Racism undermines justice and unity

"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

A young man has been killed in Missouri. Michael Brown, an unarmed African American man, died from six gunshots fired by a white police officer. Race should not be an issue, but far too many African American men have died under similar circumstances. Black men simply face a different social calculus when it comes to interactions with the justice system in America.

The frequency of such incidents has led some African Americans to have an inherent mistrust of the justice system because it has not consistently protected the rights of African Americans.

That justice system now seeks to sort out what actually happened the night Michael Brown died. Did Brown threaten Officer Darren Wilson? Did Brown attack him? Did Wilson respond appropriately? Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the investigation, a mother and a father buried their teenage son; therefore, we mourn with those who mourn.

Here are some other questions that need to be asked: Did the officer fire his gun six times at Brown because he was African American? Did the officer fear Brown more because of a perception that black men are dangerous?

Those two questions are almost impossible to answer with certainty, but as a society we can look back at our recent and not-so-recent past and know that white officers have too often taken the lives of black men - and often with impunity. Of course, we need to be careful not to condemn all officers because of the actions of some; most are seeking to serve and protect all residents regardless of race.

The events in Ferguson have provided an opportunity to have a larger conversation about race in America. Racism has defined much of American history, and it still manifests itself even in a time when racist speech is not tolerated. Many white Christians have been slow to recognize racism in their attitudes and behaviors. So while some may be tired of listening to African Americans "complain," imagine how exhausted they must be living in an unjust system where their concerns are at often ignored or dismissed.

The Bible, however, makes it clear that God is just and expects believers to pursue justice for all.

Martin Luther King, Jr., pursued justice through non-violent means and provides a model for us today. We understand the frustration that has erupted in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting, but it is good to recall that King showed us a better way forward - a way that modeled the love and respect exhibited by Christ.

Christians have a responsibility to be prophetic and countercultural and to show those who don't know Christ what it means to be called His. Despite that responsibility, we struggle with racial divides even within our churches. Christ's vision for unity within the body is betrayed every Sunday.

Racism has no place in the Christian life for in Christ there is no distinction between any person no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or economic status. We have our differences, but we all are the same in that we are flawed and sinful and need God's grace and uplifting hand to show us and guide us along a better way.

Christians, a people living with the presence of God's Holy Spirit in their lives, desire that justice roll down like waters. We do so because God desires it.

We pray justice will roll down in Ferguson, Mo., but we also pray for an end to racism and for racial reconciliation within the body of Christ.

Ways We Can Act

Pray: Pray for Michael Brown's and Officer Darren Wilson's families. Pray for the city and federal officials as they investigate the matter and pursue justice. Pray for the healing of this nation's racial wounds. Pray that as believers we could be ministers of reconciliation who love and care for brothers and sisters regardless of their race, gender or nationality.

Listen: Sometimes all people need is to be heard. So many African Americans are used to being told to be quiet or stop complaining when it comes to racial issues. One of the most comforting responses to these incidents is just to listen. Listen to your African American friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Some white Christians might be surprised by the number of their African American friends who have had negative experiences with the police, been followed in a department store, or pre-judged and treated differently because of the color of their skin.

Learn: There are many great books on faith and racial issues. Check out Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith; Right Color, Wrong Culture, by Brian Loritts; and Disunity in Christ, by Christena Cleveland. But it is impossible to understand the racial situation in America today without reading some history. Try The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, and Race, Crime and the Law by Randall Kennedy.

Ferrell Foster is director of ethics and justice and Kathryn Freeman is director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission. The CLC speaks to Texas Baptists on critical issues in society from a Christian and biblical perspective.

Related articles: Texas Baptist CLC to host racial reconciliation event in Grand Prairie / Christian Life Commission recognizes State Rep. Ashby with Micah 6:8 Justice Award / CLC director Reyes joins Smart-on-Crime Coalition in encouraging criminal justice reform