“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
Michael Brown, a young unarmed African American man was shot six times by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Trayvon Martin was killed two years ago. In America an unarmed black man, woman or child is murdered almost every day in this country. And yet, I don’t want to talk about Ferguson, Missouri.
I don’t want to talk about Ferguson, because frankly it’s just too damn hard to have that kind of conversation. It would require gathering people from the whole range of the criminal justice system – police officers, mothers of young black men, prosecutors, poor white rural folk, merchants, Latino teenagers, fathers of suburban kids hooked on heroin. It would require the kind of crucial conversations that bring about deep understanding – and that’s a whole lotta work.
I don’t want to talk about Ferguson, because there are so many other things I can do. I can post my opinions on Facebook. I can go to the beach, and plan my vacation. I can turn on the TV and watch a news outlet that will justify my preconceived ideas.
I don’t want to talk about Ferguson, because it’s not only about race, (though that is a big part of it) it’s also about economic class. In this country, I want to believe we are all the same, but deep down I know this isn’t true. In fact, it may be easier, (though still extremely challenging) to have a multi-ethnic community in this country than it is to have a multi-class community. And, candidly, I’m a person who has it pretty good. I’m white, male, tall, overly-educated and pretty comfortable. Why would I want to get into this messy Ferguson conversation?
And then I read Jesus, Isaiah, and Paul. “Do not be conformed by this world, but be transformed…”
In this country there are 50 million Americans who are poor, the vast majority of them are people of color. In the scriptures, there are 2,357 verses that speak to the need to attend to the orphan, the widow and the poor. In my mind, I put those two sentences together and it defines everything I need to know about what God is calling us to do.
What can we do?
1. Stop preaching about the topic of poverty and race, unless you are willing to make something happen. While that may sound harsh, what I’m trying to do is push us from simply talking to actually walking. Faith without works is dead, is cheap grace.
2. Engage in crucial conversations on the criminal justice system. Pr. Tiffany Chaney is looking to engage people from a range of perspectives to address this topic in her neighborhood in Dorchester, MA.
3. Find ways to intentionally bring people of various backgrounds together. Pr. Dan Hille in Avon, CT is partnering over three years to connect affluent white teens with economically disadvantaged teenagers of color.
4. Find a church either nearby or in our synod and partner with that church. First in East Greenwich, RI is connecting with Gloria Dei in Providence. They are learning from one another about race, class and mission.
These are just the beginning, but we must find beginning points. It’s important to note that these are mutual conversations, in other words they are not one group informing another.
I don’t want to talk about Ferguson, Missouri, I want us to do something about Ferguson. If that can’t happen in the church of Jesus, Isaiah and Paul, then where else is it going to happen?
Bishop James Hazelwood
New England Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America