Last week my newsfeed was filled with two very different kinds of posts (once you took out the baby pics and cat videos):
Type 1: Michael Brown had it coming to him and the picketers were just looking for a store to loot.
Type 2: Christians are the worst racists (well all the other Christians, anyway).
Okay, so maybe I stated those a little stronger than they were. But not by much. We all have an inveterate tendency to close our eyes to the opposing evidence and demonize anyone who thinks differently than us. Some topics are so polarizing, it’s almost as though our brains shut down. In general, our responses have more to do with the preset attitudes we bring to the questions than the questions themselves.
To illustrate, I would suggest that some people will decide how to view this article based on whose side I take. So let me go ahead and answer that. What happened in Ferguson and New York was messed up. Deeply messed up. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Darren Wilson and everyone else involved were sinners. The response of civil and political leaders was all wrong. The people who destroyed and looted stores all over Ferguson are obviously messed up. People who respond with racial epithets and mocking callousness are messed up. It’s all just really messed up.
And that isn’t going to end either. The bad news is there will be more. For the rest of human history, someone of some color will do terrible things to some other color of someone else—sometimes wearing uniforms and sometimes not.
So the question is how Christians ought to respond. For starters, we should remember that we aren’t the first people to live in a structurally flawed, broken society. In fact, the Apostle Paul found himself the recipient of a runaway slave—a slave that incidentally had belonged to a Christian. He didn’t flip out about it. Read Philemon—his response is incredible careful and nuanced.
That isn’t because God is neutral on slavery. It’s quite clear that the New Testament is opposed to slavery. But one thing Paul didn’t do is call on Christians to start a crusade for changing society. Rather the heart of the New Testament runs like this:
- Your society is messed up. Permanently messed up. No one will change that until Jesus comes (Eph. 2:1-3).
- But that shouldn’t make you passive. You’re called to change your society—radically (Eph. 5:7-16).
- The means to that change is simple. It’s the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20).
We are nowhere called to pour our lives into agitating against societal injustice. You simply won’t find verses supporting it. Our calling rather is pretty clear—go preach the gospel. We’re called to answer the problems at the true root—the core brokenness of human hearts.
And when our Christianity collapses into advocating for societal change, we’ve officially lost our way. Even if all cops started wearing body cameras and learned to deal with criminals like Moms with babies; even if protesters learned to make their case by quoting excerpts from Our Daily Bread, the society would still be broken. This crisis would just be replaced by another one in 6 months (filling our newsfeeds with new debates all over again). God calls us to something the bigger than advocating for monthly crises in the public space; bigger even than society itself. We’re called to reach people with an eternal message.
Whether you think Michael Brown was guilty or innocent, it’s too late to change anyone’s view. The statuses are already written and the ridiculous debate threads have happened.
So instead let me challenge you to do something about the problem. If you think our problem is social injustice driven by racism, go give the gospel to people (believers and unbelievers) until their hearts (and yours) are changed from the inside out. If you think the rioters were just in search of something to sound off about and loot, don’t just be angry about it. Go do something. Go give the gospel to people like them and pray that God would work in their hearts (and yours) to change us all from the inside out.
Ferguson will be old news in another 6 months. Life will move on. I’m going to suggest that if we spent half as much time thinking redemptively about the situation as sounding off about it, everyone would be far better off. Let truly redemptive and meaningful change start with you.