August 20, 2014

Silence is wisdom, not weakness–3 principles for #Ferguson

by Jesse Johnson

It has been ten days since a police officer shot and killed an African-American man in St. Louis, and there have been increasing calls for pastors to speak up about it. In fact yesterday morning I saw one of the Ferguson protest leaders on CNN lamenting the relative silence from pastors on what happened.

The question though: what should pastors say? For whom should they speak up? Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile (who pastors a church about 15 miles away from me) pleads with pastors to break their silence and speak out against the injustice of using lethal force against an unarmed teenager. Meanwhile Pastor Joshua Waulk wrote a compelling post urging pastors to “stop using language that is unduly sympathetic to the pro-Brown narrative, without regard for the potential innocence of PO Wilson, such as repeatedly calling Brown an unarmed teenager.”  

In fact, when you read those two blog posts—which I strongly encourage you to do, as they are both exceptionally well written—you come away with two very different concerns. To Anyabwile, the idea that a police officer can use lethal force on an unarmed teen marks just about the worst element of our society. It demonstrates that ethnic differences run deep, it shows an accepted prejudice against African-Americans, and it is a clear manifestation of how sin has gripped our culture. He looks his son in the eyes and is afraid for his son’s life. To Anyabwile, it is very easy to see this story happening to those he loves.

On the other hand, Waulk sees Ferguson as an example of how our culture harbors prejudices against law enforcement, how we depend on police to protect us but then quickly turn against them when they actually do. Our culture has a systemic problem, Waulk writes, in that groups of people will fabricate fiction for the purpose of getting police officers sanctioned, or even imprisoned. He looks at the legacy of his father (himself a police officer) and knows how quickly people will lie to get good cops in trouble. To Waulk, it is very easy to see Ferguson as an example of or society dishonoring those that are worthy of honor.

Photo from Jeff Roberson–AP

Obviously both Waulk and Anyabwile view this story through their own experiences. Waulk is Cuban-American and a former police officer in South Florida. Anyabwile is black, and lives in a neighborhood where having a family member shot to death is a person’s greatest fear.

Consider Waulk’s declaration:

That a 28 year-old, six year veteran with a clean history would suddenly decide to ‘execute’ and ‘assassinate’ anyone in broad daylight, and in the presence of witnesses is simply a horrible narrative to construct…All told, it smacks of prejudice, simpleness, and amateur thought on the part of some of the alleged witnesses, and certainly Michael Brown’s accomplice, who has apparently testified to a story like this to the police.

And then Anyabwile:

Deadlier [than racism] are the many persons who…carry on without pause, who empathize with the shooter rather than the shot, who express concern for the family of the living but little to no regard for the family of the deceased, who talk of obeying lawful authority while witnessing the unlawful use of authority, who keep resetting the conversation to call into question the teenage victim while granting the benefit of the doubt to the grown up perpetrator. Whatever else teenagers are, we all know they can be incredibly stupid at times. Whatever else a grown up is supposed to be, we all know we’re supposed to be responsible and level. It is the adult who should have put away childish things. But we ask of the teenager what we should ask of the adult, and we accord the adult the latitude only stupid teens should receive. When the teen is large and ‘Black,’ then he’s not a teen any more. He’s a menace. The calculation is faster than a speeding bullet. And it’s deadly.

 


With these differences, it is not surprising that both Anyabwile and Waulk differ on what role theology has to play in this issue. Anyabwile says that if evangelicalism can’t muster enough courage to speak on Ferguson, then it is a dead theology—dead in the sense that it has ceased to interact with the world. Whereas Waulk writes:

My seminary education would not have served me well in hand-to-hand combat during my career, so far as all this is concerned. It’s hard to imagine slugging a guy with Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians, or calling on a fleeing felon to stop because of his total depravity. The two occasions I was shot at, and the one occasion I discharged my firearm in the line of duty could only be prepared for at the range, and on the streets.

So how is a Christian supposed to know what to say about Ferguson? Here are three biblical principles to apply:

First, Anyabwile is correct, and Christians cannot remain silent in the face of injustice.

