Are you watching the news? Are you reading blogs and news reports about the recent death of 18-year old Michael Brown? Have you watched the protests that have and will continue to occur? Are you, in any sense, moved to pray or talk to others about this?
I have scanned the internet for various stories on this unfortunate incident. It is unfortunate because someone is dead and families and those in his community are grieving. I wish I could say this is a unique occurrence; it is not. As one author said, "Michael Brown is not special. In all its specificity, the 18-year old's death remains just the most recent example of police officers killing unarmed black men."
To be quite honest, this angers me for many reasons. One reason is its frequency. In Los Angeles, where I was raised for part of my life, I was accustomed to seeing white spray paint on the ground that outlined the newly deceased young black man's body. I was submerged in stories about police brutality toward my people. Do not let the preacher's robe and Presbyterian polity fool you. I come from a place to which many of you cannot relate.
Despite my current position as a PCA minister, these are still my people, and I completely understand the frustration and anger they feel. But you are my people, too. And thus I believe we must work together for the sake of the gospel to better understand each other in light of the now deceased 18-year old Michael Brown.
Did you notice the distinction I made in the previous paragraph between "they" and "you"? Let's be transparent: the majority of both readership and authorship on this blog are white. Do not be ashamed that you are white. I am unashamed of this visible difference. You should be unashamed, too, and take great pride in God's creative genius to create us visually different. Yet, simply because we are in Christ does not flatten the beauty of ethnic and cultural distinctions that we maintain. Galatians 3:27-29 provides no grounds for such a conclusion.
With these ethnic and cultural distinctions, therefore, we may see the Mike Brown proceeding through a different lens. For some of us this simply highlights what we have always known, or at least believed, to be true: young black men are unsafe in this nation. For others, perhaps some of you, especially if you have been following this event, may wonder, "Why do they (i.e., African-Americans) have to make everything about race?" Based on your observations, you have concluded that blacks, and/or other minorities, unnecessarily pull the proverbial race card. Some African-Americans, or other sub-dominant cultures, might respond, "Why do whites always dismiss the possibility that race, or ethnicity, was a motivating factor in said event?"
These are real questions with which people wrestle, and events like the death of Mike Brown only bring to the surface the questions that have lingered for years. I wonder, however, how this affects the church. I am particularly referring to the institutional Sunday morning (or afternoon) gathered church. Does Mike Brown, and those like him--even unarmed poor whites who have been harmed by law enforcement--affect the institutional church? I maintain it does.
Consider the recent and ongoing immigration debate. How has it affected you? What do you think when you see a Spanish speaking image-bearer, one who knows, or at least it is assumed, very little English? What has caused your conclusions? Do you remain unaffected by the outcry of some in the media who thrust names on them, such as, "illegal," "unwanted immigrant," or "wetback"? The point of the news, while to inform, is also to sway opinion, and I think we may lack transparency if we claim we are not, at least in part, somehow affected by what some branches of the media portray about immigration.
The same can be stated about African-Americans. For years in this nation, African-Americans have been, and continue to be, portrayed in shrouds of untruth. "We are lazy, good-for-nothings," some have and do say. "We are animals," it has been said. Or in the words of PCUS minister, Benjamin Palmer (1818-1902), "The worst foes of the black race are those who have intermeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless."
Whether one-hundred years ago or now, our views about other ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and mentally (in)capable groups are largely determined by our context, and the media helps form our views within our context. All of this makes it difficult to have important conversations about Mike Brown, situations like it, and the church.
This is why we need a movement of the Holy Spirit. Amid the horrific realities of Mike Browns all over the United States, and even the incidents that occur which are not broadcast (e.g., unjust acts taken against poor whites), we must demonstrate that the church is different. We are unlike the world, which can segregate, almost immediately, based on the color of one's skin and other factors. Have you noticed that is what has occurred in the death of Mike Brown? Why do you think the pictures and quotations from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have newly surfaced on the internet, largely from ethnic minorities? Why do you believe pictures from the 1950's and 1960's have been newly awakened? For many, history continues to repeat itself, and that angers African-Americans and other minorities. Perhaps we, specifically Christians, are also angry at the lack of representation in the 'Christian' blogosphere from others in the majority culture. Robin Williams is okay, but apparently Mike Brown is not.
