I wanted to share with you that this afternoon, The District Church pastoral team issued the following response to recent events in Ferguson, Mo., and the issues it has brought to the surface.
Dear District Church family,
This past week, we have spent much time praying and talking together about how to respond to the latest developments from Ferguson, Mo., the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, and the racial divisions that this incident has exposed. We acknowledge that no response will fully encapsulate all that needs to be said, but we felt compelled to say something.
The purpose of this response, though, is pastoral and intended to talk about how we as a church and the body of Christ can respond in a prayerful, gracious, prophetic, and godly way to issues that the events in Ferguson have raised.
We are a community of faith centered on Jesus. Christ has been and must continue to be what grounds us and unifies us—not our ethnicity, race, language, political leaning, gender, sexual orientation, nation or state of origin, documented status, or current neighborhood of residence. In a nation and world inflamed by division, we are to be a living witness that in Christ there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph. 4:3-6).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). As the church, we are called to live out a foretaste of this grander, God-sized vision—to be the beloved community, where the divisions that we know all too well would no longer keep us from loving one another (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). We seek to be a community where when those who are different from us are mourning and grieving, we also mourn and grieve—because “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
As a diverse church, we should always be seeking to learn from one another and sharing with one another, believing that without hearing the voices of those who are different from us—and particularly the voices of those who have been oppressed or marginalized—we are less than we should be. In the wake of Ferguson and the widely divergent responses, the need and opportunity for these kinds of interracial relationships and conversations is starkly apparent.
At The District Church, we are committed to the work of justice; it stands as one of our core values, one of the central tenets of a life lived in service to God (Mic. 6:8). In response to God’s generous justice to us, our efforts at justice are not only about the work that we do in working for justice but also about the kind of people we are becoming in the process. How we respond to unjust situations—and our city’s and nation’s history of injustice—matters. As followers of Jesus—the only just and righteous one—we have been given the ministry of reconciliation and the responsibility to become more aware of the sin in our hearts and in the world, even as we pray for the Spirit of God to effect the work of redemption in us and through us for the sake of justice and God’s kingdom.
Specifically, we must learn the insidious story of racism in the United States and in Washington, DC. It is a cancer that affects everything from politics to education to poverty to HIV/AIDS to the criminal justice system. Without an awareness of the most prevalent, underlying issue in our city, we cannot hope to make any significant impact on the very place we claim to be for. More significantly for this current situation, we will fail to understand and empathize with the deep-seated pain, grief, anger, and confusion felt by the African-American community, including many in our own church. The reality is that race still matters, and that throughout our nation’s history black lives have been treated as worth less than other lives.
We inhabit what is called the already-but-not-yet, the time when Jesus has already come to inaugurate the kingdom of God on earth but he has not yet returned to bring the fullness of heaven down to earth. Much progress has been already been made in terms of civil rights for African-Americans but we are clearly not yet free from racism. In light of the fuller gospel story that we have been learning (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Renewal), we must remember and remind ourselves that we have been sent together to heal and be representatives of Christ’s renewing and reconciling work in the midst of a broken and fallen world (2 Cor. 5:20).
Therefore, understanding that injustice will never be eradicated until Christ’s return but that our calling is to seek justice anyway, understanding that the sin of racism will not be wiped out until Christ’s return but that our calling is to work toward that goal in the meantime, what are we to do?
First: Pray together. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal against the principalities and powers against which we struggle. Ephesians 6 says that our struggle is not against “flesh and blood” but against these principalities and powers. In other words, this is not a fight against specific people, groups of people, political parties, or media outlets. This is a battle in the spiritual realm against Satan and the ways he seeks to rob, steal, destroy, and counter Christ’s mission to seek, save, heal, and unite. We encourage you to pray together, with those from whom you are different, hearing one another’s perspectives and coming together to talk to the same God and Father. We believe God is glorified and his kingdom advances when the body of Christ unites to pray and to seek his face and his will together.
Second: Listen, learn, and share. If you don’t understand the depth of the emotion felt by the African-American community, take time to listen. And then listen some more. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t act like you know it all. In humility, genuinely seek to learn, opening your heart and your mind to the possibility that things may not be as you always thought them to be.
For the African-American members of our family, we want you to know that we grieve with you and that we hurt with you; our hearts are heavy. We understand that the emotion is raw, that the pain is deep, that discouragement may seem ever-present. We ask you, in your own time, to be open to walking with the wider community of faith as we move toward better understanding and empathy for one another, and justice for all.
To all: remember that we as Christians can agree that ending racism is good, and disagree about how to best achieve this. Remember that we are all sinful, broken people, with limited perspectives; no one but God has the whole picture. Don’t be afraid to be have difficult conversations in love, offering grace to one another and seeking to understand more than you seek to be understood. Be humble. Our God desires to reconcile all people to himself and to one other. We are called to be a church that embodies and displays that reconciling gospel. Such a display is deeply needed in this moment.
There are many things we can do in light of our nation’s recent events to increasingly reflect Christ’s coming kingdom here in our city and across our nation and our world. These are just the beginning.
In unrelenting hope because of everything Christ has already done and everything Christ has promised to do,
The District Church Pastoral Team
Aaron Graham | Matthew Watson | Amy Graham | Justin Fung