We live in a world filled with injustice, and God uses common grace to limit it. Just as one form of common grace is law enforcement, another form of common grace is the voice of Christians who speak out to defend the oppressed. Both are true, both are necessary, and both require Christians to participate. It is indeed a Christian duty to expose and condemn injustice in society.

In fact, the final charge in the book of Proverbs (before the description of a godly wife) is this:

Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9; cf. Prov 17:26).

By shining a light on injustice, it is exposed. Any time Christians cross paths with oppression, they should stand against it. Our family, friends, neighbors, and all who are listening should know that God does not approve of injustice, and that the Lord himself will be the avenger of the wronged. By condemning injustice, we show the world how God is just, and that allows us to speak with integrity when we declare that he is not only just, but also the justifier.

Second, both Waulk and Anyabwile are correct in that Christians should not defend the unrighteous.

It is a serious sin to speak in the defense of a person who was in the wrong. We are to “hate evil” (Prov 18:12), and “it is not good to show partiality to the wicked” because doing so will ultimately end up “perverting the justice due the innocent” (Prov 18:5).  The bottom line:

Whoever says to the guilty, ‘You are innocent’—people will curse him, and tribes will denounce him; but it will go well with those who convict the guilty (Prov 24:24-25).

But in this case, how are we supposed to know who is guilty and who is innocent?

That leads to my caution to both Anyabwile and Waulk: Don’t make a judgment without facts from both sides. To some extent I understand the desire to pass judgment on a case with which we have emotional ties. If you come from a background where racism is part of the typical experience, you read about Ferguson and you can practically write the story yourself. It seems obvious that it was a case—like so many others—where law enforcement jumped to deadly conclusions and acted foolishly in a way that took the life of black victim who did not deserve to die.

On the other hand, if you are in law enforcement then it is likely the Ferguson story is viewed through the familiar lens of being put in an impossible situation by a violent criminal much bigger than you. It seems obvious that the officer was attacked and followed his training which resulted in him using lethal force as a last resort. Even one of the protest leaders yesterday granted that he can see how from the officer’s side of the story, he is the victim.

So in this kind of situation, what does the Bible say? It says that “The one who gives an answer before he listens– this is foolishness and disgrace for him” (Proverbs 18:13). And again: “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).

Obviously for some (eg. Anyabwile and Waulk) the situation is so charged that they feel like they have to speak out before the facts are in. After all, isn’t it as obvious to others as it is to them?

But the danger here is that when Christians put their wisdom on the line, they are often putting the gospel’s wisdom on the line. And then three days or three weeks or three months later new evidence comes to light, and suddenly those who spoke without having both sides end up sounding…well, “like fools” is the phrase Solomon uses.

If there is injustice, speak against it. If there is someone acting unrighteously, don’t defend him. But please…in a case where facts are complicated and presented through the intentionally inflammatory lens of uneducated and half-baked news reports (or even Twitter!), silence on the issue is wisdom, not weakness.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.
  • Dan Phillips

    Thanks, Jesse. Very well said.

  • Warner Aldridge

    Jesse you hit it right on the head with this one. I am from St. Louis not too far from the area and one of the things that I have been stressing to people that I talk to is that we have to look at things through a biblical worldview and if we don’t we will get caught up in pointing fingers back and forth which would serve no purpose. By looking at the entire situation we see sin at the heart of it all and therefore need to proceed with the gospel and this makes for great evangelism opportunities. At the same time praying for both families for the parties involved. There is a huge divide amongst the people here; just really praying that the evangelicals here preach more of Christ.

  • flyslinger2

    Another great blogger that I appreciate, and who is a Christian, says that we do not know anything. And that is all that we know. Yes, there was an altercation, potentially a previous criminal act (the cigars, the shop owner getting roughed up, and the marijuana use) but again, we do not know. In a country such as ours were we do have a fair judicial system, advanced scientific process and technologies in forensics and some sources in the media that will communicate the truth we will know what happened. We have to wait patiently for that process to unfold.

    We do know that a young man lost his life. We know that a police officer discharged his firearm in the course of trying to establish order. We know that witnesses saw the event and there is video of the shop scene. Jesse already touched on the emotional aspect of this so I won’t rehash that.

