I’m currently on a bus heading east on I-70 towards St. Louis. We left at 5am with a band of 20 people. The first person who heard I was going said, “Why?” I’m sure he won’t be the last. I’ve pondered it myself. So, I believe that it’d be good to open up with all of my thoughts on this as it’s more involved than it may appear. Here are my reasons for going.
To Encourage Those Who Asked Us To Come
Multiple church leaders have invited us to Ferguson. Our leader Anthony says, “We have been summoned.” The Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest reconciliation group in America invited our group to come as well. They’ve asked for support. Anthony believes that we mainly provide refreshment to weary hearts and hands.
To Encourage The Church
The Spirit of God resides in his Church. This connects all of us. In the New Testament when a famine hit, the broader church responded and gave financial resources to the struggling churches in Judea. As a pastor, I can only imagine what it’s like to pastor a congregation right now in St. Louis. Pastors have asked for our help and so we are going. I’m not sure what we can do but God usually tells us.
I also want to encourage the church that I’ve been called to shepherd. We are a multi-cultural church with people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. We share a common heart for helping the marginalized and the oppressed. While we all don’t see eye-to-eye on Ferguson, we are learning to walk together where we see true unity amidst diversity.
When I asked permission to go from the other pastors whom I serve alongside, they encouraged me and said, “Jason, we are not saying it’s ok. We are sending you!” My black, brown, and white brothers on the pastoral team desire to be part of what God is doing in the wider church and for that I’m thankful.
To Minister to Hurting People
People ask me what I’m going to do. By and large, I don’t know. I will follow local leadership and see where God leads. Whatever that looks like, I will walk through the streets asking God to show me someone who needs care. It may be a fellow protestor who needs encouragement. It may be an individual who has experienced loss. It may be a minority brother or sister who is struggling with anger towards the majority culture. Whatever or whomever, I want to be a minister of Christ.
To Have People Minister to Me
Lord knows I have problems and issues. Seven years ago, I lived in an all-white world. Today, that seems like another universe. In the process of moving into a multi-cultural environment, I have experienced confusion, rejection, anxiety, insults, loss of support, etc. The challenges in child-rearing, the burdens of ministering with the marginalized, the challenges of insufficient resources, the non-stop work of relational reconciliation, and a number of other difficult issues sometimes leave a heart barren. These experiences surface the pride in my own heart, my propensities towards seeking comfort over obedience, and a passion that is not always properly directed. I need some godly people to minister to my heart and to help me as I seek to be a better minister, neighbor, and community advocate in the long struggle to see the Gospel displayed in all of its splendor.
To Spend Time With My Family
While I leave my wife and three boys, I am making the journey with Paton. He’s my 12-yr-old son named after a missionary around the turn of the century who ministered to in the Pacific Islands. Perhaps my most important job is to train my children to love God and love their neighbor. Through this experience, I will be able not just tell, but show what the heart of God looks like in a hurting world.
I’m also traveling with my unofficially adopted daughter, Antoinette. She came into my life two-and-a-half years ago and asked me and another man in our church Community Group to be her father. She is African-American and has shown me through her life and story what it’s like to walk as a black woman in America today. We’ve already walked a road together in filing a racial profiling complaint with the sheriff’s department after she was stopped for speeding. She faced a humiliating and improper interrogation about smoking crack cocaine. It means a lot to both of us to be on this bus together.
I also am making the trip with the Academic Director of our Fellowship program, Dr. Jeff Cook, and three of our Fellows. Our mission it to spark a movement of urban church leaders that will impact the cities of the world for Christ. Time with them outside the classroom has the potential to be far more impacting than anything I could ever say.
