We Are All St. Louisans Now

 

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On Saturday, August 9, 2014, our child, Mike Brown, was shot and killed in the streets of his home community of Ferguson, Mo. in St. Louis County. We join in solidarity, prayer, anger, and sadness with our sisters and brothers who continue to mourn his death. As a collective of regular contributors to this blog, and as people of faith in the living God, we seek at this time to speak with one voice.

We believe we are all one. There is no us and them. We are all family. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. When one of us celebrates, we all celebrate. We believe that we, as a community, have lost sight of this reality. We believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that when we see our human family, we can’t unsee God. We can’t act towards others or speak to others in any other way than we would towards God.

We believe in our citizens’ right to protest. We denounce unnecessarily harsh tactics used by St. Louis County Police Department and the Ferguson Police Department. We believe the police state is not the long-term answer to social unholiness and relational blasphemy. We are grateful and humble to stand with local leaders and their nonviolent work in our city and county. We thank Antonio French‘s tireless documentation of the beauty and pain of the Ferguson community over the past week. We thank pastors such as Traci Blackmon of Christ the King UCC and Willis Johnson of Wellspring UMC who have embodied bold, prophetic leadership. We celebrate the impeccable leadership of Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, whose calm, empathetic presence has created a marked change in protests on West Florissant Avenue. We also call upon our fellow St. Louisans to refrain from violence. Your anger is wholly justified, but violence, even when it seems the only tactic left to draw attention to the ills of the community, leads down a path towards death. Love has won, is winning, and will always win. That narrative has already been written. We are called to live into it.

We call on our local, national, and international press to strive for painstakingly fair reporting. Social media and mainstream news outlets have been awash with inaccurate, sensationalized, and one-sided reports of events in Ferguson and St. Louis County. It is the duty of the press in a democracy to serve the people with fair, balanced, and accurate reporting. Coverage heavily weighted towards looting solidifies stereotypes of African Americans in the media. Coverage weighted towards discussion of the reasons anyone would resort to looting could foster productive discussions of poverty, race, and disenfranchisement. We ask our fellow St. Louisans and Americans to not seek judgment, but rather, to seek knowledge and wisdom, and to be critical of news coverage as the story of Ferguson continues to unfold.

We believe that the church, particularly our United Methodist Church, can’t sit this one out. The world is literally watching. We are waiting for answers and looking for people of faith to ask the right questions. These are the moments when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the sheep from the goats. The United Methodist Church has not always served the African American community in this city in the way that our Christ would have us serve. Justice begins at the margins. Jesus calls from the outskirts of our comfort zones. The Gospel is proclaimed most clearly in the streets of the Canfield Green Apartments, not in our comfortable sanctuaries and gated suburbs.

We believe that music and prayer are soothing to the soul during these times of crisis. Healing takes community, touch, and voices lifted in unison. Healing takes looking into the eyes of your neighbor, embracing, saying, “I’ll pray for you. You pray for me. I love you. You are important to me. I need you to survive.” Our prayer is also, “Lord forgive us as we turn a blind eye while the world goes to Hell.” We believe that crossing borders—denominational, geographical, racial—is necessary, and that listening, crying, and singing with our mothers and brothers should be a priority for all people of faith during this tragedy.

We believe that a transformed community is possible, but that we must do our part. We will be present with one another. We will attend worship services and vigils to honor Mike Brown. We will extend hands, to friend and stranger, to hold in prayer. We will demand accountability from our local governments. We will give generously to scholarships for the youth of our community.

We call on our leaders to listen to and to watch what is happening. A true leader is one who leads from the bottom up, not from the top down. Systemic change in the way of the Gospel begins with the powerless. Most of our elder pastors and superintendents are white. Many of them are men. Privilege comes with the responsibility to point to unheard voices. Host discussions of race in your churches. Preach on racial reconciliation. Allow marginalized people to share your pulpits. Innovate the way your church is led in a segregated city by purposefully seeking out people of color to hold positions of leadership. Take a hard look at the messages, worship environment, and ethnic makeup of your local church and ask if people of color would feel welcome and safe there. If they wouldn’t, make the necessary changes so that they would.

We believe that sunshine can come out of this storm and that St. Louis can not only heal, but can be made stronger than ever through this tragedy.

We believe that Mike Brown deserves better than to be remembered in relation to looting and violence.

