Emily Timbol

Where is The White Evangelical Response to Ferguson?

Aug
14

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.

Image via Time

Image via Time

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:

Bucket Brigade Against Ebola

Bail and Legal Fund for Those Arrested in Ferguson Protests

OK White Folks, Here’s How You Can Really Help

Black Youth Project

Petition to Enact Federal Laws to Protect Citizens From Police Violence and Misconduct

*At time of posting, a statement on Ferguson had been made.

7 Responses to Where is The White Evangelical Response to Ferguson?

  1. I, along with other citizens of goodwill, are working to eliminate systemic racism in America. For information about our movement, please visit our website: http://www.dobetternow.org. Thank you for speaking out. Words matter. Keep speaking.

  2. Thank you SO MUCH for this article! I’m about to share in on facebook to 2,000 of my closest friends. 🙂

  3. I appreciate this response.
    I just have a couple thoughts in response: 1) There are white bloggers/writers/thinkers who are out there expressing their grief, they just aren’t the famous ones. 2) Perhaps the people you’re hoping to get a response from are choosing to wait until they have all the facts available to them? Fact is, we know a young man is dead. This SHOULD be enough to elicit some kind of response from the people you’re referring to. But for others, perhaps they are waiting for more information.
    I’m not sure I agree with their pause, I’m just giving one interpretation as to why the pause is taking place.

    Lastly, I’m not sure I want more white evangelicals blogging about a situation they are so far removed from. And I doubt the people of Ferguson are taking to their computers to find responses of white evangelicals.

    • 1) You are right there, good point. I was mostly expressing my frustration that the famous ones, with the large platforms and huge influence, were not.

      2) I have heard many criticisms of this “waiting for all the facts” response, most of them I agree with. Mainly these criticisms are that “waiting for the facts” is a luxury of the privileged who have no reason to distrust the “fact givers” (re: the police) who, as we have seen in the case of Ferguson, are not always truthful. The criticisms also touch on what you said – that the most important “facts” we already know – a boy is dead. An unarmed boy. Who was going to start college on Monday. Whose body was left, uncovered, in the street for four hours. Who didn’t have an ambulance called for him. Who was shot multiple times. These are enough “facts” for most people to want to see justice. There’s not really that many other “facts” that should matter, in terms of mourning life. Because even if he was “charging the officer” (which all five eyewitness accounts deny) the fact that the officer shot an unarmed teenager six times is wrong.

      On your last point, I can definitely see your concern, and I agree that white people are removed from this situation and should treat it thus. But I also think that white people saying nothing – not even sharing the stories or voices of POC who are on the ground – is disappointing and sad. This problem of unarmed black men being gunned down by police isn’t a “black” problem, it’s an American problem. Or at least it should be.

      • Now that the facts have been observed and studied by the Grand Jury, how do we respond now? Justice has been served, but not to the liking of the the Brown family. Waiting for the facts is the right thing to have done before applying justice without the law. This is not a ‘white or black’ issue, this is way our justice system is applied. We may not like it, but the system does work. For instance, I did not like how the O.J. Simpson trial turned out, but once again, the system worked. Neither did I like the Civil Trial that followed because Simpson had been acquitted, but again, this is our system and we must live with it. Just my thoughts…..BW

Leave a Reply