By Daniel Camp
Pastor, Shiloh Baptist Church
Your favorite pundits, your Facebook news feed and your preferred corner of the blogosphere probably do not reflect this simple truth: That there is nothing simple about Ferguson. To them, #Ferguson is an open and shut case of institutional racism, of the white law enforcement establishment once again pressing its heel on black citizens it swore to serve and protect. Or, #Ferguson is a clear example of the race card being played without regard for the facts, of victimizing a thug while demonizing a police officer.
The two-sentence lectures on the black experience or on criminal law — short enough for a tweet — have begun in earnest. The memes break it down even further, to six or seven words and a picture. The quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. are already being cherry-picked to suit all sides of the argument.
The story of the confrontation between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson has become about so much more than these two people over the last few months, yet paradoxically as the story metastasized into a web of intense social issues, distant followers of the events in Ferguson found comfort in familiar narratives that broke the story down to what they saw as its core components. Michael Brown was either a teenaged victim or an aggressive criminal. People on the streets of Ferguson were either protesters or rioters. The criminal justice system was either rigged against black citizens or colorblind.
But as facts become hashtags, as photographs and video clips are disseminated to prove people’s points about what this story really means, we ought not lose sight of something that the sheer volume of passionate opinion proves — that there is nothing simple about Ferguson’s story. For better or for worse, talking about Ferguson now means talking about institutional bias, police militarization, diversity in law enforcement, who justice really serves, how the government values its black citizens and on and on and on. #Ferguson is not a problem simple enough for a hashtag; it is a host of problems too complicated and too painful for social media to solve.
For the Christian, the only thing simple about Ferguson is how you respond — with grace. That means instead of posting a diatribe against the system or the protestors, you pray for them. It means instead of cursing those you disagree with, you bless them. In short, it means doing exactly what Christ did for you — extending love even and especially to those who you do not believe have not earned it.
Grace being simple does not mean it is easy. On the contrary, praying for an enemy comes much less naturally than praying for an ally. Turning the other cheek means enduring pain instead of delivering it. Responding to conflict with an eye toward peace means your side may not win the conflict.
What grace being simple means is not that it is easy, but that it is uncomplicated. It does not distinguish between the white cop and the black protestor, the prosecutor and the civil rights leader, the grieving father and the frightened wife. It simply loves, irrespective of background, worldview, profession or race. It weeps with the 25-year-old black man who feels as though a brother has been taken from him too soon. It lends comfort to the white policeman who wonders if he will ever feel safe again in his city. It sees every single person touched by Ferguson, from Michael Brown to Darren Wilson to a CNN viewer thousands of miles away, as someone created in the image of God and loved by Him. It is simple because it does not care where you are from, what you believe, or what you do; only who you are—a child of God.
For those who profess faith in the Prince of Peace, pray for Ferguson. Pray for those you identify with, whether they be the protesters or the police. And then pray twice as hard for those you are struggling to understand, the people you would regard judgmentally but for grace. Pray not for a side, but for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The wounds of Ferguson are so raw and so complex that anything that people crave simplicity. They find it in platitudes, in anger, in the law, and in their worldview. May your response to Ferguson’s pain be simpler still — may you love as Christ first loved you.
Daniel Camp is the pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Crawford, Texas, where he previously served as youth minister. He graduated with a Masters of Divinity from Baylor University in May. He lives with his wife, Lindsey, in Waco, Texas.