There are potentially many answers to the lingering question, "What can we do?" The Transformatlists, Theonomists, and Two Kingdoms advocates 'can have a go at it,' as they say, discussing the church's role in this situation, particularly as it relates to the notion of justice. As a response to this situation, one of my concluding desires is to remind you of the Abrahamic (Gen. 17:4ff) and New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) promises.
You know, I believe it is extremely easy to notice the ethnic and cultural divide that has ensued due to the death of young Mike Brown, yet we might fail to see the same division in the church. It is there. You cannot miss it. If you are in a Presbyterian and/or Reformed/Reforming congregation, look around this Sunday. What do you see? Some are blessed to see diversity on numerous levels in their churches. Most are not. In large measure, we gather with those who are culturally, ethnically, mentally, and financially similar. The segregation that we see in the world, therefore, is, in much the same way, the segregation we see in the church. In other words, the same factors that contribute to segregation in the world are the same factors that create segregation in the church. Perhaps we are more worldly than we think?
Consider the Mike Brown matter in relation to the divisions we see in the church. What caused the uproar surrounding Mike Brown? Death and ethnicity--white cop, black man, one is dead. Is the church divided based on death? Yes. How many tens of thousands of Africans/African-Americans died either crossing the Atlantic during the slave trade or years after slavery was apparently abolished, were lynched in the south? Would you want to worship with someone who may kill you? The answer: be forced or voluntarily attend a different church. Furthermore, even when death became less of a threat, many African-Americans and other minorities were not permitted to worship with whites, and if they were, blacks were placed in the back of the church in what we now call, 'the choir loft.'
Are we separated based on ethnicity? Of course. Why do we use terms like, 'the black church' and 'the white church'? Are we divided because of class and education? How many poor whites and blacks do we have in our midst? Are we frequenting the trailer parks and projects to announce the good news and invite them into our church family? By the way, poor whites and blacks, as well as those who do not have a degree, are also in the suburbs.
Are we separated based on mentality capabilities? How many mentally disabled members do we have in our churches? Is our church a place where they, as well as their families, can feel safe, or have we made them feel unwanted because of the happenings mentality disabilities provide during Lord's Day worship (e.g., audible outbreaks). Are we divided based on culture? While many people have written about the Mark Driscoll situation, or perhaps better stated, situations, I have always been amazed at the type of people he attracted. I do not typically see those same people in Presbyterian and/or Reformed churches. Where are those who are tattooed from the neck down? Where are those who wear skinny jeans and have enlarged holes in their ears? Where are the punk rockers and the hip-hoppers? It seems, based on my observation, they/we gather with those who are like them/us.
Mike Brown: We're still divided.
Yes, what occurred to Mr. Brown is tragic and it grieves my heart. Was he even a Christian? I would hate for him to go from one tragedy to another. Yet, I wonder if this event is revealing a larger issue--the death, divide, and destruction that we have in our own churches. Both the Abrahamic and New Covenant promises reveal that God never intended his church to be divided as it is on Sunday mornings (Gen. 17:4ff; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 28:16-20; Gal. 2:11-14; Eph. 2:11-22). His promises are for all peoples (Rev. 5:9-10). Everyone, regardless of the distinctions they maintain, needs the good news of God, in Christ, come to save sinners. That must be our foundation; it must be heard; it must be believed; and the results must be manifest in our midst (i.e., a worshiping community that displays the demographics of the community). Only then will we be able to have conversations about the Mike Browns in our midst and better understand one's perspective(s) on such horrible situations.