    I think the christian communities best response is to show respect and support for both sides of the issue. I think the christian community should be very vocal about people showing restraint and wisdom by not looting and speaking without facts. I think the christian community should be downplaying any racial overtones and encourage people to think that this is a law and order issue based on potential civil disobedience.

    Patience is a virtue.

  • Ken

    Jesse: Question: You say that Thabiti “pastors a church about 15 miles away from me.” Is he no longer pastoring in Grand Cayman?

    • Daryl Little

      No. He recently relocated.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, he’s in the East River area of DC now. The alternative reading (that I’m now in the Caribbean) is less plausible but somehow entertaining :)

      • russel

        Have you read Thabiti’s response to your article today? Not trying to instigate anything (neither do I think you would respond in such a way evident by the way you went out of your way to reaffirm your love for Ray Comfort) but he does bring up a different perspective and I wanted to know what you thought.

        • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

          I added a comment to the top about that. Thanks Russel.

  • Daryl Little

    This is an excellent and helpful article Jesse. And the two articles you linked to, by Thabiti and Waulk really high-light that.

    Both are really well written, important articles (I don’t think either could be improved upon)…if their basic premise is correct.

    If not, they’re both whoopses.

    And if there’s anything I need to learn, it’s to shut up for a while, until all the available facts come to light.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, and as Anyabwile pointed out on his blog, those two posts were written with communication with each other, which they both found helpful. I’m thankful for that example.

  • Johnny

    This is a very good post. Best thing we can do at this point is pray for the peace of this area and that, throughout the crisis, hearts would be drawn to repentance and faith in Christ.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Amen Johnny. Prayer is often simultaniously the least and the most we can do.

  • Reagan

    Nailed it, Jesse! I have found it interesting to see how this case has acted as a crucible, exposing prejudices, including my own. Who one tends to side with when there’s no real information is telling.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, and that is why I found both the articles I linked above to be helpful. Well said Reagan.

  • Pingback: Fantastic perspective on the Ferguson controversy | Conservative Christianity, Worship, Culture, Aesthetics – Religious Affections Ministries

  • LittleShaun

    Nailed it! Well written and sound minded post Jesse.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks for reading Shaun.

  • brad

    I agree with Thabiti on this one. I guess it is because I live with the oppressed and marginalized.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Mike Riccardi

      LOL. You know, every time I see Brad’s info pop up in the admin window, I think to myself, “Gee, I wonder if today will be the day that Brad’s comment isn’t drippingly condescending.”

      Guess I’ll wait for another day.

      • Brad

        I didn’t mean to be condescending – I was trying to empathize with what I have experienced with those who are oppressed and marginalized. I don’t think you should read the comment as condescending.

        • http://thecripplegate.com Mike Riccardi

          Yeah, you’ve said that before. And yet here we are.

          I find it difficult to believe that a guy as sharp as you isn’t aware of how he comes off in comments like these. Every single week your comments basically amount to saying, “Well, you would see things much differently if you were ‘on mission’ like I am, if you actually spent time ‘in community’ with real people like I do, if you stopped to actually talk with unbelievers rather than just study them. But seeing as you never really step out of your ivory tower, I understand your perspective!”

          It is, as I said, it is drippingly condescending, and grossly arrogant in that you consistently presume that anyone who doesn’t share your perspective on the day’s topic spends their time isolated from the people they’re trying to see saved and never “getting their hands dirty.”

          So, yes, maybe you’re trying to empathize with the people you’ve spent time with, but you’re also trying to slip in a backhanded rebuke because you assume that we don’t empathize with (or even spend time with) those people as well. And it’s wearisome.

  • http://suzlt.blogspot.com/ Suzanne T

    It has been quite perplexing to see some of the reactions within evangelicalism, where emotionalism, at least on some level, appears to be taking the lead over and above biblical precept. So…thank you, Jesse, for this sorely needed voice of reason.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks Suzanne. I’m glad you found it helpful.

  • GinaRD

    A good, balanced post. The whole situation is horrible, but it seems to me that rushing to judgment (by those on all sides) makes everything even worse.

    May God have mercy on everyone involved.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks Gina. I’m always thankful for your comments here.