To Work on Reconciliation…In My Own Neighborhood
At our core as Christians, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. In the early days of Providence, a young man named Anthony was part of our church. Anthony is an African-American young man with a heart for God and a passion for his city. After working together for a little over a year, things became tense, the relationship frayed and Anthony left our church. We were both hurt in this process (part of our story is chronicled in the book, Ambivalent Miracles, by Nancy Wadsworth). About three years ago, we saw each other at a conference and sought forgiveness and healing from one another. It was great to clear the past, but that’s not enough in reconciliation. You have to build something new. So, when Anthony was leading a trip to Ferguson, he called and asked for help. The group needed transportation. I told him I was considering going and he said, “If you come, you could help me run point with half the group.” I knew right then that this is what I should do. I consider it a process of healing and redemption to build a new experience together.
To Grow in Humility and Understanding
Living in the segregated majority culture for thirty-three years of my life has caused me to be just a wee bit behind on this whole thing. The last seven years has been a crash course Bachelor’s degree in understanding how half our country lives and thinks. The poor and the marginalized have changed my life, revived my faith, and re-awakened my purpose. An African-American pastor was bemoaning to me how a popular white preacher was writing on the issue of race and stated that one of the primary contributions of the African-American church to the larger church was lively worship. While that may be true, it seemed so trite in light of their larger contribution. Within their experience one will find the vibrancy of a faith that has endured excruciating suffering, built a faith centered around spiritual intimacy with Christ absent the distracting material comfort of many white faith traditions, experienced the power of a community of solidarity, survived through empowering the giftedness of their members, and used their collective voice to change systemic injustice. I have found that conversations with African-American pastors who lead churches with predominantly low-income congregations have shown me a different side to Scripture and humanity than I was taught in seminary.
To Reject the Passivity of White Pastors When It Comes To Civil Rights
Just over fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked by eight white clergy to delay demonstrations in Birmingham, AL. On the day he was asked, he was put in prison and wrote the now famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”
The interesting part of this case is that the eight clergy were actually moderate to liberal religious leaders who were advocates for civil rights. However, they weren’t ready to act when King was. They wanted to wait until just the right time. In other words, “not now.” King wrote, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where we can be seen and dealt with.”
So to my white pastor friends, I know you face great pressure on this issue. You have the real possibility of losing congregational members and financial support if you come across like you support the African-American community especially when “the officer has been proven to be innocent.” I am an elder at an urban church where we operate a non-profit to help people exit generational poverty. We survive on the provision of God through the hands of outside donors several of which would not see eye-to-eye with me on this issue. But at some point, we have to decide if we are mere hirelings or if we are preachers of truth and justice and equality no matter the cost.
White pastors have asked me what to do. Let me give my opinion as to what isn’t helpful. Putting on Facebook or saying to your church “Let’s pray for Ferguson” puts you in the same boat as the Birmingham clergy. Take a risk. Preach on race. It’s in the Bible. Preach on justice. It’s in there too. When the Bible talks about justice, I used to think it meant to “be fair.” It’s deeper than that. And it’s a great study. Our congregations would all benefit from a deep challenge towards racial reconciliation and justice in our cities and churches.
History has proven King to be correct regarding the timing of the demonstrations and the need for the movement to progress. As a white person, I’ve come to realize that I have an inherent default position that wants every thing to be just right before I act. The perfect scenario. The right amount of backing. And time. Just a little more time. Can I just say that our minority brothers and sisters have not had that luxury? I may be judged by history to be making a mistake. I’m ok with that. I’d rather be caught leaning into the issue than to be part of those who leaned away and missed the miracle.
To Stand For Justice
While opinions vary on the case in Ferguson, it’s hard to deny that minority communities feel oppressed by law enforcement. The relationship is broken and it’s hurtful to our country as a whole. I am standing alongside my African-American brothers and sisters as they cry out for justice. King said, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.” And I might add that he may call us to suffer.
To Bring Glory to God
Ultimately, Romans 11 says that “from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever, Amen.” So, that pertains to this as well. What does that look like? I’m not totally sure but I believe I believe I have an idea the Lord gave me. As we gathered after lunch today, Anthony asked us what we thought the mission of the trip was for each of us. I summarized it by saying, “Speak. Listen. Love. And the banner over all these three is reconciliation.” If that happens, I believe God will be exalted for the great work that He does through His people.