Ferguson: A Pastoral Response

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O God, you are our Creator; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O God, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.


In times like these, when marginalized communities sense the threat of violence for their own livelihood and well-being, words fail. Words fail because the injustice seems insurmountable. Words fail because the system that is supposed to bring justice feels irreconcilably broken. Words fail because we can’t fully articulate the profound anger, sadness, and frustration that this decision engenders in us. But, as Audre Lorde so importantly reminds us, our silence will not protect us.

As an organization that works for the full inclusion of all persons, the injustice of the events surrounding the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and a decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who committed the murder rings out as a clear cry that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We as More Light Presbyterians cannot stay silent, and we also recognize that we can not say enough. We must step forward, not back, to stay in relationship with those who are counted as other, marginalized, and disconnected from systems that help them to flourish. The violence that has been perpetuated against Mike Brown and the Ferguson community by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson not only minimizes the violence against black bodies, but also affirms a sense of dominance over marginalized communities. We need to affirm, as the hashtag did that emerged after Mike Brown’s shooting, that #blacklivesmatter.  We have a role to play in dismantling the racism that allows for such violence to go unchecked by our legal system.

However, we also need to recognize that Ferguson goes beyond race to bigger questions that demand our solidarity and personal ownership of our own privileges. (see this link) Yet, what Ferguson exposes most clearly is that the black / African American community continues to be threatened due to the militarization of the police. Just a few days ago a 12 year old boy was shot by a police officer in Cleveland. In the face of this injustice we cannot stay silent. As followers of Jesus, we must name the racism inherent in the culture that led to the death of Mike Brown, and we also name that a racist system privileging whiteness does harm to all of us, regardless of the color of our skin. We know that no one is fully free until we are all free. In the midst of this, we also see the need to join together with our black sisters and brothers to help usher in lasting peace and justice.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, beginning a season where we wait expectantly, hopefully, watchfully for the impossible, for the heavens to open up and God to descend down upon us. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in today’s lectionary text, when God did deeds the people did not expect, that was precisely the moment when God was with us. As those who work for racial justice and peace, it can feel like waiting and working for the impossible, especially when injustice is so clearly perpetrated against our brothers and sisters. As Isaiah reminds us, it can be tempting to too easily only identify as those who are righteous and ignore our own iniquities. In this season of Advent, we can watch and wait for the mountains to move and the impossible to be made possible and dwell among us, but we cannot stay silent in the face of injustice.

We must respond to the events in Ferguson from a critical and pastoral place—a place that demands attention to the particularities of difference that threaten our collective flourishing; we call this an intersectional place, despite recognizing the reality that words fail in this very moment. It is the recognition of our shared kinship that demands this intersectional response from MLP. The LGBTIQ movement demands justice for all persons, remembering that it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who modeled for us a way to be peacefully resistant to politics and policies that only serve self and bring calamity to the marginalized. When words fail us, perhaps it is the moment to turn to the God of Love, whose passion for the flourishing of all humankind is beyond the capacity of our words to contain. We can rely on the Spirit who “intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). By crying out to the divine who is beyond words, we can be heard into voice, so that we might find the words to speak God’s love into the depths of human pain. This moment in Ferguson calls all of us to remember those that have struggled for justice (whatever the injustice has been) that in their work is rooted a collective memory and imagination for a better world. Now consider, we are ALL God’s people.

 

Photo credit:  ABC News

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