Culture / Race / August 27, 2014

Why White Christians Should Care About Ferguson

“Christian, how should you FEEL about what happened in Ferguson, and what it’s surfaced in our nation? Your Soul Should Be Troubled.”

This recent Facebook post from pastor Leonce Crump describes exactly how I feel about the events that have been taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. I am troubled. I am troubled at the events, at the pain, at what they indicate about our country. I am troubled by many of the responses from fellow white people, responses tacitly or explicitly declaring the inferiority of minorities. Responses seeking to make this simply an issue of an officer’s right to defend himself while ignoring the larger landscape in which the event took place. And I am troubled because entire races of people are subject to injustice and hardship at the hands – intentional or otherwise – of my race.

So I write this as a middle class white American male, maybe the most privileged group in the world. I write it as someone who is not guiltless of prejudice. I write with the sense that you don’t have to have it all figured out to say something that matters; you simply have to have seen enough of the truth to be changed by it. And I write it to fellow white people.

We can no longer refuse to see the bigger racial issue. Whether it is in the shooting of Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown, we cannot write it off as an isolated incident, an unfortunate accident, or something else. The fact that we can move on with life mere hours after such an event is indicative of the privilege we experience as the majority culture. We have the freedom to not care because it doesn’t affect us, we don’t ever face the threat of such violence. And in not caring we perpetuate the larger problem. That problem is systemic injustice toward those with darker skin than our own. It can be seen in the justice system, the school system, and employment opportunities.

If you are inclined to doubt this, to think it’s underprivileged people crying “victim”, to blame the victims for acting or looking or talking a certain way, to think “those people could better their lives if they really wanted to” I suspect that’s because you were raised white. (The alternative is that you were raised white and overtly racist.) You have never had to see the threat or to experience it. You aren’t this way on purpose; it’s your upbringing in the majority culture. The majority culture always gets to set the rules, and we set them to favor ourselves. The rules come so naturally to us we don’t even notice them. Our power begets power, and your perspective is a byproduct of being raised in it.

Minorities point to it. Protestors decry it. Sociology declares it. And if you look, really look, you will see it. Racial inequality is alive and well. Do not refuse to look!

Don’t make Mike Brown’s shooting about one officer pulling the trigger. Our trust is in due process and we are inclined to trust law enforcement. Why? Because they have never wronged us! Most of them don’t seek to wrong anyone. But our inclination to trust makes it too easy to demonize Mike Brown in an effort to exonerate officer Darren Wilson. I believe in due process. I believe in facts and justice. I believe in innocence until proof of guilt and a right to a fair trial. In fact, I believe in this for white and black and brown people alike. But we get too caught up discussions of due process and an officer’s right to defend himself. And we miss the massive forest for one spindly little tree.

Would there be such an outcry over a young man’s death if it was an isolated incident? If there were no writhing worms in the can then what would it matter if the lid was taken off? This kind of pained, angry response harkens back to Birmingham, to sit-ins, to bus boycotts, to a time when an oppressed group of people had no recourse but to take public and drastic action to call for justice. We are the ones they are calling, and they deserve our attention.

They deserve our listening ears. They deserve our caring hearts and open minds. They deserve our respect. They deserve our self-examination. And they deserve us examining our culture to weed out the inequities and injustices.

All this is enough to make a suburban white man like me feel great guilt. Should I? Does my whiteness incriminate me? No! God made me this way. He determined that I be born to a middle-class white family in the Midwest (although I had the chance to grow up in the inner city). I bear no guilt for my upbringing and neither do you.

But we must remember that God made black people, Hispanic people, and Asian people too. He made them that way on purpose, and God makes no mistakes. White folks and non-whites bear the same image, that of a majestic creator. Our respective cultures all reflect His creativity and character. But we all also bear the stains of sin. No one culture is better and no one culture is worse, though we are all inclined to think of our own as the best and to overlook its flaws

While we don’t bear guilt for our whiteness, we do bear responsibility. If the events in Ferguson have accomplished one thing, let be to have awakened us to this fact.We have responsibility as part of the majority culture, the power-bearing culture, the rule-making culture. Our role may be small. It may be non-legislative. But if each of us was to take steps to learn to be aware, to speak up, to reach out to minority cultures what a difference it could make collectively.

