Though I’d love to be able to always know precisely all the details of what the Lord calls me to do, many times all I know to do is to “get a move on” as my late father used to say. To get up and be led by the Spirit, which is how Jesus ended up in the wilderness to be tempted, is not at all comfortable. Monday morning I had a prophetic discomfort. Waking up seeing the continued events in Ferguson, Missouri, I knew I was being called by God to go to Ferguson to give my support to the protesters, as they are demanding justice in light of the killing of 18-year old Michael Brown.
Bishop Mel Talbert has urged us to practice “Biblical Obedience.” Though the context of his urging is specifically related to justice and full inclusion within The United Methodist Church for LGBTQ persons I hear his plea more broadly aim. Succinctly put, it requires us, according to Micah 6:8; “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” I’m practicing Biblical Obedience in Ferguson.
This call to Biblical Obedience is not and cannot be solely for the purpose of LGBTQ rights. It must address oppression wherever it’s tenacious tentacles grip the lives of God’s people and Earth itself. This is why we must all work together and use our voices against oppression.
As a womanist scholar I always seek to advance wholeness for people of this global community. This is why we “love struggle.” Like the young protestors marching down W. Florissant, who sing, “We’re young. We’re strong. We’re marching all night long!” our love for the struggle is not because we enjoy suffering but because we know we are wrestling power out of the hands of the oppressor… AND. THAT. WE. SHALL. PREVAIL.
One of the things that keep coming to my mind while I am in Ferguson is “safe space.” I think safe space is important to have whenever possible. But as I am literally walking in front of police armed with tear gas, rifles, billy clubs, and riot shields, I’m convinced that if you are really serious about ministry you must be willing to walk in some pretty unsafe spaces. You must especially do that while looking at those who are seen as your enemy—in this case the police—who are as we all are, imperfect. My struggle goes well beyond individual police but instead to an entire police system that is daily strategizing to deny justice to American citizens. No one can tell me that denying freedom of the press as I have personally witnessed is not a categorical denial of justice. No one can tell me that the killing of an unarmed man or the beating of an unarmed woman ought not unequivocally require a thorough and transparent investigation.
I celebrate the work being done in the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church to address this crisis. I am thankful for letters written by Bishop Schnase, Bishop Carcaño, and any other of our bishops. I am nonetheless dismayed that on the day of this writing the United Methodist Council of Bishops has not issued a pastoral letter to speak to this national crisis in Ferguson. I took for granted that this would be done given the several statements they issued related to LGBTQ ordination and marriage. They are silent while the world cries out. The international community has swiftly addressed what is going on, Human Rights Watch has decried Ferguson police tactics, and Amnesty International are present monitoring events. As I do work here in Ferguson I question the integrity of the service of repentance for the church’s racist history.
If you have been asking, “What can I do?” I believe the best answer is to just make the first step. Nothing I am doing in Ferguson was well thought out before my arrival. Andy Oliver, M Barclay, and I are literally thinking on our feet. Just get a move on!
Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey is an ordained elder of the Northern Illinois Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology. In addition to this work, Dr. Lightsey serves as co-chair of the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion. An Army veteran and mother whose son served in Iraq, Dr. Lightsey is active in social justice ministries but particularly those focusing on global peace, LGBTQ civil rights, eradicating racism and the engagement of viable reconciliation methodologies. RMN’s history and work is contiguous with her own experiences. She has worked with RMN and supported its several programs and is happy to offer her scholarship and ministry skills to the organization. Pamela hopes to help RMN especially to understand and further support the unique challenges of being a queer person of color.