How Ferguson Widened an Enormous Rift Between Black and White Christians

This July 27, 2019, photo shows where Michael Brown was killed, marked by the rectangular box in the middle of Canfield Drive, in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was shot and killed Aug. 9, 2014, by Ferguson police officer Darren Willson. His body lay in the street for hours as police investigated. At the family’s request, that section of asphalt was removed and repaved, leaving the scarred street. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

By Jemar Tisby

Five years ago today, a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A human became a hashtag, an uprising occurred and a movement was born.

Much of the attention today and this weekend will focus on remembering Brown, discussing criminal justice reform and evaluating how society has or hasn’t changed since that fateful day. These are appropriate topics to discuss.

But remembering Brown on the five-year anniversary of his killing would be incomplete without acknowledging the impact that this tragedy had on race relations within American evangelicalism.

I know how that day and the subsequent events affected my faith and my relation to those who I once thought of as my spiritual family.

Six days after Brown’s killing, I wrote for the first time publicly about my traumatic encounters with the police. Every black man I know has harrowing stories of being pulled over, searched, handcuffed or even held at gunpoint. When I encouraged readers to “pause to consider the level and extent of injustice that many blacks have experienced at the hands of law enforcement officers,” the responses disclosed a deep divide.

One told me to submit myself to the authority of the police. He wrote, “Let us exhort each other to be in subjection (Romans 13:5) to police and other civil authorities so long as they are not causing us to commit evil/sin as shown by the example of the apostles and other disciples of Christ’s generation.” He didn’t acknowledge that police can be wrong, too.

Another person said that it wasn’t just black people who had to be cautious of the police. She, as a white woman, had distasteful run-ins, too. “I think cops do stereotype, they did it to me, my dad and no doubt black people. It sucks but don’t think it happens to you alone. Rural cops do it to city folks or people driving out of state plates, city cops do it to minorities, folks who drive muscle cars or people like me who drive clunkers.”

Still another person told me I was just wrong and thought he would correct me. After giving a litany of “facts” related to the Trayvon Martin killing in 2012 and Brown’s death, he said I was being duped by the media. “So, again, I would strongly admonish you to really understand what actually happened and the proper context of each case in which the (liberal) media is saying that somehow we have a war of white police officers killing young black teens. Don’t be hoodwinked.” He ended by pointing me to what he thought were reliable news sources such as the Blaze and conservative commentator Michael Savage’s website.

Those responses came from a single blog post. I can’t list the vitriol that erupted in the comment sections of similar posts on Twitter and Facebook.

I’m not alone. Other black Christians have endured opposition from white evangelicals.

In December 2015, InterVarsity a 75-year-old college campus ministry organization held its triennial missions conference. Urbana ’15 highlighted Black Lives Matter during the program. Several hosts wore T-shirts with “Black Lives Matter” on the front. A keynote speaker, Michelle Higgins, who is black, criticized the focus of white evangelicals on abortion to the exclusion of racial justice issues, such as criminal justice reform.

Many white evangelicals swiftly criticized InterVarsity because, as they saw it, the organization had let itself be co-opted by liberal influences.

When Grammy-winning hip-hop artist Lecrae used his music and platform to speak publicly against racism, his white evangelical fans were quick to criticize.

In a 2016 interview, Lecrae reflected on the response of white evangelicals to his calls for justice.

“I went from a show that may have had 3,000 there to 300.”

In his view, though, it was worth it. “Those 300 people were people who I knew loved Lecrae, the black man, the Christian, all of who Lecrae was, not the caricature that had been drawn up for them,” he said.

Thabiti Anyabwile, a black D.C. pastor and a popular speaker at white evangelical conferences, witnessed the blowback from white evangelicals when he publicly wrote and spoke about justice in the aftermath of the Ferguson uprisings.

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Source: Washington Post