There are a few moments in life that always stick with you. The scenes and sights are so overwhelmingly great or painful that they leave an indelible mark on your conscience. I wonder if God gives us those as a monument, like when Abraham or Jacob placed stones in a region to signify a specific place where they had encountered God. For me, in my short lifetime I have seen the heights and depths of humanity on display like no other generation before because of media and the invention of social networks. Some moments that stick out to me as I write this…I remember where I was and even my feelings on 9-11. I remember dorm members running down the hall and talking about America being under attack. I remember a neighbor to my dorm room that I had become friends with, who served in the National Guard; I remember the look upon his face as we sat in the commons area and watched the telecast of the event unfolding, knowing that he would soon be activated. I remember the Rodney King beating and events, and the riots that followed. I remember the visual images on the television. I remember sitting at Pizza Hut talking about it with my parents (listening to my dad’s perspective on it as a police officer) and a man in an adjoining booth began to interject his thoughts into our conversation. I remember GAME 6 of the Cardinals world series in 2011!!!!…And I think I will remember the events from Ferguson, Mo over the past few months. I, like many of you, was glued to the television following the grand jury’s decision. The images of a McDonald’s being looted and buildings burning. As I watched the destruction, I thought in my mind, “This is what sin does…kills, steals, and destroys.”
In the days that have followed, I have heard argument after argument about the significance of the events. There are those who believe that justice was not served and they have said that this case has pushed this nation to a breaking point with “race relations”. There are those who believe that justice was served, that officer Wilson acted within his rights and that the events unfolding are nothing more than “anarchists” with opportunity. I have read articles by Christian leaders, some of whom I greatly respect, trying to discuss the ramifications of all that has been said and done. I have heard “civil rights leaders” actually calling for more blood, because, and I quote, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life.” I have thought about my own comments and what I should be feeling in all of this and it has taken me some time to write them all out. So if you will bear with me, let me share my thoughts with you, and you feel more than welcome to respond.
In an effort for full disclosure, here are some things you should know at the outset (but I will pray you do not jump to any conclusions, but actually read this blog entirely). I am my father’s son and he is a police officer. I have never felt in fear of the police, some of my closest friends are police officers. I have always respected the authority of the badge, though I have often wished they were not sitting on the side of the highway when I was running late…lol. My natural inclination, generally, is to give a police officer the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, as I believe that these brave men and women give of their time, families, and even lives to make my life safer. Second, I am very “pro-2nd amendment.” I have been around guns my entire life. I grew up hunting with my dad, I hope to pass on the legacy to my children. I have a concealed carry permit, we have offered such classes at our church, and I believe in the right of a citizen to protect himself or his family from not only unlawful citizens, but also from an oppressive government. Third, I am from the Midwest. Born and raised in Illinois and now having spent the last 14 years of my life in Missouri. You may say, “What does that have to do with anything?”…everything. People in the Midwest, generally, look at the world from a different lens. When Joplin was struck by a terrible tornado, we did not wonder where federal funding was coming from, we bonded together, with the help of our brothers and sisters from across the nation, and we began to rebuild. Where you are from implies certain biases…some of them being played out in the events in Ferguson, Mo.
But with all of that said, I don’t want to look at Ferguson through any of these eyes. There can and should be a rational debate about many of the issues inherent with my biases. But what is going on in Ferguson is not about political opinions, biases, the militarization of police, or many of the other issues being discussed…and if we do not get to the heart of the real issue, we cannot move forward – neither Ferguson, nor our nation. Having taken a minority child into our home, I do understand the need for communication over “race relations”…more on that momentarily. But without getting to the root of the problem, those conversations will be nothing more than wasted words. So what is at the heart of the tragedy in Ferguson?
First, let me just say I am sorry for the loss of life and to the family of Michael Brown we offer our condolences and prayers. The loss of any life, regardless of the circumstances is a tragedy. He was an 18 year old young man…I shutter to think of the foolish decisions that I made at 18 years of age. I have often said, “no parent should have to bury their child” and I reiterate that now. Sin devalues and robs life…and for that I sympathize with their pain as they mourn the loss of a child.
