A Word on Ferguson

 The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri have been on the hearts and minds of all of us at MTR. David Montague, MTR President, sent an email addressing the topic to MTR staff and teachers before the Thanksgiving holiday. Because of the importance and relevance of the topic to our work in urban education, we have shared the email below.

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Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
 did not regard equality with God
 as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,
 taking the form of a slave,
 being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form, he humbled himself
 and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

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In response to last week’s Ferguson Grand Jury verdict, I intend to simply express a few “so that’s” which I think are timely and relevant particularly for the family and community we call MTR.  Such as…

1. So that I might publicly express my recognition of and sorrow for a past and present story of wicked injustices African Americans have endured for centuries in our country.  And by doing so, I hope to show a measure of respect and appreciation for our African American MTR family for their positive responses to these injustices.

2. So that I (as a white Christian leader), and our organization, would NOT ignore or minimize the deep frustrations of mostly African Americans as expressed in the reaction to the Ferguson verdict through a silence that might imply indifference.  And by doing so, I hope to provide some context and understanding (without condoning) for the sometime violent responses to this event.

3. So that I might give some encouragement for how MTR staff and teachers might respond in the most constructive way possible.  And by doing so, I hope to provide a renewed vision for a healthy community as our MTR opportunity today.

So, as concisely as is appropriate…

1. I’m Sorry.

Where do we even begin?

Within the slavery era, in 1787, the Three-Fifths Compromise allocated for purposes of a state’s population that slaves be considered 3/5 of a person.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 specified that “any immigrant, being a free white person,” could apply for citizenship, while it excluded indentured servants, free blacks and slaves, who were regarded as “property” and not “persons.”

One hundred years later Jim Crow Laws began to rule our southern states with legal segregation that reinforced the psychological wounds of slavery, supported our cultural biases and protected majority privileges and positions.

Following Brown v. Board of Education that declared legal segregation in schools unconstitutional (and was largely the death of the Jim Crow era), racism and racial prejudices continued to depress opportunities for African Americans.  Redlining and Covenant Restrictions worked to largely remove African Americans from the wealth building opportunities of property and home ownership.

I recognize this is a very small list of unending injustices suffered by African Americans at the hands of white leadership for hundreds of years in America.  And it is these injustices (and their aftermaths) that have provided a current dynamic that provides today advantages, privileges and momentum for whites and obstacles, frustrations and skepticism for African Americans.

It is a reality of our very broken nation led historically and daily by broken and sinful men and women.

For these injustices, and the many other stories of injustices executed by the white majority in power, I am aware and sorry.

I just wanted you to know that.

2. Ferguson is about this context.

In A Decision in Ferguson: How Should (white) Evangelicals Respond?, Ed Stetzer writes  “For many, this is about an incident. Yet, for many African Americans, it’s about a system.”

The riots and protests following the Ferguson verdict are not simply a reaction to this verdict but a response to the frustration and disadvantages that an unfair system has imposed on an entire race for generations.  And particularly galling, African Americans rarely feel as though whites are aware of, or care about, this history.

And particularly in the context of Ferguson, memories of Emmett Till, Rodney King and Trayvon Martin are refreshed… all stories of black boys or men suffering under the violence of white men who went unpunished, rightly or wrongly.  These stories are the very personal and graphic faces that serve as the personification of the evils mentioned above to African Americans.  And these moments of violence serve to expose the nerves of past injustices.

3. Where do we go from here?

3.a. Recently, I read Martin Luther King’s book Where Do We Go From Here?  At one point, he explains the discussion Civil Rights leaders had over the participation of whites in the movement.  In strong support of white participation and of the Beloved Community, MLK writes, “Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find but something that we must create.  A productive and happy life is not something that you find; it is something that you make.  And so the ability of [African Americans] and whites to work together, to understand each other, will not be found ready made; it must be created by the fact of contact.”

So, where do we go from here?  I think a unique opportunity at MTR is that we have an intentional interracial community with plenty of “contact”.  And, through the power of God and His shared wisdom and desire of a peaceful and diverse Kingdom, we create… we work together for unity as a necessity for the success of our MTR mission and as a display of the gospel of Jesus Christ that unites people to a citizenship and race that transcends our earthly existence. It is a choice and an intentionality that we commit to living within a people set on racial understanding and peace.

But this is not ready made.  It is not natural in this world.

And so this is a tremendous opportunity for us to display the greatness of God that allows us to to express repentance, forgiveness, grace, love and unity to one another within a society and nation that more often than not expresses anger, violence, distrust and disunity among races and cultures.

In other words, there’s more going around here than just a pursuit of equal education.  26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:26-28

There is this opportunity to demonstrate within our ranks a community that lives together and loves one another as one in Christ Jesus, as sisters and brothers…to create this community at MTR and within a nation that more often than not runs from this community.  See above.

3.b.  Instead of being ashamed or negligent with our privileges, we use them for the benefit of others.  

All our privileges, our wealth, status, power, experience, history, cultural or social awarenesses, relationships, reputation… are what they are.  They are ours today by God’s grace.

So, privilege (whether white or black) is NOT to be a negative term but neutral that can be used for good or bad.

We use for good through leveraging our privilege for the sake of others and calling out the misuse of privilege at all costs.

And ultimately, we look to Christ as the model of the use of privilege…

Jesus had incredible privilege… but it was not negative.  He used it for the sake of others.  See Philippians 2:5-8 above.

So may we at MTR.

May our city take note of what God can do among us.