We have responsibility as just one of the tribes, tongues, and nations who will one day bow the knee to Jesus Christ. We will be joined on equal ground by all the other cultures before our one king. We cannot spend the time between now and then distancing ourselves, cocooning ourselves in willful ignorance of others’ plights.

And we bear responsibility, as those who have received profound grace, to care for those who need grace. To whom much has been given much will be required. Jesus said that, and I think part of what he was taking about was the responsibility to help those who need it. As white Americans we have been blessed, due to no merit of our own, with cultural cache and leverage. If we had been born in another time or place we could have been the oppressed. That is a gift, but if we hoard that gift instead of seeking to right wrongs and expose injustices we will be no better than the worthless servant in Jesus’ parable.

I welcome your comments and feedback. Please comment. But given the sensitivity of this subject and this post I will not approve any comment that I deem to be racially insensitive or hurtful to others.




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7 Comments

Aug 27, 2014

Barnabas, thank you so much for writing a post from this perspective! I wholeheartedly agree. I think the fact that the protests, etc. occurred (whether one perceives them to be justified or not) is telling of the larger landscape that you paint. I would recommend your dad’s book, Bloodlines, to anyone still struggling to engage race issues in a healthy, Gospel-focused way.


Aug 27, 2014

There’s many interesting points here.

1) The title: although catchy, seems to be an insignificant aspect of this post. It’s not about white Christians, you’re calling out white people and towards the end, after explaining that white people should have no guilt, you talk about God which ultimately will make people feel guilty. But you probably knew that.

2) You mentioned that believing people can better themselves and believing that certain people portray themselves as victims is a racist mindset. Of course many people’s responses will be “you read it wrong” or “that’s not what he’s saying at all” and of course “you are racist if…”, but from my perspective, however you choose to categorize it, you’re simply fueling the indifference between races.

3) How long will people continue believing that the white race is not a minority? I’m not sure what world you’re living in, but the classification of races has become white vs other. The most important news stories must contain those two keys. You’re not going to hear about white vs white, you’re not going to hear about black vs black or Hispanic vs black, though oddly enough the Martin case was just that yet white people were blamed for it so my statement still stands. Now yes, you can google it and find exceptions, but as for the majority, people don’t care about news if it doesn’t consist of a white person “imposing” on another race.

4) It’s incredibly stereotypical to assume that white people do not see or experience hardships that black people do. That’s an incredible unintelligent opinion for which you have no basis to stand on.

Now, as a white, male blogger it’s your priority to stand for the opposite of the majority. In fact, today, standing with the majority is a great way to verbally abused across every social media platform. As a white person, you wouldn’t want to be caught dead agreeing with white people, because that’s racist. But I assure you that you’re not fighting for equality, you’re fighting for the segregation of the “majority”.

If you want to raise concern and ask people to take responsibility, you should try comparing the likeness of these incidences (including the ones where the white people get killed by other races like the white officer shot in the back during an altercation that I’m sure no one has heard of) and contrasting their difference. Equality is not about reimbursing races for their hardships, it’s about understanding that EVERY person is entitled to the same freedoms, opportunities and opinions that do not infringe on another person and not excusing the negligence of those who choose to do differently.


Aug 27, 2014

Thank you so much for this post. I am responding as a black Christian in South Africa. I was disappointed from some comments I heard on this issue from my white Christian brothers and sisters. This article was refreshing and encouraging to me and I am sure to many others.

I believe we all have a Christian duty to play(whether Black or white) .White middle class Christians, as the influential majority cannot wash their hands or be neutral on this issue. This is what happened in South Africa during apartheid. Even though white South Africans were convinced that the treatment of black people was wrong, they set back, said nothing and enjoyed the benefits.

Black people we need to pray for God’s grace in helping us to love white people even when it is hard to do so. We should also try help them understand where we coming from, and why this hurts so much. Fact is, we’ve all been born in different cultures and circumstances which shape how we view certain things

Finally our God is a diverse God. We need to celebrate the different races and cultures which represent our diverse creator.


Dec 08, 2014

I began to read this article and quickly realized how out of touch the author seems to be concerning the solution to the racial problems of today. Our author seems too hold on to antiquted ideals of the white people holding some place of privilege in this nation, which at one time was true, but today the white person today has become the target of such racial attacks and those that do not recognize this are simply too blind to see the truth or simply afraid, as many are, that if they acknowledge this truth then they will suffer alongside of the white people today the focus of the majorities bigotry as well. For the fearful its simply safer to hide in the crowds than suffer the wrath of the mobs just as Peter did when he denied Jesus those three times. If we will ever see prejudice put down we have to lift up Jesus Christ and we must begin teaching blacks, whites, and any other color group to let go of their pasts, forgive those that have offended and seek to love everyone as Jesus has loved us. But as long as we allow racists long Al Sharpton and others to continue to promote racial violence we will never have peace.


