Where is The White Evangelical Response to Ferguson?
This morning I went through the Twitter feeds of a few of the most popular white evangelical leaders, looking for any mention of the atrocities going on in the Ferguson neighborhood of Missouri. Denny Burk’s* feed had funny viral videos, comments on the death of Robin Williams, and pleas for prayers and support of Christians in Iraq. John Piper tweeted advice and Bible verses. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and Tim Keller sent out spiritual platitudes about faith and God.
It wasn’t until I checked out Rachel Held Evans that I saw any mention of what’s going on in the small suburb of Saint, Louis Missouri; a town of 21,000 people that has looked more like a war zone in Iraq than an American suburb, thanks to the militarized police response to the protesters angry over the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown.
Thankfully, people on Twitter pointed me to some other white evangelical bloggers who are writing about Ferguson. Including authors Sarah Bessey and Jen Hatmaker, and prominent Southern Baptist leader Russell D. Moore. There’s a good list of these bloggers and writers here. I’m so heartened to see these responses, but I’m also sad that I haven’t seen any of these pieces floating around the internet with the fervor that writings on gay marriage, abortion, or birth control carry. I’m so glad that there are some white evangelicals talking about racial injustice, but I can’t help but wish there were more.
I can’t help but wish there were more white evangelicals who seemed to care about this issue – at least enough to talk about it on social media, in prayer chain emails, or in church hallways. I wish I was seeing more messages from white Christians asking for prayer and support of the citizens of Ferguson, who are being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas on their front lawns.
I also wish I saw consistent responses from those who believe strongly in the 1st amendment, as much as they believe in God. Journalists in Ferguson are being arrested in McDonald’s for refusing to stop filming – but where are the cries about 1st amendment violations?
I don’t want to believe these lack of responses are because America isn’t for black people. That would be too hard for a privileged white woman like myself to accept. Even though all evidence points to this as the truth.
Maybe so many are silent because the racial division in America hasn’t just affected governments, schools, and neighborhoods, but churches as well. Maybe we’re not hearing from white evangelical leaders because there’s still a belief that “Christian” and “black” are two separate things.
Blogger Dave M Schell illustrated this perfectly, in his good-natured piece, “While You Were Talking About Gungor.” In it he excoriated Christians for caring more about Mark Driscoll’s indiscretions and Christian band Gungor’s theology, than the murder of black men. Schell’s point was right – but he made a crucial mistake in his piece. He said this,
“While the Christian world debates who’s going to hell, the African-American community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.”
Without even intending to, Schell made a clear dichotomy between “Christian” and “African-American.” He apologetically updated the piece after black Christians pointed out his mistake, and told him that Christians were talking about Ferguson – just not the white ones he followed on Twitter.
This just illustrates a huge problem that affects so many white evangelicals. The belief that “Christian” means something, and “black” means something else entirely.
We can see this in crises that span the globe as well. It wasn’t until a white American missionary came down with the Ebola virus in Liberia that many white Christians showed concern for the devastation ravaging the nation. My mother, who spends at least a few weeks every year in Liberia teaching and counseling women affected by the war, has been struggling to raise support for her friends overseas. Despite the fact that Liberia is a heavily Christian nation. A black Christian nation.
There is a hesitation in calling any of this racism. That’s because many people get far angrier over accusations of being racist, than any of the horrors mentioned above. There’s a shutting down that happens whenever the word “racist” is thrown around. What does it mean though, if we care more about being called racist, than the things being done to black people that have inspired this accusation?
What other reason, other than systematic or internalized racism, can there be for the lack of concern among white evangelicals for the now regular murder of unarmed black men? How else can we explain the fact that white churches have remained mostly silent on these atrocities for so long?
While the answers to these questions matter, what matters most is how white Christians respond right now. I pray it’s not with defensiveness or excuses, but with a desire to do something positive. I pray that white Christians start seeing and caring about the terrible things happening to their black brothers and sisters in our country, and in others. Mostly, I pray that I, as a white Christian, can do my part to say,
“I’m so sorry. What can I do to help?”
Here’s where I’m starting:
*At time of posting, a statement on Ferguson had been made.