If you ask protestors in Baltimore why they’re so angry, they may tell you they’ve lost faith in the powers that be. But perhaps that is exactly what such a situation needs.
According to Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who directed security operations for the city of Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death, faith may be the secret to solving racially-charged conflicts involving law enforcement. A man of deep religious conviction, Johnson was partially credited with helping ease tensions in the face of racial unrest. Now he says that the solution to the problems around us may be the faith inside us.
“In these situations, we need to talk about faith and not be ashamed of it,” he says. “That can be our strength.”
After learning of his appointment, Johnson prayed that God would give him a plan. He often opened press conferences and meetings with prayer. When he struggled under the weight of discouragement, he would often end up on his knees and in tears. Johnson supports practical reforms such as body cameras and increased police accountability, but he believes many of our deeper problems are spiritual in nature. [tweetable]If a problem is spiritual, so too is its solution.[/tweetable]
ThIs idea should resonate with those who closely followed the Baltimore riots. After protests devolved into looting and destruction of property, more than 100 faith leaders stepped into the streets to model a better way. Following the unrest, clergy have been leading efforts to create dialog on police reform, jobs, and education.
In Ferguson, religious leaders also helped promote peace. At Q conference, a gathering of Christian leaders meeting in Boston last week, Johnson said that clergy were “voices of calm” during that crisis. He believes they can be powerful partners for reform and reconciliation in similar situations.
“What we’ve seen across this country is ministers coming outside their church walls in numbers and connecting with people, and that’s been such a powerful voice,” Johnson said. “It is like having a street revival, and people listen.”
These clergy are successful, in part, because they can draw wisdom from time-tested sacred texts. Johnson notes that the Bible’s story of hope in difficulty is sewn throughout its pages.
“When we’re searching for what to say, it’s right there [in the Bible],” he says. “No matter what the situation is or what the need is, it’s there.”
In Baltimore, for example, pastor Jamal Bryant joined City Councilman Brandon Scott to call for calm. Bryant appealed to Scripture when he encouraged unsettled residents to attend houses of worship on Sunday and to avoid violence.
“The Bible is clear: Be angry but sin not. Rioting and looting will not give us justice, nor will it turn the tide,” Bryant said in a news conference.
One Bible passage that Johnson says can be powerful in these types of situations is the account of the Apostle Peter walking on water. In the heat of the Ferguson clashes, Johnson’s daughter texted it to him. He now recalls it often when he reflects on his experiences.
“That passage is what keeps me going,” Johnson says. “It reminds us that even on the darkest days, you can always get up and God will always be there.”
This type of feckless optimism has made Johnson an intriguing figure and successful advocate. But he says that such hopefulness is only possible when we shift our eyes from the problems around us to the power above us.
“God gives us no more than we can bear, and though he’ll send us through a storm, he’ll also bring us out of that storm,” Johnson says. “In difficulty, faith says this too will pass, and when it does, we’ll be better.”