We believe that it is our duty to honor his memory by doing all we can to reconcile all divides throughout our beautiful city, this St. Louis that we love so much.

We believe that we need your help. Pray for us.

Michael Brown // Call to Christ Followers from Harmony Church StL on Vimeo.

 

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Jon Copeland, Kenneth J. Pruitt, Hannah Shanks, members of simple church, members of the Anam Cara community, and friends in the St. Louis area all contributed to this post. Many thanks to Rev. Nathan Hopping at Harmony UMC for the video. Contact Wellspring UMC, as mentioned in the video, to contribute to higher education scholarships in memory of Michael Brown: (314) 521-4217. Photo by Kenneth J. Pruitt, taken on Sunday, August 10th on the 2900 block of the Canfield Green Apartments in Ferguson, Mo.

 

  • ColtsFan254

    I, like you, grieve that this death happened. I am so sad for the family of Mr. Brown. But, I detect in your writing an assumption that the officer involved was in no way justified in shooting Mr. Brown. I do not know that it wasn’t a cold blooded murder of a police officer of an unarmed man. I also do not know that it wasn’t a justified shooting in which the officer was in a situation which warranted this shooting. I of course join with you in wishing for the day that no violence ever occurs. But, I also don’t want to be quick to not have a fair hearing of the actual facts of the case. You say you want fair coverage, but seem ready to convict the officer already.

    • Hannah Shanks

      Brother/Sister,
      Thank you for grieving with us. As one of the many authors signed on to this piece, I can assure you that the individuals who combined their voices hold no unilateral assumptions. We have no more details than you, nor do we presume to. However, lack of details does not hold back the cry of our hearts’ grief, nor does it hold back our neighbors’. Our grief, like our hope, is not bound to circumstance.

      What we continue to ask, and what our brothers and sisters who live and serve in Ferguson are continuing to ask, is for all of us to listen hard and well, and to act on what we learn.

      We are not calling for conviction so much as calling for our brothers and sisters to be convicted – to be possessed by the spirit of hope and healing that sends us to hold those who scream and sob, to speak hard truth to ourselves and our leaders, to watch and attend to the story unfolding in front of our eyes without giving in to despair or cynicism.

      We’re asking those who read to do the same.

    • Jon Copeland

      Thank you for your comment. I can tell that you’ve been paying attention to the events in Ferguson too and I am glad that you are engaged, thinking about it, and hopefully, praying for our community. We too,do not know exactly what happened in the shooting. We likely will not know for a long time, if ever. We are all trying to sort this out and it is a painful, gut-wrenching process full of uncertainty and anxiety. It is not our intention to rush to judgment. Nor is it our intention to judge the officer who shot Mike Brown. Rather, our call for justice is a call for all of us to take at a broader look at the underlying causes of racial tension in our community that
      have come to light in a very public, very heart-breaking manner. This is the focus of our post.

      In our internal conversations, we felt it necessary to be critical of what we saw as uneven news coverage of the initial protests; coverage that focused on the violence caused by a few rather than the peaceful work being done by many. Luckily, many news outlets are now indeed reporting on the cleanup efforts and peacekeeping done by local clergy. I consider this answered prayer. While we don’t know the details of Mike Brown’s death, we know that his death has brought to the surface boiling tensions that have divided our beloved community in St. Louis for a long time. Those tensions were made visible every evening for the past week, as peaceful protests have turned violent, exacerbated by a heavy-handed police response. This too, we felt needed to be addressed.

      We also felt that we should publicly condemn the violence occurring each evening. Looting, vandalism, assaulting law enforcement, and other forms of violence are simply unacceptable and not the path of justice. We must pray for those who are committing these crimes. We must also consider societal forces at work that push people to the edge, into anger, and into violence.

      Tonight, we will wait in anxious prayer as night falls again and the possibility of violence in our community becomes real. Please pray with us. Pray for peace in our community. Pray that we may courageously confront the cancerous division in the community we love so dearly. Pray for the police, state troopers, National Guard and others who seek to protect our citizens. Pray for the legislators and government officials who will facilitate the necessary political changes to
      overcome racial injustice. Pray for the children of Ferguson and Florissant who have not been to school in a week. Pray for the churches and pastors of our area, who have become powerful forces for peace. May we seek the peace of Christ in everything we do. In Christ, we have hope for true reconciliation.

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