November 26, 2014

Thinking biblically about riots: #Ferguson

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday I was interviewed at The Daily Signal for a churchman’s perspective on the Ferguson rioting. I chose to limit my responses to the riots—as I think it is foolish to try and relitigate the guilt or innocence of Wilson or Brown. After all, one man is believed until he is cross examined (Prov 18:17), and there are only a few people in the world who have heard from the witnesses on both sides of this case.

Nevertheless, there are some basic biblical principles concerning the aftermath in Ferguson that need to be said:   

1)  Riots are the fruit of an attack on biblical authority. Through common grace, God has given the world structure: God, governments, military, law-enforcement, families, and marriage. These are all the God-ordained authorities in the world, while our culture actively undermines confidence in each of these. The fruit of a culture that does not trust law-enforcement is riots. The fruit of a culture that does not respect marriage is anarchy in that institution as well. The fruit of a culture that does not respect military is equivocation on the concept of moral evil. Obviously our culture embraces all of these examples. If trust in government, family, and marriage is all relentlessly attacked, it should not surprise anyone that a society turns to violence and lawlessness. Fires in the streets are the product of decades of cultivating a disdain for authority.

2) The United States has a seriously messed up understanding of race, in large part owing to the brazen hypocrisy seen in a founding that simultaneously proclaimed “all men are created equal” and the lawfulness of slavery. The fruit of the blatant sins of slavery and segregation, mingled with the more subtle evils (like banning interracial dating, racial profiling, and “the sordid business of divvying us up by race”) naturally results in a culture built upon the foundation of a sinful understanding of the human condition. The fruit of these generational sins is a divided world, where riots and injustice co-mingle, the perpetrators of each claiming victimhood.

3) The counter to both of these sins is the church. I don’t mean that the church has the power to direct the culture or the power to right past wrongs. I’m too much of a premillennialist for the former, and too much of a realist for the later. Yet on the macro level, the church is the one institution that transcends race and ethnicity. This is seen in the mandate from Jesus to make disciples of all nations (Greek: ethnos), and it is seen in its founding: Jews and Gentiles together in one body. On the micro level, when those who abuse power come to faith in Christ, they stop abusing power. When those who loot and steal come to faith in Christ, they loot and steal no more. Thus the gospel—in the church—is the Christian’s solution to the both the long and short-term sins that produce riots in the streets.

So please, pray for peace in Ferguson, pray for wisdom for church leaders there (real church leaders, not the so-called Reverends without churches, who are obviously doing more harm than good), and pray that the Lord would cause many people to come to faith through the work of local Christians there who are eager to point people to the Savior.


Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Mr. Mike

    As an amateur historian specializing in civil rights and the experience of African-Americans since before the founding of our country, your second point cannot be exaggerated. The attitudes that allowed conditions like that to exist and to be law that was routinely supported by Congress and the Supreme Court are beyond my ability to understand. Sadly, those same attitudes are still alive and well today.
    As to the rest of your blog, you have outdone yourself yet again! The answers to all of life’s questions, including civil unrest, are to be found in the Word of God. And I have not come across any of God’s servants who explain it better than you. Thank you, Pastor.

  • Excellent word.

  • Eric T. Young

    Jesse, while I normally agree with you and am truly thankful for your ministry, it seemed that in your interview with the Daily Signal and in point #2 above, you, at least in part, linked the problems in the black community today to the slavery and segregation of the past. While I don’t want to be insensitive, or downplay the pain of some of my black friends — whom I truly, truly love — that just logically and historically makes no sense.

    Thomas Sowell, a conservative black columnist, noted in an article titled: “‘Friends’ of blacks”:

    “During the 1940s, black students in Harlem schools had test scores very similar to those of white working class students on the lower east side of New York. Sometimes the Harlem scores were a little higher or a little lower, but they were never miles behind, the way they are today in many ghetto schools.

    If blacks could do better back when their opportunities were worse, why can’t today’s ghetto students do better?”

    Basically, what he is saying is, why is it that the further we move away from the era of slavery and segregation, and move more toward an emphasis on civil rights, the conditions in the black community have deteriorated exponentially?

    While we must respond with Christian love and compassion, at the same time we should never create a justification (like victimization) for any behavior that is sinful and, as in the case of the riots in Ferguson, even criminal. Which thankfully you make clear in point #1, above.

    We should be telling blacks (and whites for that matter) to submit to, and respect, the governing authorities — including police officers — which you also made clear in point #1.

    Most importantly, we should be encouraging blacks to put aside resentment and unforgiveness, and the excuse of victimization. That can only happen with the gospel and with true conversion. Something you make clear in point #3.

    Some Christians have really gotten caught up in the whole social justice movement and there are too many church leaders who simply cater to that mentality.

    • By the way, I should have signed in to Disqus, instead of commenting as a guest. I forgot my password, and just now reset it. I don’t like making, what amounts to anonymous comments on blogs. 🙂

    • Recognizing the truth of #2 does not undercut the points in #s 1 and 3. Pretending like slavery for 200-plus years, segregation, the assassination of MLK, discrimination in voting, reconstruction, etc….pretending like all that doesn’t have an effect on society is not a real tenable position I don’t think.

      • Those are not the issues we are dealing with today.

      • I’m not saying we deny the past, I’m simply saying that harping on those issues is not helping, but hurting the black community.IMHO.