Dec 08, 2014

Interesting article. A lot of personal opinion sold as a Christian perspective which contains almost no Biblical content.


Dec 08, 2014

In regards to comment by ERTY, I ONLY HAVE TO SAY THAT, “You don’t understand a situation until you have lived in it.” I have almost all of my 68 years. Most of your comments give me the impression that your experiences have been totally different from those of us who face racism on a regular basis. I am a very peaceful, loving Christian woman who has been stopped by police for not stopping at a FLASHING YELLOW TRAFFIC LIGHT. WHEN i CALMLY ASKED WHY WAS i STOPPED, THE OFFICER yelling at me and CALLED ME A “N,” “BIT…” i CRIED SO HARD because i was terrified of his hostility toward me for no reason. I was leaving my office in a White neighborhood at 1:00 a.m. on my way home. then he did not give me a ticket but would not five me his name. As a well respected Pastor in the community, the next day, I went to the Police department to report him and the Chief said, “thank you have a nice day. Nothing was done.
When the police is called in our neighborhoods they take hours before answering the call and sometimes don’t come until the following day.

My late husband a Veteran, before getting off from work late one night called me to pick him up. By the time I got there, 5 officers had him on the ground with a gun to his head. I was terrified, got out of the car and asked what was going on and an officer told me that he was standing in front of a business. I told them i was his wife to pick him up from work. My husband face down on the ground handcuffed said, “that is what I told you that I was waiting for my wife to pick me up.”
My husband had done nothing wrong, just stand on a corner waiting for his ride.

ERTY, THIS HAPPENS OFTEN TO BLACK MEN. aLL GEORGE ZIMMERMAN HAD TO DO WAS STAY IN HIS CAR LIKE THE 911 OPERATOR ASKED HIM TO AND A YOUNG BOY WHO HAD COMMITTED NO CRIME WOULD BE HAVING CHRISTMAS WITH HIS FAMILY.

Yes, we are treated differently by MANY officers. What I have mentioned is just a very few instances that I have personally experienced. i AM A VERY WELL KNOWN, EARNED PH.D, AND RESPECTED PERSON IN MY COMMUNITY. NEVER BEEN IN ANY LEGAL TROUBLE, YET I WAS TREATED LIKE A CRIMINAL FOR NO REASON.

I was a married woman with a child before I was allowed to VOTE IN 1968, OR EVEN TRY ON CLOTHES AND SHOES IN A STORE BECAUSE I AM BLACK. MY MOTHER, MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, DIED AND NEVER GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE. SHE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO VOTE BECAUSE SHE WAS BLACK.

ERTY YOU HAVE ALWAYS HAD YOUR RIGHTS. WE HAVE NOT. RACISM IS NOT UNDERSTOOD UNTIL YOU HAVE WALKED IN OUR SHOES. @barnabaspiper Thank you.

i HAVE MANY DEAR WHITE FRIENDS, MANY ARE CHRISTIANS LIKE MYSELF.


Dec 08, 2014

I would like to see all of us live to the standard that Dr. Martin Luther King stated, ““I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Friends, what I see today is a racially divided country. If a white man kills a black man then the first rush to judgment is that it must have been because of racism. This is so far beyond the pale of reality. Blacks kill Blacks in vast numbers and the press says hardly anything about it. !5 youth in Chicago can kill each other and it barely makes the news. Is this right? It doesn’t make the news because it doesn’t line up with the agenda that some have. Yet when a white person kills a black person these people come out in force because they have an agenda. When Brown died we heard he was a young man going to college, His life was struck down by a heartless monster who shot him while he was trying to surrender. But when the forensics were seen by the grand jury,and they interviewed many witnesses, many of them black they got a different picture. The press owes Wilson an apology. He was only defending himself against a younger man who had him by two inches and about 60 lbs. Brown intended to do bodily harm to Wilson, and had gone for Wilson’s gun before the police officer shot him. If most of us were in the same predicament we’d of done the same thing.



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