We are not powerless in the face of Ferguson; Christians can seize this opportunity to talk, act.
It is difficult to talk about the complexity of issues that have led to events in Ferguson, Mo. It is difficult to talk when people are angry. For some, it is difficult to understand how people of color and white people can live in the same society, yet have two very different experiences with law-enforcement, with economic institutions, within school systems, and within the church.
The situation in Ferguson, once again, forces us to challenge our assumptions. The transformation of the world begins only when those who call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ humbly confess our sins, pray for the leading of the Holy Spirit, and courageously address the wounds that divide us. We are called to walk with those who are hurting, angry, defensive, outraged, and even with those who deny the idea of racial or socio-economic privilege. We are called to find tangible ways to listen and share one another’s story and carry one another’s pain in order to be fully the body Christ.
United Methodist Christians, like the rest of God’s human family, represent many races, colors, cultures, languages, backgrounds and life experiences. We are law-enforcement officers, teens, people who have been affected by violence, people who have marched and organized, people who are raging, people who are fearful, and people who trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to empower and transform us. Let us seize this difficult moment by taking courageous steps right now.
What can United Methodist congregations do right now?
Join or sponsor ecumenical services of prayer and lamentation for Michael Brown and other black youth killed by gun violence, and for all those affected —including members of the law-enforcement community. Work with other churches, the chaplains from police and sheriffs’ departments, and community groups, particularly those located in communities most affected by street violence.
Invite interested laypersons to a study of United Methodist statements on racial justice, racial profiling, and equal justice from the 2012 United Methodist Book of Resolutions (available from Cokesbury), including:
- Acts of Repentance for Racism (#3372)
- White Privilege (#3376)
- Annual Conference Response (#3374)
- Resisting Hate, Fear and Scapegoating (#3422)
- Equal Justice (#5031)
- Justice with Young Persons (#5033)
Join community groups, other Christians, and political and law-enforcement groups to participate in listening sessions where black, Latino/a and other youth can tell their stories about how they experience law enforcement. Let it be a time where youth and their families are heard. Discuss ways your church can help open lines of communication and build bridges. Use resources from the General Commission on Religion and Race.
Support Wellspring United Methodist Church, located two blocks from the center of protests in Ferguson and led by the Rev. Willis Johnson. the church has been on the forefront of efforts to ease tensions, offer consolation, and pray for those who seek answers about shooting death of Michael Brown, and the Missouri Conference has set up a fund dedicated to the Christian witness in Ferguson through Wellspring United Methodist Church. So far, the church has focused on education, economic empowerment, and other ministries aimed at bringing people together across racial divisions.
What can lay people of all ages do right now?
Talk about the situation in Ferguson, especially if you’re confused, angry or scared. Ask a few friends to sit down and have a specific conversation about the situation in Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown, as well as other cases of racially charged violence involving the shooting of unarmed black men. Stay with that subject. Allow each person to speak their mind, to ask open-ended questions, to be politically incorrect, or even disagree. Remember that if we’re too polite to say what we feel, we may never get to the heart of the matter and learn from and teach one another.
After about an hour of conversation described above, shift the conversation about how Jesus might respond to what you’ve said and what he might challenge you to do. Write your thoughts down. Record areas of agreement and ideas for action. Then have the conversation many times over with more friends, adding an ever more racially, culturally and otherwise divergent set of friends each time.
Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper or television station, write to the mayor of Ferguson, to the Ferguson police chief, and to Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference to offer your support and prayers, express your concerns, call for church engagement, and push for hard conversations and deeper reflection.
Finally, talk with children and teens about the current situation in Ferguson. Explain that though you do not have easy answers, you are concerned about all the people involved. Tell them that as a follower of Christ, you want a world where young people can walk down a street and not fear being attacked by the police—or anyone—because of their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. You can explain that you also want a world where police officers are respected because they strive to protect and serve all people. Ask for their thoughts and tell them what United Methodists are doing and saying to make things better.
Hymns & Songs
God Weeps (#2048, The Faith We Sing)
Forgive Us, Lord (#2134, The Faith We Sing)
We Are Called (#2172, The Faith We Sing)
We Pray for Youth We Dearly Love (by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a foster mom of a 4-year-old African-American boy, written to commemorate the 2013 death of Trayvon Martin)
Close to Thee (No. 497, United Methodist Hymnal)
Calls & Litanies
A Call To Worship for Troubling Times by Safiyah Fosua
O Lord, Fix Me (meditation) by Larry D. Pickens
Honest Transformation by Trevor Hudson and Stephen D. Bryant
What People of Faith are Saying
Commentary on the Death of Michael Brown by GCORR Board President Bishop Minerva C. Carcaño.
Why Has the UMC Been Silent on Ferguson, Racism? by the Rev. Pamela Lightsey, Boston University School of Theology
Church leaders strive to be peacemakers in Ferguson, news article by Heather Hahn of United Methodist News Service
The Reason This ‘Ancient Prayer Position’ Was Used by an Entire Church Congregation by Billy Hallowell of The Blaze.com.
St. Louis rapper calls church to model reconciliation in the aftermath of Brown shooting (The Christian Post online)