We’ve felt this feeling before, that sitting on the edge of your seat, stomach in knots, hoping to win but not hoping to offend feeling. We waited this way in 1992 to see what the jury would do when four officers were caught on tape beating Rodney King. The country watched this way as jurors returned a verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial. Again, we found ourselves leaning into our screens, clinching our jaws, straining to hear a favorable word in the George Zimmerman trial.
Now we wait for something to be said by the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Most have taken their side, either in favor of Wilson or Brown or indifference. None of us are impartial, even if we’re simply partial for a world where such things didn’t exist or didn’t have to be reported and so divisive. Many want the moment to pass. To, as Rodney King put it, “all get along.”
But what if this moment could be different? What if this time something transformative could result?
To be sure, there will be “winners” and “losers” in whatever decision gets handed down. And no matter who “wins,” there will still be dissatisfaction on both sides. An indictment won’t bring Brown back and it won’t repair the breach of trust between those sworn to protect and those sworn to get justice. An acquittal won’t clear Wilson’s name and it won’t restore the integrity of a police department mired in ineptitude and scandal.
The transformative moment won’t be achieved with the jury’s decision.
The transformation will happen only with deep levels of empathy, repentance and love-inspired action. What if we began to feel again–not the feelings we always feel but feeling for “the other”? What would follow if we were able, for a moment, to share in the suffering or the shame of those facing us through police shields and across barricades? If we could identify with the officer’s anger, the marcher’s anger; the chief’s bewilderment, the parents’ bewilderment; or the child’s fear, there might be an opportunity to be larger than ourselves, more encompassing of others, and therefore compassionate enough to act differently.
Or, suppose we are able to tell the truth and shame–not the devil–but ourselves. Suppose we were able to bare all with the kind of moral nakedness rarely seen since the Fall of Adam and Eve. If we could but tell the truth about those suspicions, fears, doubts, hatreds, prejudices, manipulations, withdrawals, refusals, denials, threats, and maledictory wishes, then perhaps we could turn this into a moment–however brief–where truth made us free. What if our turning from our personal and national sins of racism, supremacy, bigotry and oppression meant the country’s turning into a shared freedom and reconciliation? What if we told the truth about ourselves–not our neighbors–for the first time? And what if we repented of our sins, of our contribution to the ugliness–if not in Ferguson then the ugliness on our blocks, in our schools, at our workplaces, even in our families? What transformations would happen in us and all around us?
And think for a moment about what might take place, having felt for others and freed ourselves in repentance, if we committed ourselves to love our neighbors and our enemies alike. Could this be a transformative moment if we stopped hating promiscuously, stopped blaming wildly, stopped accusing indiscriminately and started loving universally? Can we imagine an officer leaving the line, lowering his weapon, to join hands with a protestor? Can we conceive of a protestor quietly breaking ranks to approach an officer, kneel with bowed head, and pray for those in uniform? Could we join them? Could we be them?
If evangelicals cannot imagine such empathy, repentance and loving action, it might be because we’ve not yet appropriated the gospel deeply enough.
Some have not believed; some have believed only intellectually. Some have faith but no action. Such faith is dead. But true gospel faith calls us to be a purified people “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14). The gospel rightly grasped issues forth in a people “ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1) and calls “those who have believed in God [to] be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). Our problem isn’t that we have been so devoted to good works that we’ve forgotten the gospel. No, just the opposite. Our problem is that we have so lightly grasped the gospel we have not been careful to devote ourselves to the good the good news produces.
But this could be a transformative moment for the Church and for many who find themselves crushed, smitten and afflicted by a fallen and broken world. It could be a transformative moment if the Church–not only in Ferguson but around the country–would dare embrace its perceived enemies with love and endeavor to fight the cause of the poor and oppressed in that same love. The Gospel produces such people. The Lord expects it. The Spirit enables it. Are we willing?
We still await a response befitting our calling as Christians and evangelical leaders. The credibility of our profession and the gospel we cherish hangs in the balance, at least it does for those looking for hope and a way out of the Fergusons of the world. As stated earlier:
It can no longer be the case that to be “evangelical” means to care about either the gospel or justice. Evangelicalism must come to understand that justice and mercy flow inextricably from the gospel—both at the cross of Christ as well as in the daily carrying of our crosses. Micah 6:8 is still God’s requirement of us.
We gospel-believing Christians, preaching the crucified and risen Lord, are still this world’s hope for another world free from sin, death and injustice. The transformative moment comes when we live up to our calling.