NASHVILLE (BP) — The unfolding Ferguson saga calls churches to “unify and pray for our nation,” the president of National African American Fellowship within the SBC, K. Marshall Williams, said in the hours after a grand jury reported its decision not to indict a white Missouri police officer in the shooting death of an 18-year-old African American.
“We need to be both an empathetic listening ear for the community and herald forth a prophetic voice for justice and compassion in a spirit of humility,” Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., said in a statement to Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.
The weeks-long crisis — from the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to the grand jury report and a subsequent night of arson, violence and arrests in the St. Louis suburb — fueled Williams’ statement.
“In times like these, our love for God must manifest itself in tangible ways by love for one another and love for our neighbor,” Williams said. “The African American communities of this nation are our neighbor and right now we are hurting in ways which very few people groups in this nation have a historical reference point to appreciate,” he said, referencing eras in U.S. history when it seemingly was “safe to murder Negroes.”
“A radical obedience to the Gospel and an unflinchingly Christ-centered engagement of the age-old questions of whether we are our brother’s keeper is in order especially at this time,” Williams said. The church must be “a catalyst for unprecedented revival and spiritual awakening in our land that will manifest itself in how we honor God, our Creator and the created of His creation.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, in a statement to Baptist Press, said, “Only the Gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ can heal the broken in heart, bridge the racial divide that marks our society, and calm the passions that grip the human heart.
“Our prayers continue for the Brown family and for the pastors and churches in the Ferguson, Mo., area and across the United States as they seek to minister the message of God’s peace to individuals in their communities who have been impacted by this tragedy,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
Fred Luter, the SBC’s immediate past president, told Baptist Press, “The only way that the racial problem will be resolved in our country is to understand what really is the main problem. As my friend K. Marshall Williams, the current president of the National African American Fellowship, often says, ‘We do not have a SKIN problem in America, we have a SIN problem in America!’ And to that I say Amen!
“Until lost men are changed on the inside, we cannot expect to see change on the outside,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.
Luter acknowledged that “there are mixed emotions about the verdict in the Ferguson case across the Southern Baptist Convention. However, because of the fact that none of us were in the courtroom to hear the testimony before the grand jury, we must trust the process and the legal system.
“The fact is, the only thing leaders can do to usher in peace is to speak in one voice that violence is not the way to deal with issues that you do not agree with,” Luter said. “The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a testimony of what can happen through nonviolent protest. A lot of the rights and privileges that African Americans enjoy to today is a direct result of the nonviolet protest of Dr. King and those who marched with him during the civil rights movement.”
Russell D. Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, issued a statement shortly after the grand jury announcement around 8 p.m. Central Nov. 24 that Officer Wilson would not be indicted for killing Brown in an intense scuffle.
The country hasn’t yet “sorted through all the evidence the grand jury saw [to know] precisely what happened in this nightmarish incident,” Moore said. The Ferguson crisis, he said, “is one of several in just the past couple of years where white and black Americans have viewed a situation in starkly different terms.”
“In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers,” Moore said. “We cannot shrug that off with apathy” but must have “consciences that are sensitive to the problem.”
“But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?” Moore asked in his statement. “… [W]e will need churches that are not divided up along carnal patterns of division — by skin color or ethnicity or economic status. We will need churches that reflect the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10) in the joining together of those who may have nothing else in common but the image of God, the blood of Christ, and the unity of the Spirit. When we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to stand up and speak up for one another.”
Moore wrote an extended commentary on the grand jury decision which can be accessed here.