Yesterday’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson—who shot and killed 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August—serves as the latest flashpoint for heated racial tensions involving our criminal justice system. Whether one feels Officer Wilson’s action constituted “a crime” or not, the reality is that young black males are at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts. Consequently, a tremendous amount of our nation’s racial history and tension gets exposed in reactions to such shootings because, regardless of the reason, the rate that blacks are killed by police is startling when set against the rest of the American population. During these times of heightened racial frustration, it is critically important for the faith community to lift up a unified voice.
The Michael Brown case presents a unique challenge for racial harmony because the “no indictment” announcement was carried out in a way that highly frustrated many in the black community and went to great lengths to communicate that no crime was committed. As a result, many African Americans believe this case to be an attempt to “turn back the clock on race relations,” while many others see it as a successful demonstration of the effectiveness of the American justice system. So the question becomes, “How does the community of faith move forward in unity?”
First, we must draw inspiration from this situation. We must inspire our congregations to believe that God is still sovereign in spite of human brokenness. We must also inspire our people to believe that God, in His sovereignty, will ensure justice always prevails. Psalm 9:7-8 says, “But the LORD abides forever; He has established His throne for judgment, And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.”
Second, we must put forth the unified effort, or perspiration, required to identify and address the racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system despite social obstacles that may arise. Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall (Neh. 6) serves as a marvelous example of how perseverance and focus on the work God has at hand enables leaders to avoid the challenges and intimidations of contemporaries.
Third, we must foster collaboration with each other. As the universal people of God, we have a duty to lead conversations on equity and reconciliation, regardless of the type of inequity. We are confident that our ability to foster a diverse, healthy conversation on the role of race in crime and punishment will serve as an important step toward addressing discrimination and bias at various points in the judicial system.
We, the faith community, look forward to partnering in 2015 to foster holistic, long-term, and systemic solutions to the complex set of social, economic, and community challenges that plague our great society. To God be the Glory!
- Pastor Derrick Hammond, Oak Valley Baptist Church
- Pastor Sharon Youngs, First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge
- Pastor David Allred, High Places Community Church of Oak Ridge
- Tandy Scheffler, Minister of Faith Formation, Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church
- Jake Morrill, Minister of Oak Ridge Unitarian Universalist Church
- Pastor Steve Sherman, First Christian Church of Oak Ridge
- Pastor Joe B. Maddox, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church and Moderator, Knoxville District Baptist Missionary and Education Association (KDBA)