Last weekend TGC Council member Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, addressed his congregation in light of the nearby unrest in Ferguson. You can read the text below.
It’s been a trying time for our city, and really our whole nation. The eyes of the world are on our city. I don’t know about you, but I’ve run the gamut of emotions: anger, disbelief, defensiveness, and even apathy. My prayer has been real simple—I’m sure it’s been yours as well: God, please make this stop. Stop the violence. Heal our city.
Our city is used to this kind of stuff. It’s not uncommon, unfortunately, for St. Louis to experience racial tension. All the way back to Dred Scott, we see racial tension in our city about who is free and who is not. In July 1917 in East St. Louis—a place where we are planting a church right now—there was a race riot that lasted a week. A hundred people lost their lives. You probably don’t know about the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868. It said people in this country could live anywhere they want, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. But that didn’t practically get applied in St. Louis until 1948, almost 80 years later. Maybe you saw the Netflix documentary on Pruitt-Igoe, this grand experiment to unite black and white people who live in an urban area. It went horribly wrong and divided over race issues. When I moved to St. Louis in 2001, I was surprised to see the population sign. Three-hundred thousand people. And as I began to research I was surprised to learn that in 1950 there were 900,000 people living in the city. For the most part, all the people in the majority culture moved out.
We live in a very broken city, and we’ve seen that recently with Ferguson. We don’t know all the facts, but when the facts come in, they’re going to be disputed. And so out of this terrible tragedy we are left trying to figure out what we are to do. Many are going to use this situation to further divide our city, but my prayer for us is that we learn and grow from this tragedy.
The good news of the Bible is that there are resources to deal with this tragedy, so I want to talk to you about two concepts. One is justice, and the other is privilege. The Bible asks in Micah 6:8—a very important text in the Old Testament—this question: “What does the Lord require of a person?” And the answer comes back, “To do justice and to act in mercy.” Those are not two things—justice and mercy—but it’s the action with the attitude. We are to do justice with the attitude of being merciful. That’s what God calls us to do.
As we think about justice, I’m reminded of the reality that we are a church with many who have suffered injustice because of the color of their skin. We are a church that has many people employed by the state or the city police, or the FBI or the DEA, so we are in this unique situation. We are right in the middle of this tension even within our own church, and yet we have to talk about justice.
Why? Because, more than 200 times in the Bible the word justice is used.
The idea of justice, the Hebrew mishpat, literally means to be acquitted or punished based solely on the merits of the case. It means anyone who does the same wrong should be punished with the same penalty. You and I know that doesn’t happen in our country all the time. And because of that, there is deep pain, and we are seeing that play out in our city.
But I want to talk about privilege as well. The Bible consistently warns us in the Old Testament not to oppress the poor, or what’s called “the alien” or “the foreigner.” It’s repeated because there’s always temptation for somebody in a majority culture to oppress those in the minority. Why? Because we have the power.
I remember the first time I heard the words “majority culture,” or “white privilege.” When I heard it, I was offended. After all, I’m not a racist. I grew up listening to hip hop. I had black friends. I’ve said to them, “Listen, I’m not one of those white people.” I think about my friends. Two of them come to mind, Michael and Kevin. We hung out and we partied. We talked about sports and race. We listened to music. We talked about girls, and we grew up together from elementary school all the way through. So I knew these guys. I love these guys. They were my friends, but unfortunately to my parents and some of my parents’ friends they were my black friends.
I don’t know what it’s like to not just be a friend, but to be a black friend or a white friend. I don’t know what that’s like. When I saw my black friends’ experience of the inauguration and election of President Obama, I didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense to me. Even those who disagreed with his policies were exuberant. Why? Because they never thought this could happen, certainly not in their lifetime.
“White privilege” or “majority culture” is basically when things are easier because you are in the majority. Life is just a bit simpler. Opportunities are a little easier to grab. That’s what it means to have white privilege. When you’re in the majority culture you don’t even recognize it. You readily make assumptions that things are the same and that all people are granted the kind of opportunity you receive. You’re not even aware of the special privileges accessible to you. Often being in the minority feels like having no voice, whereas those of us in the majority have a lot of voice.
What my black friends have done for me, even this week, is to help me understand this on a deeper level. I’m a white pastor. I’m in a very difficult spot. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more insecure in addressing our church. My emotions are everywhere. I feel exposed. This tragedy has exposed a ton of stuff in me. I didn’t sleep last night because I just realized this thing is going to keep going on and on and on. And I don’t just mean what going on out there; I mean what’s going on inside of me. I’m realizing how much I need to grow in my understanding of what it means to unite a city, what the gospel says about race, and how we rally around the things of God.
I asked Stephen Rhodes, another newer black friend. We didn’t grow up together, but it’s like we were brothers from another mother. We are serving together on the elder team here, overseeing The Journey. I said, “Man, I need help. I need you to send me stuff,” and he has been sending me all kinds of articles. I’m reading them, and I’m listening. I need mentors like this. I’m talking to black pastors in Acts 29. I’m talking to black pastors in our city. I need their help. I need to listen.
I hope that’s where you are. Because if we’re honest, down deep in all of us there’s this growing selfishness and self-righteousness, because of sin, that causes us to exclude the other. That’s a part of being a human. May God cut that out of us through these terrible events. For his glory and our city’s good, may God through the gospel and our lives use this terrible thing to literally unite the races around the person of Jesus Christ. Because the world is watching.
We are not just going to pray as we did Wednesday night, though that was awesome. We’re going to hold discussions and forums, and we’re going to really try to press into this issue. Maybe we should have done it before, but we’re doing it now. And we’re not just going to do forums, though I want you to come to those. I want you to stretch yourself. I want you to be a little uncomfortable. The best thing you can do, and the best thing I can do, is to have conversations with people who have a different skin color.
Don’t be afraid to risk. Don’t be afraid to have a hard conversation—and preferably do it over a dinner table. That’s our great opportunity as a church. This is baked into our DNA. It’s been with us from the beginning. We want to see the gospel affect race. So this is very consistent with who we are. Now, we get the chance to really accelerate, and we need all of you to say, “I’ve got a lot to learn. I want to grow. I want to see God move.”
Let’s pray to that end.
Father, I pray for The Journey, that we would be people who love all peoples as you do. Lord, that we would not see race as a hindrance to community, but that which enriches community. Help us, Lord, to unite around the gospel. We know that’s the only thing that will cause racial reconciliation. Nothing else will do. We want to fly the gospel flag high, we want to preach the gospel, we want to live out the truth, and we want to see our city changed. In Jesus’ name, amen.