  • http://www.parkingspace23.com/ Karl Heitman

    “…half-baked news reports….” Awesome.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, huh. Jordan Standridge sent me a series of news reports that first misidentified the officer named, then got his name right and said he was white, then “late breaking news, the officer is actually black” then, “whoops, turns out there is another PO in the county with that name who is black,” and so on, so on. Its like, “can’t you confirm a basic fact before putting it on the air? Like make a one minute phone call? Apparently, not so much.

  • http://whatfoodisfor.wordpress.com/ RStarke

    I appreciated Thabiti’s response about the “lack of facts” aspect, and hope you’ll respond. To be honest, I found the title of the post pretty condescending. As Thabiti notes today, the basic facts are sufficient for speaking out. A police officer killed an unarmed (at that moment) black teenager (who was inarguably the size of a grown man). This happens too often. To not permit someone who sees their own son in the face of that young man and publicly laments, as a father and a pastor, to call that lament “unwise”? To say former police officer turned pastor seeing himself as the officer with the smoking gun and lamenting is “unwise”? I’m certain silence is definitely a wise course for some who, like Job’s comforters, have never had the experience that a sufferer has had, but still feels the need to tell the one suffering what they should *actually* be feeling.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      To be clear (apparently I was less than clear above), I have no problem with people speaking out against unrighteousness. I’m not asking anyone to be quiet on that front. I am saying that in terms of passing judgement against Wilson or Brown that the facts are indeed not in. And moreover, that to say that unless we speak our theology is dead…well, sometimes silence is wisdom and not death (although I do grant that at times it might be hard to tell if it is wisdom or death!)

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Well in this particular case, the President, the Attorney General, the local authorities, pretty much anyone and everyone involved in this situation at every single level has said “the facts are not in yet–wait.” So I dont’ think its going out on a limb to say, “the facts are not in yet.”

  • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

    Pastor Anyabwile has written a gracious response to this post (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2014/08/20/why-we-never-wait-for-all-the-facts-before-we-speak/) . He points out that missing from this post above is a mention of the fact that he and Waulk have interacted with each other and have both benefited from each other, and that their exchange has advanced wisdom, and is not an evidence of foolishness.

    So I want to be clear (as apparently I was less than clear above). I am not saying that Christians should be silent on these issues. I was trying to argue that we SHOULD speak out against injustice, and refrain from defending those who were unrighteous. I also did not call anyone a fool, but said the danger is speaking about the particular guilt or innocence in a situation like this is that if new evidence comes out, then the person who spoke to soon will look foolish.

    Listen–I respect Thabiti remarkably. I love his books and have bennefitted from his ministry. I am very, very grateful for him and do not want to call him a fool! Yea gads. I don’t know Waulk at all apart from his post, so I am certainly not calling him a fool. But the danger when you veer into specifics of a case that you glean from constantly changing news is that you stake your argument on something, and that thing turns out false.

    Example: Monday this week people said, “the officer was highly trained, so should have shot at his arms before killing him.” Then the autopsy comes out and turns out that the first four shots were to his arms. And who knows–there are still like two more autopsys to go. I get that we never have all the facts. But I also get that in this case the “facts” are changing day-to-day.

    And believe me when I say I don’t write that as a way to pass judgment on Brown or Wilson. I’m not saying “defend one, but not the other.” I am saying: speak against injustice, don’t defend the unrighteous, and don’t pass judgement on a matter until the facts are in, which as for the shooting, they are not quite in yet. I hope that is not disrespectful.

    • vinas46

      Good one Jesse. I was confused when I read Thabiti’s responses. This post clarified me. If we do not condemn, if we have enough proof that injustice has been done, then we are acting in an unbiblical way. In this case we dont have any solid proof. All we know is a cop shot and killed a teenager. Its still a mystery, what, why and how this happened. Its easy to jump to conclusions and accuse some one, but in the end if everything runs contradictory to our conclusions then we indeed will look like fools. Unbelieving world can do this and pretend nothing happened but as responsible Christians we have to be wise in uttering our words and coming to conclusions.

      The sermon by Johnny Mac on Los Angeles riot is best heard now.

