In case you didn’t know, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri recently chose not to indict a white police officer, Darren Wilson, of a crime in killing a young black man named Michael Brown. Since race in America has been a complicated issue for centuries, the decision of the grand jury provoked much unrest by those who feel a racially-motivated crime was perpetrated, or at least that race played a factor in both the murder and the acquittal. It has also prompted outpourings of thoughts, both of regular citizens and prominent voices, from people black and white. I want to highlight a couple of those thoughts, both from Christian black men, whom I think will provide an important perspective from a black American, but more importantly, from a biblical worldview.
“Benjamin Watson on Ferguson”
A post by New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson for The Gospel Coalition (TGC)
A very even and emotional reflection on the occurrences of Ferguson. Yes, the rhetorical style makes it all the more gripping, but what I appreciate the most is the final paragraph, where Watson states that “ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem” and that this is good news for us because “God has provided a solution for sin through the his Son, Jesus, and, with it, a transformed heart and mind.” It was originally posted to Facebook, and I am all the more thankful for Watson’s courage and conviction to make his thoughts public.
“Thoughts on Ferguson”
A blog post by Voddie Baucham for TGC
My friend Albert Weng reposted this to Facebook (so a hat tip to him), which is where I saw this post. I appreciate Pastor Baucham’s biblical response to the event, which follows much along the lines of what Watson said in his post: the core problem here is not race or the poverty of black communities or the systemic suppression of black people. The problem is sin.
So I was surprised to read a response from another gentleman on Facebook, who replied in the comment box under Albert’s repost, where the gentleman said he was “disgusted” with Baucham charging the black community to solve its problems when those problems have been initiated and perpetuated by “institutionalized racism.” He also voiced his support of the “overthrow of oppressive structures of power.” I am thankful to this gentleman for articulating his clearly passionate and frustrated thoughts over Ferguson–and more broadly, over the issues of race in America. But I disagree with him on two points.
First, I disagree that Baucham is instructing or even suggesting that the black community take care of problems such as “fatherlessness” in order to fix the issue. What he does is describe the facts: that “black-on-black” crime is more prevalent than “blue-on-black” crime (where a police officer is responsible). Pastor Baucham notes that “black men are plagued with criminality” and that “The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness.” These are statements meant to indicate, not to command, which is why the verbs are indicative and not imperative.
Second, I disagree that systemic racism and oppression is the root cause of racial violence in America, or even anywhere else in the world. I contend, as I believe Scripture states, that sin is the cause of the evil that we perpetrate against each other. This is what Baucham states when suggesting the reason behind being robbed by black men and harassed by white police officers: “It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners.” Romans 1-3 states that we have a “debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28), which results in “malice” and “murder” (1:29). We as sinners are characterized by selfishness that, without common grace, leads us to “shed blood” (3:13-17). This is the reason we are violent. The atrocities that humans commit is a result of the condition of their hearts–that is, sinful actions are a result of a sinful nature. So to somehow remove and destroy institution racism would only address the exterior signs, not the interior problem.
I’ll conclude this post with what I wrote to the gentleman in response: I’ve never stolen from a store, nor shot someone several times leading to their death, nor participated in a riot. But I have sinned against God, and I should reap what I sow. What I should reap is death, and the eternal punishment of a just and furious God. What captures my attention so grippingly is that I won’t have to reap what I sow, because Jesus Christ bore the reapings instead. Moreover, He broke the power of sin’s grip on me, such that I am no longer always compelled and deceived by my sinful nature to think in sinful ways and to do what is sinful. That’s the good news of the gospel. Everyone in the world needs that, regardless of race. That’s what we exist to proclaim. And we proclaim it both because people need deliverance, and because it brings God glory to deliver us.