Second, many “supporters of Michael Brown” are claiming injustice. They do not believe that the grand jury reached a just conclusion. I have thought about this a lot…truth is, I don’t know what happened that day. However, the grand jury looked at all the evidence and the statutes of the land, at which point they came to the conclusion that officer Wilson had acted within his legal authority and therefore, justice was served. But, there is a sense that this is not fair. Even commentators who are supportive of the Brown family have ceased to argue the evidence. Their contention is not that Michael did not initiate the confrontation or even that the officer was wrong in confronting him. They now argue that the officer was “over aggressive”. But, no matter how much evidence comes out, no matter how many eye witnesses speak, no matter how clearly the case is laid out; there is still a claim that an “injustice” has taken place. Truth is, what they are saying and feeling (in my opinion) are not congruent…in other words, when they are claiming an “injustice”, the reality is (I believe) they are not arguing the facts of the case, they are speaking the emotions of the heart, it doesn’t seem “right”. And let me say at this point, “that is only natural.” When a tragedy happens, naturally our hearts long for more.
But here is my observation…the problem here is not the facts of the case. The problem is the inability of the law to deal with sin, evil, and wickedness. Here’s what I mean, the law set a requirement that needed to be met in order for officer Wilson to act in a certain way. Additionally, the law set a requirement for the citizen, Mr. Brown. When the law was broken, there was a required response. But that response did nothing to solve the problem. It is the problem the people of Israel would encounter. God gave them His law in Exodus 20, but the law could only serve a limited purpose. The law showed the people what God required, it laid out the consequences for when it was broken, and it gave specific instructions for restitution (i.e. sacrificial system). But as time moved forward, the people learned that the law was not sufficient because it did not cure the nature of the problem – man’s sinfulness. Thus, the Hebrew writer exalts in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary because Christ did what the law could not – he forgave the sin and cleansed the sinner! Through the redemptive work of Christ, our very nature is changed and a new heart, with new desires is given.
When people are governed by the law, it always falls short. Thus, when people claim that “not enough has been done” in the case of officer Wilson, they are correct. Legally…everything that can be done, has been. The evidence has been reviewed and a decision has been made upon that evidence, in accordance with the law. But their HEART feels cheated. They know in their heart that 18 year old men should not die, no matter the circumstances. And ultimately, death is the result of sin…that simple, “The wages of sin is death”…so their hearts are crying out for something…they don’t know what it is that they want, but they want something. On the other hand, living purely through grace in life is not enough either. Let’s assume for a moment that all of the evidence pointed to officer Wilson shooting this young man with malicious intentions from the start. Let’s assume that upon hearing that information, the jury indicted him and he was convicted in the court of law. At sentencing, however, the judge said, “We have found you guilty. Now you are free to go….” Can you imagine the uproar!
Beloved, now we are ready to address the source of the problem. The problem is the sinful nature of mankind and the insufficiency of the law…and with that being the source, we can now go to the solution. And the solution is John 1:17, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Notice that Christ brought “grace and truth” from heaven…thus dealing with both sources of strife. He satisfied the law and it’s legal requirement, but also granted relief, grace, rest for the burdened soul. The healing for the Brown family, officer Wilson, the city of Ferguson, and these United States is only in the One who united grace with truth – Jesus Christ.
Finally, in this flashpoint of events, there has been an interesting discussion about “race relations”. It has brought about a conversation that has been taking place for some time. It was brought to the forefront again with the President’s executive actions on immigration. In his speech, the president argued that we need to get to the “core” of who we are as a nation. In the Ferguson events, people have been saying that “race relations” have been put to the test, as we do not know how to deal with each other and communicate. And I believe there is a reason. Prior to 2008, I was able to travel to Washington D.C. and see many of the sites. On one occasion, I took a tour of the capital building, where I was continually confronted with the slogan, “One Nation Under God.” After 2008, there had been a remodel…and now the phrase being thrust everywhere, “E Pluribus Unum” (“Out of the Many One).
Here’s my point…it is true, we have been a nation who has accepted the foreigner, the traveler, the weak, the worn out, and the poor. It is a part of America’s greatness. No matter the time, the political party in power, we have been a nation who has welcomed others and we have celebrated our diversity. Our great mission was to unify a nation from a vast diversity of people, people would be welcomed from every corner of the earth. However, we failed on one front. In order for the many to become “one”, there must be a unifying agent, there must be something that binds them together. We assumed that the unifying agent would be their patriotism…but it turns out that didn’t work. We assumed the unifying agent would be our common interests….but that didn’t work. We assumed the unifying agent would be our greatness, opportunity, and education…but these didn’t work. And the reason…these are all fleeting, they are a vapor in time. I hope that my country men and women, would learn a valuable lesson. The only unifying agent for our country must be more constant than economies, political parties, and opportunity. The unifying agent of our country is Christ. When Eisenhower added the words “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance, he did so with a belief that God was the unifying agent in the diversity. As Ronald Regan said, “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” If our nation ever hopes to be whole again, if we ever desire to be “out of the many, One”, we must once again be “One Nation Under God.”
Held By Grace,