    • Daniel Leake

      Hey Jesse. I think the interactions here are definitely helpful. I do think that it draws too much moral equivalence to treat both sides of the response as innocent until the facts come in. The facts are that one side has encouraged rioting, social unrest, and name-calling of all kinds. The other side has really refrained from any immoral action. The most those defending the police officer could be accused of is jumping to conclusions and being wrong, but it seems the other side has actually endorsed many kinds of sins in their response. Must we treat both sides as if they have a good point to make? I mean that as a sincere question because I might be missing part of the story.

      In case I have been confusing, I’m not really talking about Michael Brown and Wilson themselves, but I’m much more concerned with the wall-to-wall news coverage and the message sent by those responding (including Brown’s parents). I think Christians seem to be excusing sin because it involves a race debate. Even those who haven’t looted stores but are merely chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” are perpetrating obvious falsehoods. Am I off base?

      • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

        I think you are off base. In your first paragraph you talk about two sides–the same “two sides” I talk about in my post, I assume (Brown vs. Wilson). But then you say that one of two sides is encouraging immoral actions (looting? protesting?). But that is not fair to Anyabwile and the obvious majority of others that think something is wrong with the system when it perpetuates armed men killing unarmed teens, but who are also AGAINST looting. So it is not “one side” that is encouraging looting. That would make as much sense as me saying that because you think Wilson was in the wrong, and many people use racist language to defend Wilson, that “one side” of this racist. It is wrong to say those who thing Brown us unjustly killed are encouraging immorality, because for the most part that just isn’t true.
        But then after talking about the “two sides” you then say you aren’t even talking about Brown and Wilson anymore. And with that line, I think you would benefit from the section of Anyabwile’s follow up post where he talks about how different things are meant by different people when they say “Ferguson.” I hope that helps.

        • Daniel Leake

          Thanks for the comments Jesse. I think I understand what you’re saying, and I think I was unclear. I’m not a polished writer by any means.

          You say “…think something is wrong with the system when it perpetuates armed men killing unarmed teens, but who are also AGAINST looting.” That concept is part of what bugs me. It doesn’t make any sense. Statistically there isn’t a high number of armed police officers killing unarmed men. Also, just because someone is “unarmed” doesn’t mean they are less of a threat. I wish that idea would be put to rest.

          Again, the people denouncing the looting are encouraging the rioting and implying that the rioting in general is justified. The primary piece of evidence I present is the family calling in Al Sharpton. You can say all day you don’t encourage violence and you denounce looting, but if in the same breath you tell the folks on the streets that white people are willing to shoot blacks because they’re racist, that falls under inciting violence in my book. If it were true, then it might be a fine point to make, but statistically it isn’t, and I think Anyabwile and others know this. It is no good thing for a pastor to be inflaming racial tensions that don’t exist. There has yet to be one shred of evidence put forward or even theorized to prove that Wilson was racist. To assume it is dishonest and just plain shameful.

          I was confusing when I said I wasn’t talking about Brown and Wilson anymore. What I meant was that the interaction of Brown and Wilson has no implication for society at large. Ask yourself, “Would I have heard of this story if the police officer was a black man or the teenager a white person?” I think not outside Ferguson. Therefore, the implications for society have been created by those who claim the Brown/Wilson interaction itself has implications for society. In other words, I do think we have a societal problem: it is that we give ear to those who say that a crime is categorically worse when it is perpetrated across racial lines. This itself flies in the face of God creating us all equally in His image. We also have a problem in that we give ear to those like Sharpton who perpetually lie for political and financial gain. Frankly, Anyabwile is perpetrating the problem, whether intentionally or otherwise.

  • Daniel Leake

    I largely agree with the post, however the rhetoric from each side seems to be different. It is primarily those defending Michael Brown who claim this has overarching implications for all of society and that this whole situation is a “microcosm” of America. I haven’t heard this perspective from those defending the police officer. In fact we have documented lies from those defending Brown, while I have neither heard nor seen any lies being propagated from those defending the officer. It seems many believe the end justifies the means, when its supposed racism we’re combating. Rioting and lawlessness are immensely dangerous to us all and cause great harm to many. Any claim the family of Brown had to peace disappeared when they brought in Al Sharpton, who provokes rioting wherever he turns up.

