There has been some very thoughtful commentary written, by those who support both sides. And there has been A LOT of hateful, un-thoughtful commentary written, again by those on both sides.
I have a different take.
My take: we all agree.
No, seriously. All sides agree.
I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone disagree with any of the following statements:
- A person should never be attacked, harassed, or killed simply because of the color of their skin.
- Police brutality and use of excessive force is never acceptable.
- An officer attacked by a criminal may unfortunately have to defend himself, and when it is justifiable, that is acceptable.
We all agree on all three of those statements.
The problem isn't that we disagree philosophically or morally on any of the situations: the problem in the Ferguson case--as in so many others--is that none of us actually know enough details to know which of the three scenarios above is true.
Police shootings of minorities are like the following Venn diagram:
You see, there are actually seven zones in this Venn diagram:
- Police are brutal to innocent people, regardless of race. We all agree - this is wrong and should be punished.
- Police are brutal to criminals, regardless of race. We all agree - police brutality is wrong, regardless of whether the other person is a criminal. Both the criminal and the policeman should be punished.
- Criminal activity is wrong, and should be punished regardless of race.
- Police brutality toward a criminal because of their race is wrong. The criminal should be punished for their crimes, and the policeman for the brutality and racism.
- Police brutality of innocent people due to racism is wrong. Only the policeman should be punished.
- Arresting criminals due to racism is wrong, even if they are arrested without brutality. However, the criminal still should pay for his crimes.
- Arresting innocents due to their race is wrong, even if done without brutality. The person should be freed, and the policeman punished.
Everyone I know actually agrees with every one of those statements.
So why do we have the issues with the Trayvon Martin case, and the Michael Brown case?
Because the issue is that we despite all knowing that we have incomplete information, love to choose which zone we think applies. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed that this is a situation of zone 3, and the policeman did nothing wrong. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed the opposite--that this is either zone 4 or 5, and that the policeman should be punished.
But the reality is that virtually nobody involved knows which was the situation. The policeman knows. Michael Brown's friend might know. That's it. Everyone else is speculating, to a greater or lesser degree.
That is the real issue which is causing the divisions: people based on whatever source/logic/prejudice they have, are deciding which zone they thought applied. I did. You are. Your neighbor is.
Then in kicks confirmation bias, and you all of a sudden find it OBVIOUS that your choice was correct. If only other people would be objective and look at the evidence you are seeing, they would agree!
The Christian Response
Let's all agree that this is a horrible situation. One of seven scenarios occurred on that Venn Diagram. And no one reading this article has any clue which one is correct. So as Christians, let us follow our Lord's command and not judge (Matt 7:1). Don't judge the cop for reacting to a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. And alternately, don't judge Michael Brown for a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. Jesus says that the way you judge others is how you will be judged: do any of you really feel you have enough information to play God, and judge this situation with complete objectivity? I know I don't. (And if you say, "Yes, I do," then you are really wrong and need a dose of humility!)
So let me propose a Christian response.
- Let's pray to the Lord that justice will be done in Ferguson.
- Let's pray to the Lord for peace to reign in the city and the nation.
- Let's pray to the Lord that anyone who has acted wrongly will be repentant, and forgiven.
- Let's pray to the Lord that those who mourn will be comforted.
- Let's pray to the Lord that those who live in fear will be protected.
- Let's pray to the Lord that the Church will band together to heal a hurting community.
- Let's pray to the Lord that, above all, His will be done.
What if--just what if??--THIS was the Christian response. What if both publicly and privately we prayed for the above, instead of judgmentalism and jumping to conclusions on one side or the other?
What if we stopped expecting a secular society run by sinful men to act saintly, and instead gathered around all of those who are hurt--both the officer and the family of Michael Brown--and offered a shoulder to cry on?
What if we earnestly sought peace more than evidence that our initial opinion was right?
What if we as a Church decided to try to actively work together in our communities to break down barriers between the races, so that future situations do not dissolve into this?
What if--like Jesus--we were able to actually love ALL people through this very difficult time, instead of choosing which ones we will love?