        Nor does that address Sowell’s larger point on causality.

        • Jacqueline Jackyeo Owens

          As I black, I think I am more qualified to address these issues than either of you. However I agree with Eric. I have always wondered why blacks have this mentality of victimization. I was born and raised in southern Virginia and graduated from all black elementary and high schools. I lived in a town that was divided racially, we learned to stay in our place and they in theirs. There were no riots or demonstrations it was simply the way life was and for some reason I never felt like a victim. However what that taught me was not to go to places where I was not wanted, and because I have no inferiority complex that did not bother me. I also concluded that there were as many places that would accept me as those that would not. All in all it balances out.

          I have been a victim of racial prejudice and on a federal level, having served in the Marine Corp in 1962 for several years, I often wondered why I never rose in rank like I wanted to, and when I was discharged I was told I was not recommended for re-enlistment. I was not given a reason that justified either. I had wanted to make the military a career, but that final assessment was placed in my records and prevented me from re-enlisting in the Marines or any other branch of the service. A couple of years after my discharge I received a letter of apology from the Commandant of the Marine Corp informing me that I had been a part of a vast conspiracy of white officers who conspired to keep blacks out of the Marine Corp. My records were changed to reflect my ability to re-enlist. I was so angry at the Marine Corp that I refused to re-enlist. Looking back, It was me who reacted incorrectly, I realize now that I “cut off my nose to spite my face” I was angry and blamed the whole Marine Corp for my misfortune now I know I had allowed myself to think like a victim, and it ruined all the plans I had and possibly what God really wanted for me.

          I grew up in black churches, I did not know the Lord. That is the problem with black churches they do not teach the Word of God, for the most part it is cultural Christianity even today I find most black churches like that. I have two sisters who have opposite opinions than I do, they buy into the victim-hood agenda. I try to exhort them to read the Word of God and obey what it teaches, and that means abiding by Romans 13. I talk to them about forgiveness and other Christian tenants, but they thoroughly reject my exhortations. I can only conclude they are cultural Christians, because they think it is OK to disobey the Word of God.

          The bottom line is slavery was almost 200 years ago, and rank segregation pretty much ended in the 60’s and early 70’s, and no young person today has a clue what it is to live with true racism. Men like Al Shaprton Jessie Jackson and that ilk are always lurking in the shadows to bilk uninformed victim who will buy into the hatred they preach. In reality there are always going to be people who have sinful attitudes, there are always going to be people who hate because they are sinful. The only answer to all of this is repentance and salvation. Once that happens those who stole will steal no longer, those who racist filled with hatred will find there are no racial lines in Christ, and those who reject authority will discover that they are in fact rejecting God.

          • Thanks for your thoughtful reply Jacqueline. I appreciate you reading and providing such a reasoned and personal perspective. I miss seeing your smiling face at church too! Thanks for still being encouraging, even if we are in different corners of the US.

  • Christina

    Thank you. I will be sharing this on my facebook page and to all my friends.

  • Randall Kirkland

    Excellent article Jesse! Say…who’s this Geoff Kirkland? He seems to have the right focus on things! Seriously, pray for us here in STL that the true Gospel may be boldly proclaimed and bear much fruit…that God may be glorified through changed hearts.
    Ephesians 6:19,20

  • tovlogos

    Amen, as usual, Jesse. I respect your willingness to confront the issue. I completely agree that the Blacks in this country represent what people would be like who experienced their history as well as insidious, spiritual and psychological evisceration for centuries. If after the civil war, Man’s heart did truly change, I believe the recovery of Blacks would have had much greater therapeutic results. But it may be argued that the 100 + years after the end of slavery were in some ways worse than the slavery itself.

    “After all, one man is believed until he is cross examined (Prov 18:17),” is all I have to say about what passed for legal procedure is this Ferguson debacle.

    “I don’t mean that the church has the power to direct the culture or the power to right past wrongs.”
    The Holy Spirit, of course, is the Restrainer; and it is obviously not His purpose to “fix” this world; only the hearts of those who would listen to Him, whom He would indwell. Otherwise He puts up with the stench of racism, as well as the curse in general.

    The Remnant has constituted the disciples of Christ, not necessarily the church proper. The church has largely missed the boat concerning the two commandments Jesus left for us, for example in Matthew 22:36-40; notwithstanding John 13:35 — “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”
    So, the point is not to say the obvious; but to recognize the stench in God’s nostrils that racism has been in this country; and no amount is preaching can have any meaning without coming to grips with the second of Christ’s second commandment, which “is like the first.”

    So, those disciples who have been given the discernment to recognize the spiritual components that accompany all physical action/behavior, can stay a step ahead of the devil’s wiles.

    • Jason

      *”After all, one man is believed until he is cross examined (Prov 18:17),” is all I have to say about what passed for legal procedure is this Ferguson debacle.*

      His point wasn’t that the examination was a “debacle”. It was that nobody, at the point of him writing this article, can know if it is a debacle. As we’ve not heard the examination and cross-examination in entirely it’s easy to believe whatever one wishes which, in spite of that verses truthfulness, is exactly what many in this nation have done. It’s shameful and the very definition of not practicing wise discernment.

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  • I’m grateful for the responses so far. I’m going to close the thread because I think the danger of it going off the topic and off the rails outweighs the ongoing conversation at C-gate. Find me on twitter @jarbitro or on FB if you want to keep the conversation going.

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