    I think there is room to condemn any idea that this case has implications for the culture or society at large. That is an old tired line that wreaks of a political correctness intended to shut up those who disagree. In other words, I believe the intention of those peddling this idea is to make people feel guilty and thus be more inclined to believe their position, even if it proves to be wrong.

    Do any of us believe that those now defending Michael Brown and blaming the officer of being a cold-blooded black killer will apologize if they get proven wrong? The police officer in question will likely never be acquitted of racism, regardless of any evidence that comes to light or any result of the case. As a Christian, I know that the officer is a person made in the image of God. He has friends and family who will be affected by this outcome. Can’t we just demand justice, sans the race issues? If he murdered the kid in cold blood, of course he’ll be tried like any other murderer.

    The outcome here hasn’t been determined yet, and hopefully everyone will respond with a consistency that Godly integrity would demand. Leave the “racism” and “this is indicative of societal problems…” out of it.

    • MichaelS

      Long-time reader, first time poster.

      It is being reported on ABC News that the officer may have suffered a severe facial issue. They also reported that video tape shortly after the shooting has unidentified witnesses saying that Brown was in fact charging at the police officer.

      A different news source reported that the officer may have a broken eye-socket.

      I do not know what will eventually happen. But if the police officer is ever vindicated, I think we will see more riots and no apologies.

      • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

        The news reports are exactly why we wait to pass judgement. Today eyewitness say this, tomorrow they say that. Next day they may even find video of the whole thing, for all we know.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Allow me to push back here: in the very blog post I linked from the pastor who defended Wilson, he said that this does show a larger problem in America. Right? THat was sort of my point above.
      You say that the officer will never be acquitted of racism. By who? You? Others? If you mean others, then it what possible way is this not a microcosm of societal problems? You can’t really plead that there should be no racism or societal implications drawn out of this, and then turn around say because of racism and societal problems that injustice will remain. It doesn’t really make sense.
      And, in the category of “don’t pass judgment before facts are in”: Wilson is not the only one involved here made in the image of God, right? And the idea that “he will be tried just like anyone else” is not really accurate. Police (rightly I think) have special protections on them. That is part of Waulk’s point. We ask them to do things, we give them guns to do them. You can’t really say it is “just like everyone else” because in any other situation, do you think an arrest wouldn’t have been made by now? I’m not saying that Wilson should be arrested, but I’m just saying that it is pretty naive to say its just like anyone else.

  • Gabriel Powell

    I make this comment with fear and trepidation because I respect all involved as faithful pastors and leaders who have earned respect and the right to be heard. I completely agree with you, Jesse. My concern regarding Thabiti’s comments is he writes a lot about injustice when that may very well not be an issue at all. Thabiti asks probing questions regarding the withholding of information. The action of withholding information could be motivated by numerous factors. But it seems like there’s an assumption that it is being withheld to protect the police officer. That may not be the case, but if it is, why is that? Why couldn’t it be that they are trying to be thorough and don’t want to release incomplete and therefore misleading information?

    I agree with Thabiti that we have enough facts to speak, but probably not in the way he intends. We know an African American man was shot (the word “teenager” is misleading since it is used to increase sympathy. A whole lot of violent and murderous gang members are teenagers) by a highly trained Caucasian police officer. We know there are conflicting accounts of what actually happened. We know the community tolerates violence and destruction as legitimate expressions of anger. And there are other things we know, and really important things we don’t know.

    While we don’t know the details of the shooting, we can watch the ongoing violence and protests by the community. So pastors should be speaking about the need for calm and peace. They should be calling the Christians in Ferguson to be examples of peacemakers, and to encourage those around them to be civil and respectful of God-ordained authority–even if that authority is abusing its power.

    I’ve been listening to John MacArthur’s sermons from 1 Peter 2:13ff. Very relevant and worth listening to as people try to think through these issues: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermon-series/216/singing-the-lords-song-in-a-strange-land

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      THanks for your comment Gabriel. I will say that every pastor I’ve heard on this has condemned the looting and such. So I think pastors are speaking against that. I also think that most protesters are speaking against it as well. Of course on the news you see a handful of people defending it (how many people do you think reporters had to talk to in order to find one person who said: ‘we deserve this’?). And I think Thabiti’s point–which is possibly well taken–is that in the same way you are quick to see injustice in looting, you should be quick to see injustice in an armed adult initiating a confrontation with a teen that ends deadly. But I do think that even the protest leaders are speaking about the need for calm and peace. At least I’ve heard them do so on TV.

  • http://seedsownpress.wordpress.com/ Linda

    Thanks, Jesse. A verse I use in almost every first counseling session might also reinforce your call to wisdom. “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13). Also, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (18:17).

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, I cited those above, just in the Holman translation :)

      • http://seedsownpress.wordpress.com/ Linda

        Oops. You sure did. I should pay more attention, especially when I come back to something a few hours later.

  • Daniel Leake

    I don’t mean to dominate the comments, but there is a strange ‘pass’ that
    Thabiti is getting on this issue. His response to Jesse is terrible!
    It’s a really bad article with all sorts of problems.

    Would
    Thabiti be calling for justice if it were a non-black teenager? It is
    implied by Thabiti and said directly by many others that the country is
    still racist, but it seems to border on racism that Thabiti would only
    go out of his way on a story like this for a black person. I appreciate
    Thabiti’s ministry also and have benefited from it, but on the race
    issue, I feel he’s gone off the rails a few times. I want to show a few
    examples because I think it matters, and this overall issue of race
    relations in America is not going away as a political issue anytime
    soon. These are examples from his response to Jesse (and others).

    He insinuates racism in these quotes with no evidence given:
    “There’s a questionable eagerness to read into my words and to defend Wilson. Some deep reflection on why seems to be in order when I think I’ve made a legitimate call for biblical response.”

    He
    fails to mention the officer and his family here. Does that officer not
    have an eternal destiny? Could not national attention ruin Wilson’s
    life forever even if acquitted? Even if Wilson is a cold-blooded
    murderer, will not his family be adversely affected for life more than
    otherwise because of the national attention?
    “Fact: Mike Brown is dead. Fact: We will never hear his story or see him speak for himself. Fact: His parents are left to grieve. Fact:
    He has now to face an eternal Judge and receive recompense for deeds
    done in the body, never again to have opportunity to hear the gospel and
    be saved.”

    Thabiti further insinuates racism here and gives no evidence:
    “The pretension to dispassionate objectivity in the face of a tragic
    death must itself be the height of privilege, a privilege Michael
    Brown’s family certainly doesn’t have.”

    Here Thabiti seems to
    support full-on pacifism which I know he himself doesn’t believe. He
    distorts one of the ten commandments to do it.
    “But the basic right and wrong of a situation is as clear as
    “Thou shalt not kill.” One fact, one sentence above all others roots our
    moral understanding. Therefore, we can at least speak
    a lament for the basic wrong of killing that has happened, without
    suspending the relevance of all other facts in determining the next righteous (we hope) reaction.”

    His
    comments here seem to ignore that Brown had just committed a crime and
    conducted himself in a manner that was consistent with illegal activity.
    Will Thabiti apologize for this comment if it is shown that Brown was
    attacking the police officer? :
    ““Ferguson” as I use it is about black- and brown-skinned people and our
    encounter with this country’s criminal justice system, from the police
    to the courts. It’s about a long history of being policed rather than
    protected and served. It’s about a set of experiences so ubiquitous
    there’s hardly any African American that hasn’t met at least suspicion from police authority and often harassment or much worse.”

    And
    here is the final blow by Thabiti that is supposed to shut up any of us
    in reformed evangelicalism that would disagree, and it is obnoxiously
    arrogant and theologically false:
    “I refuse to allow people to make this story solely about the
    facts involving Wilson because in doing so they conveniently erase the
    bigger pattern of facts about injustice. And this, beloved, is why
    Evangelicalism is teetering on the fence of irrelevance to the lives of
    the marginalized.”

