Beliefs

After Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions, white Christians say it’s time to stand with blacks

“There were white evangelicals in the room in Ferguson who were weeping when the Garner decision came down,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group, Sojourners. Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., listens. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) “African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.”

It’s the kind of statement that’s often cited by black clergy and civil rights activists. But hours after a grand jury on Wednesday (Dec. 3) chose not to indict the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal choke hold on Staten Island, those words came from none other than white evangelical leader Russell Moore.

With back-to-back grand jury decisions that white police officers will not face charges in the deaths of unarmed black men, white Christians, including evangelicals, have grown more vocal in urging predominantly white churches to no longer turn a blind eye to injustice and to bridge the country’s racial divides.

“It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Other white evangelicals issued similar pleas.

“I weep & pray for his family,” tweeted Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, the day before he led a prayer for justice at his school in Wake Forest, N.C. “I beg our God to bring good out of this tragedy.”

“’Love your neighbor as yourself’ means you picture yourself being choked and surrounded by five men while you say, ‘I can’t breathe,’” tweeted Scott Slayton, a white Southern Baptist pastor in Chelsea, Ala.

The Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner collected signatures for a statement by leaders of African-American church groups about Ferguson, Mo. Photo by Patricia McDougall

The Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African-American Clergy Network, sees a growing interest among white Christians and others to speak up about the “pile on” of events capped with the Garner decision. Photo by Patricia McDougall

The Rev. Alan Cross, a white pastor in Montgomery, Ala., said the publicized video of Garner’s choke hold has moved some white Christians to speak when they might not have after Officer Darren Wilson was cleared in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Cross is encouraging them to not just speak but listen to black people’s perspectives instead of only considering their own.

“What often happens when white evangelicals try to speak into this is that we continue to think first in terms of our own position,” said Cross, a Southern Baptist and author of “When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus.”

“We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”

Cross and others went online in the hours after the Garner decision to share how blacks were reacting. Author Barnabas Piper chose to post what others were saying about Ferguson and Garner on his blog, saying as “a young white man” he wasn’t in the best position to explain it all.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe,” he wrote. “You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists.”

The Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-chair of the National African-American Clergy Network, sees a growing interest among white Christians and others to speak up about the “pile on” of events capped with the Garner decision.

“It just so offends the human spirit of people of every race that it compels them to act,” she said. “We don’t have to ask young white students and young white adults anymore to act. They understand … if the system will so violate the rights of people of color today, they will violate everybody’s rights tomorrow.”

She had already witnessed an interest across races in the Ferguson events when her network’s planned letter on justice from black church leaders took on a more interracial feel.

“There were white evangelicals in the room in Ferguson who were weeping when the Garner decision came down,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group, Sojourners. Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

“There were white evangelicals in the room in Ferguson who were weeping when the Garner decision came down,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group Sojourners. Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

Even before the Garner decision, the progressive Christian group Sojourners had gathered 50 leaders, including black clergy and white evangelicals, for a retreat on Tuesday and Wednesday that included a “historic pilgrimage of racialized St. Louis” and a discussion of theological implications for “our nation’s broken justice system.”

“There were white evangelicals in the room in Ferguson who were weeping when the Garner decision came down,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group.

White Christians beyond evangelicalism added their voices to the outcry about the ruling.

“The degradation and demeaning of black life must stop,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. “What the hell kind of country do we live in?”

Moore, noting some of the reaction after he called for racial reconciliation in the wake of the Ferguson strife, said some white Christians see no reason to speak up for better race relations.

“I have gotten responses, and seen responses, that are right out of the White Citizens’ Council material from 1964 in my home state of Mississippi, seeing people saying there is no gospel issue involved with racial reconciliation,” he said in a podcast.

He doesn’t agree with them.

“Are you kidding me? There is nothing that is clearer in the New Testament than the fact that the gospel breaks down the dividing walls that we have between one another.”

KRE/MG END BANKS

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

28 Comments

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  • This is a good start, but please forgive me if I’m not shouting for joy over people belatedly beginning to see something that has been painfully obvious for a long time. Also, anyone who fails to see this as a gospel issue needs to reexamine his/ her Christianity and stusy Paul’s response to the racial and ethnic divisions in the early church.

  • The point, my friend, is not, as your play’s title wishes to think, the arrest of black men (although there is PLENTY of evidence to prove that too. Have you even looked?). The point is the death of black men by law enforecement without consequence or accountability.

  • Police brutality against blacks in general should never be tolerated, and homicide charges should be brought up against the Garner cop in New York.

    But Ferguson has nothing to do with this. Brown’s felonious behavior in Ferguson ended in his attacking a police officer.

  • You are commanded, compelled & required to love “the other” in the same way that your G-D loves you, without condition, totally and completely.

  • Do u remember how the Central Park 5 were coerced into making false statements. I have no doubt witnesses were forced to lie. The store tape is fake. The store clerk initially said mike didn’t steal the cigars and then the story changed. Hmmm. Do cops come in your neighborhood and tell ppl. To get the F out of the street? Do they stop and frisk white ppl. In their neighborhood? No. I have been in cars with white when police pull them over and I witnessed them talking in a belligerent manner to cops and nothing happens.
    I gather you have no understanding of how police treat us; therefore, you think Mike Brown deserved to be shot and killed multiple times. Apparently, you have never listened to how cops use coercion/scare tactics to force ppl. To testify in the way cops desire.

  • “The store tape is fake?” Seriously?

    A non-white store clerk, an innocent store clerk, was bullied, assaulted, and robbed, and his humiliation has been broadcast for the entire nation to see. NOBODY, least of all Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, and the Brown family, has ever apologized to that clerk and his family.

    Black and minority small business owners have worked hard and saved family money just to own their own businesses in Ferguson, only to watch protesters steal and burn their life’s work. There are minority employees who are now OUT OF A JOB in Ferguson because of those stupid protesters looting and burning, and their families and kids don’t have a Christmas because Mommy or Daddy lost their job.

    Who is giving them ink? What preachers are standing up for them?

    Michael Brown tried to punch out a cop and reach for his gun. That’s why he is no longer here, and it’s not Darren Wilson’s fault. But meanwhile, it’s time to start saying “Small Business Owners Lives Matter”, and “Innocent Store Clerks Lives Matter.”

  • The entire premise of the article is wrong — shamefully wrong.

    It looks at the fatal encounter between the NYPD and Garner as a racial incident. That in itself is racism, because it strips the interaction down to the difference in skin color between the police and Garner.

    It shows that these white southern evangelicals are just as race-obsessed as their racist ancestors.

    Shame on Russell Moore, who knows better.

  • Nubia, I want you to go to Ferguson and tell that store clerk that the tape showing his being tossed around by Brown like a rag doll was fraudulent.

    He was in the tape. Go ask him.

  • This article is taking truth and murdering it. There is not a shred of evidence that what happened to Garner had a thing to do with race. The knee-jerk presumption that it did is itself a racialist perspective. It casts both the police and Garner as stick-figure stereotypes in some liberal morality play of white vs. black.

    It treats skin color is the sole source of a human being’s identity — a supposition that is a grotesque betrayal of the civil rights goal of a truly color-blind society.

    And so long as people think this way, we will never have true reconciliation. Every time there is a tragedy involving different races, the pot will be stirred again.

    It is time to grow up and think beyond race.

  • If Russell Moore is what evangelicals have become, then I am not an evangelical anymore. Part of standing on the Bible is to stand on truth no matter where it leads. It does not mean appeasing or accommodating lies which reduce human beings to their skin color alone and which analyze every human interaction on racial terms, as though our pigmentation trumps all else.

    The cops happened to be white-skinned. Garner happened to be black-skinned. It is sick and demented to reduce their tragic interaction to what their skin looked like.

    Note to Russell Moore: Maybe that’s the legacy of your state with its past racism. But don’t foist your own hang-ups on race on the NYPD, which has been integrated long before your parents or grandparents even knew what the word meant.

  • Lonewolf, it looks like the Garner killing was a terrible mistake by NYPD officers, but why must you assume it was racially motivated? Just because the cops were white and Garner black? Isn’t that a racialist way of looking at the tragedy? Why must people be defined by race?

    The NYPD is probably the most professional big-city police force in the world. It has long been well-integrated, so it’s real smear on that force to assume racism without evidence.

  • “white Christians” and “black Christians”? What in the world? It seems the author is likely not a theology major. The big issue int he 1st century church was the “Jewish Christians” and “Greek (ir Gentile) Christians.” Paul makes it clear that Christians are NOT to be categorized this way.

    Galatians 3:27-28 English Standard Version (ESV)

    27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

  • Whereas I might concur that Ferguson situation is not a provable racial issue, but more of one of an incompetent and foolish lone cop provoking an unnecessary altercation because he didn’t get the respect he thought he deserved or because of the socks Brown wore; the man, who chokeheld Garner has had 3 civic suits, 1 settled, based on police misconduct. All were blacks involved. All charges were dismissed/sealed. The one that was settled involved doing a strip search on the two ‘suspects’ on the street, in front of other cops and whoever else was in attendance. (Naked from the waist down and the cop involved groping their genitals. My knowledge of history knows that this is a universal and ahistorical method to humiliate other males.

    Stop defending the indefensible.

  • How is the NY situation a racist one? The supervising sergeant is a black female. Her watch commander on duty is a black male. Do you believe that either one of them could be racist to one of the same ethnic background?

    I agree with others that the officer involved probably needed to be charged with at least involuntary manslaughter, as an outsider though my opinion means nought as I am not conversant with the fact pattern.

    Don’t you worry, Jack…he, his supervisor, and possibly the department will be raked over the coals in a civil suit if the usual immunity from prosecution of the department can be challenged. It’s darn near “double jeopardy” in the usual case, look at the result of the Rodney King case, or even the OJ Simpson case.
    The officer persisted in maintaining the carotid hold despite the vocal warnings by the deceased, and despite having three other officers pinning him to the ground – an egregious act to be sure.

  • This is an issue which is greater than race or religious belief. If you believe in freedom, you need to respond.

    The United States has already become a Police State and is slowly be very steadily becoming a Totalitarian Regime. When it tips over the edge, freedom will be lost for a long time, probably more than a thousand years, if “We the people of the United States” allow it to happen.

    To stop it, the Citizens of the United States MUST peacefully but strongly use their political power to protect individual freedoms in our country versus the power of the government or we will become ruled by a very small dictatorial minority.

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