. “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
“God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:24-26)
Our nation has been experiencing wrenching racial tensions in recent months over the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. The decision by grand juries in both cases to decline to indict the police officers involved has sparked outrage and protests in many cities.
A fact that has emerged most strongly for me is how profoundly differently black and white Americans see these events. Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has written, “White Americans tend, in public polling, to view the presenting situations as though they exist in isolation, dealing only with the known facts of the case at hand, of whether there is evidence of murder. Black Americans, polls show, tend to view these crises through a wider lens, the question of whether African-American youth are too often profiled and killed in America. Whatever the particulars of this case, this divergence ought to show us that we have a ways to go toward racial reconciliation.”
The ambiguities and confusion that many whites found in the Michael Brown case have been overwhelmed by the stark video tape of the horrific death by suffocation of Eric Garner. As popular Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted, “There is no unseeing what we have seen. No unhearing what we have heard. No more claiming we didn’t know. We rise loudly for what is right.”
But the polarization and misunderstanding among us continue.
As I have read and pondered numerous articles by respected leaders, particularly from the evangelical Christian world, and considered what I have heard in my own conversations, I have been struck by the depth of the disconnect within the Body of Christ. Many African Americans are feeling deep pain from these events coming on top of the old hurts of past personal experiences of racism. Many black Christians are yearning to see and hear white Christians reach out and speak out. But many whites feel they do not know not what to do or what to say in such a polarized and politicized context, and they do not have the trusted relationships with African Americans that would enable them to learn. And, sadly, all too many whites are indifferent or even hostile.
The result is often a painful, mistrust-filled silence.
One of the articles I’ve read recounted a powerful story of healing that took place following incidents of racism a dozen years ago at the University of Texas at Austin. It described the humble and godly ministry of racial reconciliation of our own David Hanke of Restoration, Arlington, then with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Please read this short but moving account here. David also preached about the Ferguson and Staten Island events last Sunday and you can listen to the sermon here.
What might we do?
First, pray. Pray for those who are in pain over these events. Pray for there to be true repentance over racism wherever that is needed, including in our own hearts. Repent for being silent when you should have spoken. Pray for the healing of America’s racial wounds and divisions. Pray that our churches and our diocese will engage our communities and more fully reflect their diversity.
Second, reach out across racial and cultural lines. Begin to form a friendship with someone of another race, another ethnicity. A recent study reveals that while African Americans have few white friends, most whites have just one black friend or none at all. We simply cannot allow ourselves to be too busy to care.
Third, listen. Acknowledge your limited experience and perspective and ask how your friend sees things. In the book of Job, it’s clear that his friends’ best time of ministry was in the first week when they came and sat and wept with him (Job 2:11-13). They got off track when they presumed to tell Job that he deserved what he was getting and why, and God dressed them down for speaking out of ignorance and arrogance (42:7-9).
And fourth, learn. If you haven’t yet read much about all this from a Christian perspective, here are some articles to get you started:
• Thoughts on Ferguson by Voddie Baucham, an African-American pastor active in The Gospel Coalition.
• It’s Time to Listen, a series of articles in Christianity Today by African American leaders, edited by Ed Stetzer.
• What One Racially Divided Family Can Do, by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today.
Our nation has a long way to go in racial understanding and racial reconciliation. And what needs to happen needs to happen first in the churches, because we know the One who can bring us together:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:13-16)
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey
Bishop, Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic