Russell and Duenes

Ferguson and Racial Reconciliation

with 4 comments

I offer some brief and general observations on the situation in Ferguson, for what they’re worth. I have not religiously followed the goings on in Ferguson moment-by-moment, but clearly we’ve been here before. My present comments stem from having read three articles by evangelical Christians (here, here and here), and one piece by Kevin Williamson of National Review.

The evangelical articles, in one form or another, inform the reader that the racial divide between blacks and whites is still very much alive here in the United States, and therefore, Ferguson reminds us that the church must continue to preach, and more importantly, live out the racial reconciliation which Christ died to bring about. Well and good.

Williamson, a Catholic (so far as I can tell), provides a different take. Of course, he’s addressing the issue from more of a political standpoint, so on the surface it figures that he discusses different issues, but the racial implications cannot really be so neatly compartmentalized into “political” and “spiritual” categories. At least if one believes the Bible.

Williamson’s thesis? The types of confrontations between the police and black males that are occurring in Ferguson are the types of confrontations that go on in places like Philadelphia, Newark, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and Detroit.  And those cities are run by progressive liberals and have had the progressive worldview imposed on them for decades now. Thus, Ferguson and the above-mentioned cities provide for us examples of the practical outworkings of progressive/ liberal governance. The types of urban conflicts and oppression, particularly for young, black males, that are endemic to those cities – whether the result of racism by the cops and others, or an overweening welfare state – have come about under the administrations of overwhelmingly liberal politicians and institutions of influence. Hence, people like Jessie Jackson, who decry what’s going on in Ferguson, ought to consider that Ferguson has had the worldview of Jessie Jackson implemented in it for years now, and therefore, the socio-cultural situation in Ferguson (and elsewhere) is the inevitable result.

I’ll play my cards. I think Williamson’s take has a great deal to recommend it. Now, I don’t disagree with anything the evangelicals put forth, yet I think they don’t say enough, and perhaps they even omit the most important part. A lot is said after these incidents about “racial reconciliation” and how our churches need to look like heaven will look, with all the racial and ethnic groups worshipping God together in harmony. Again, I affirm this, and with a hearty “Amen.” But Christians are also commanded to love their neighbors, and loving one’s neighbor must be done in accordance with the truth. What would it mean for Christians to love their neighbors in places like Ferguson, or Newark, Philly, San Francisco, Detroit, Oakland, Chicago, Baltimore, etc?

Does it mean, or primarily mean, that suburban Christians, more specifically, more white, middle class, suburban Christians, ought to live and minister in these and other inner cities? Doubtless some of us should. But I have to think that even if many more of us did, it would be to little beneficial effect if the progressive/ liberal political and social rulers and structures governing these cities are left in place. In other words, why are the Christian articles I have read content to relate the gospel only to “racial reconciliation,” and not to the larger power personages, structures and institutions that need to be altered and redeemed by the same gospel? Is it because we have so separated out in our minds the “political” versus the “spiritual?” Is it because we have so individualized the gospel that we can only think on the individual or local church level? Is it because we don’t think Jesus and the gospel change whole cultures, governing structures and institutional influences? Is Jesus a Democrat? Is He unconcerned with municipal governance? Would Christians just be “playing politics” if they actually preached and acted on such things? Could racial reconciliation begin with something as pointed as Christians abandoning public schools? Yet we never seem to suggest such things.

I realize that I’m over-simplying these matters to a significant degree, but it seems to me that the evangelical articles I read are far too reductionistic, treading over well-worn ground on “justice” and “racial reconciliation,” and apparently destined to keep on doing so without a larger vision of the problem and a larger vision of the gospel’s transforming reach. In my view, it is not spiritually negligible who runs our cities and what vision of reality they implement as they run them. It is not of little consequence what kinds of schools, teachers and school administrators educate inner-city children. According to Williamson, the liberal vision is deeply hurtful to human flourishing, and the proof’s in the pudding.

Liberal ideas and policies have been brought to bear on these cities and their citizens for a long while. They’ve taken their best shot. They’ve “had the votes.” And this is the result. It seems to me that Christians should take notice, and we should have something more to say in our churches than that racism still exists, we need racial reconciliation, and our churches should be multi-ethnic. No, the power structures, “and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” needs to be moved against with “the weapons of righteousness.” The “higher taxes, defective schools, crime and declining economic opportunity” that Williamson says characterize these cities need to be considered more carefully by evangelical Christians, so that we can lay bare their roots, and see them for what they are. Whatever they are, they do not lead to human well-being. That much appears clear.

I cannot bring myself to affirm that leaving in place “feckless schools, self-serving bureaucracies, rapacious public-sector unions pillaging the municipal fisc, and malevolent political leadership that is by no means above exploiting racial sentiment in order to hold on to power” is the definition of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.



Written by Michael Duenes

August 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

4 Responses

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  1. D-
    Though I agree with your thoughts about not dividing our politics and our spiritual lives, I do think that the “liberal” policies you are referring to have not been fully actualized. For example, had Affirmative Action been in place in the Ferguson police department (something Jessie Jackson has been demanding for years), the outcry from this event would likely not have been the same. But when you have only 3 African-American police officers and 50 white police officers, in a 67% African-American community, liberal policies were not enforced and hence did not have years to “fail.”

    russell and duenes

    August 18, 2014 at 11:04 am

    • My only response to your thought on affirmative action is this: Who is in charge of the police forces in cities like Ferguson, Detroit, Philly, etc? In other words, it doesn’t appear to be some right-winger who is running the show when it comes to the cops. If the police force is mostly white, I have a hard time believing that’s mostly because there’s no affirmative action in place. As Williamson says, whether racism, no affirmative action, or welfare policies are the cause, the reality is still the same: Liberals have the run of things overall, and they largely set the policy agendas. If there’s no black cops, can it be because conservatives are driving it? Are we really to believe that qualified black men and women are aching to be cops in Ferguson, but have been denied for lack of affirmative action? I don’t doubt that lack of affirmative action plays a role. But how does one account for a plethora of black cops in more prosperous cities? They don’t have affirmative action either.


      russell and duenes

      August 18, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      • Who is in charge of the policies in the cities you list? We don’t know because neither one of us knows the police chief’s political persuasion in these cities. They don’t run with an “R” or “D” next to their name. When you ask: “Are we really to believe that qualified black men and women are aching to be cops in Ferguson, but have been denied for lack of affirmative action?” The answer is I don’t know and neither do you. All I know is that almost 70% of a community is of a certain race that does not show up in the make-up of their police department. Let me ask you this: If in your town you have a 70% white majority, wouldn’t you find it strange that out of 53 police officers, only 3 are white and 50 are black? I think you would.
        I do know that the Ferguson mayor is a conservative Republican, though I don’t think it matters. What does matter is that liberals run certain major cities in America and Conservatives run the others. Both have these problems. These issues are moral questions that cross partisan divides. It is a lack of empathy, good judgement, morality, and mercy as to why we continue to have these problems. Conservatives are as guilty as liberals. The big question is what do we do about it. The Wilson article you sent me comes to mind. Praying that God breaks the “teeth” of our evil institutions is a good start. We both can agree on that.

        russell and duenes

        August 19, 2014 at 9:58 am

  2. Williamson, at least, doesn’t seem to be referring to policies that haven’t been actualized, but those that have. I’m not sure it’s that connected to Ferguson but I find his point that “the places in which the progressive vision of government has reached its fullest expressions” are none the better for it to be rather compelling at first blush.

    Andy M

    August 18, 2014 at 4:39 pm

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