    I pick on Thabiti because I expect more from a
    sound minister of the gospel such as himself. He shouldn’t get a pass
    for pouring gas on the fire and helping to justify those like Al
    Sharpton who are standing side by side with the family. It seems Thabiti
    is willing to employ falsehood and questionable insinuations in his
    quest to fight for what he thinks is right.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Daniel, I’m thankful for your comment, even though I deleted it :) Much of it was really a response to Thabit’s article, and he closed the comments there. I understand why you would want to comment on it here, after all, I linked it above and encouraged everyone to read it…but I don’t want this comment thread to be about his response to posts like this one, or we end up slipping into a blog black hole. I hope you understand. Thanks Daniel.

      • Daniel Leake

        That’s why they pay you the big bucks, y’all are the moderator extraordinaire(s) :) I understand completely. Thanks for the explanation.

  • tovlogos

    Thanks Jesse — this subject is an opportunity to perhaps make some spiritual headway, going forward. And I read your addendum.

    However, “That a 28 year-old, six year veteran with a clean history would suddenly decide to ‘execute’ and ‘assassinate’ anyone in broad daylight, and in the presence of witnesses is simply a horrible narrative to construct…All told, it smacks of prejudice, simpleness, and amateur thought on the part of some of the alleged witnesses…” I must seriously disagree with Waulk, His response appears to be purely emotional.

    I thought at least three of Brown’s witnesses were quite credible. It would appear that a teenager would panic if shot at and hit, for the first time in his life (has anyone ever seen a person shot — once?) I have. To turn around, like a seasoned marine, wounded — then charge at almost 45 degrees toward a cop shooting at him is not remotely believable.

    When Waulk says, “That a 28 year-old, six year veteran with a clean history would suddenly decide to ‘execute’ and ‘assassinate’ anyone in broad daylight, and in the presence of witnesses is simply a horrible narrative to construct…” My first thought was, Are you kidding? I am perplexed at Waulk’s absence of awareness of police interaction with Black youth. There were people standing there who did see the entire thing. Although there was some variability in relating the different accounts, there was still some corroboration in their stories. Isn’t this the case with the four gospels, to some extent?

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Yeah, and this is one of the problems with police work: eyewitness accounts often are confusing, from different angels, etc. So you are exactly right: That is the deal w/ the four gospels. The advantage we have there is the Holy Spirit, and our starting point that ultimately they all accurately display truth. If all these witnesses are telling the truth, this will turn out to be a good illustration of the synoptic problem. I must note though: You might be a seminary student if your application from Ferguson is they synoptic problem :)

  • Will

    I rarely comment on blog posts, but I would just like to say that this is the most thoughtful, balanced article I have read from an evangelical regarding this situation. Thank you for your wisdom and insight.

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      Thanks Will. And thanks for breaking your silence!

  • http://suzlt.blogspot.com/ Suzanne T

    I hope you don’t mind my linking this…but the comment from C. Hernandez on Thabiti’s post is beyond outstanding-it’s the “bigger picture” that seems to have been missing in this whole conversation (all over the iwebs). http://bit.ly/1qteylP

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      That was definitely worth the read. Thanks for linking it Suzanne.

  • BENDERS

    “First, Anyabwile is correct, and Christians cannot remain silent in the face of injustice.”

    As a general statement I agree but, is he playing on emotions instead of the truth? Where exactly is the injustice? From a spiritual point of view there is none. From a secular point of view there is none. Is it tragic, yes. Should we as Christians mourn and pray for the family, yes. But injustice on the part of law enforcement? No. What is unjust is a governor calling for an indictment before the investigation is complete. What is unjust is the family lawyer calling it an execution. What is unjust is the anarchy. What is unjust is the “Christian” leaders not calling for an adherence to Rom 13:1-7, 1 Tim 2:1-2, Titus 3:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:13-17.

    Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head.

  • http://snyderssoapbox.wordpress.com/ xiqtem

    So I guess the best commentary is the one that is done after the trial. I know that when I listen to, ‘Wretched Radio” Todd Friel often implores people to wait until all the facts are in so that he and they are not sinning by gossiping. In situations like this there is the possibility for many more people to be hurt than just a scandal. I would add that there is no excuse for the race-baiting done in the media. There is no excuse for the crimes that are being committed in the name of Brown. Two wrongs do not make a right. I would urge the leaders of the community to condemn the actions of the rioters, vandals, and looters. That would go a long way in helping people to be more reasonable when listening to their complaints.