I've been asked many times about the Ferguson situation. And frankly, I've hesitated because I don't know enough to comment on the facts, but I also don't want to stir up controversy. But against better judgment, I'm sharing a few overall thoughts.
1. "This is ultimately a sin problem, not a skin problem."
The best thing I've read on the entire topic is from an NFL tight end, Benjamin Watson. What I loved most was his final paragraph of his thoughts/feelings. His final feeling was encouragement. This is his final paragraph, and it is biblical and balanced:
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.
2. None of us were there - let's not pretend we know the details.
I am surprised at how authoritative people talk about an event they did not personally witness. We all interpret stories based on our background.
3. There are officers that abuse authority - let's not pretend it never happens or always happens.
I have great trust in authorities. I'm sure my viewpoint is based on the fact that all the law enforcement people I know at our church are men and women of great integrity, I respect them greatly, and I trust them thoroughly. I know there are instances of abuse by the police in our country, but my assumption is that they are rare occurrences, not the norm. I'm sure someone from a different background and experience has a very different perspective. I also assume that more facts will come out, and I hope when those facts come out - all sides will evaluate them fairly. I think too many whites assume abuse only happens when it is proven through a cell phone camera. It happens. And some African-Americans believe it happens all the time. Let's stop believing every authority is honest and fair, or that every authority is crooked. Every authority is like you and me - sinners. What we don't know is if the officer in Ferguson abused his authority. I hope all the facts will come out.
4. Racism isn't a past issue - it is a present issue.
Let me start with a specific description of racism: Racism is assuming guilt or innocence based on skin color. (If that's a bad description, I'm to blame. It is mine.) Anyone who claims racism is a sin of the past is sheltered (a white person with few black friends) ignorant (a racist), or uniformed (don't know what happens in some communities). This reminded me of the OJ verdict. A large majority of white people believe OJ was guilty. A large amount of the African-American community believe he was innocent. In one way or the other - that shows an issue of racism. Although modern-day racism is rarely like the racism of the civil rights day, whenever such a large difference of view happens among races, in some way it is an issue of racism. Again, racism could be assuming guilt or innocence based on skin color. With the issue of Ferguson, a large percentage of the black community believe the officer murdered the young man. And a large majority of the white population believe the officer did what he needed to do. Let's keep in mind the issue of racism isn't dead.
5. I respect the decision of the grand jury.
A jury of twelve citizens decided there was not enough evidence for an indictment. They did not need to determine innocence or guilt. They needed to decide if there was enough evidence just to go to trial. I respect their decision. I hope all would equally respect their decision if they had returned an indictment. I have been accused of being too trusting of authorities, and maybe that is true. I think most people in authority are used to their motives being questioned, so we tend to give the benefit of a doubt to other leaders. I'm not sure if that is why or not.
Those are some generalized thoughts that aren't very specific only to Ferguson, but would best summarize the answer to the question I've been continually asked in the last few days. I'd love to hear your response.