ECC Leaders' Official Statements on Ferguson

A STATEMENT TO THE CHURCH ON FERGUSON, MISSOURI
From the African American Denominational Leadership of the ECC

CHICAGO, IL (August 23, 2014) — We, the undersigned, acknowledge the deep pain and grief that accompanies the unfolding of events in Ferguson, Missouri, over these past two weeks. We are parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles of African American boys and men, who daily confront the harsh racial realities of a society unreconciled, which does not always affirm their human dignity or celebrate the value and worth of their lives.

We further acknowledge that the brokenness which accompanies the harsh treatment and senseless deaths of young men of color transcends the present situation in Ferguson. It is beyond the forensics of this particular case, and is in fact an oft-repeated narrative in communities across the United States. We are without option as it pertains to addressing the collective anger and grief of a people at the crossroads of racial tension in our country, with systems that seemingly do not seek to “serve and protect” in our communities. We are such people.

As Brothers and Sisters in Christ, members of the Covenant family, clergy, and denominational leaders, we are distressed about the broadening racial divide that persists in our society. We are troubled that occurrences of racial stereotyping, profiling, and dehumanization show no signs of abating. We are absolutely heartsick about the casual, recurring loss of human life; a refrain which repeats with increasing intensity and velocity. We are distressedbut we are not without hope.

For we believe in the power of the cross of Christ to tear down the dividing wall of hostility, and to make possible a church and society where reconciliation and justice are indispensable norms. We have this hope!

Therefore, we write collectively to invite the church to a compassionate response; to stand in solidarity with those who suffer; to pray earnestly, acknowledging the discomfort and fear that may arise when addressing tragedies saturated with the pain and history of racial strife. Further, we exhort a focus on a gospel response — a gospel which compels, even propels us to the place of pain and brokenness together, and challenges us not only to catalyze, but to champion change. Finally, we suggest the hopeful possibilities for a prophetic response; one which seeks to build a society where human dignity is firmly at the center of public life, where every life matters and has worth, and where the people of God work tirelessly together to offer compassion, healing, and justice.

Yours for the cause of Christ,

The African American Denominational Leadership of the Evangelical Covenant Church
Jerome Nelson
Debbie Griffith Samuels
Robert Owens
Harold Spooner
Debbie Blue
Cecilia Williams
Randall Jordan
Edward Gilbreath

A RESPONSE BY PRESIDENT GARY WALTER

CHICAGO, IL (August 23, 2014) — The Covenant is immensely blessed in having deeply committed and highly effective individuals serving in leadership positions both at Covenant Offices and our regional conferences. That includes all of those who have written the above pastoral letter. Each of them is a gifted leader, trusted friend, and valued colleague who loves this Church and is unreservedly committed to its mission.

This timely letter is important because it serves us in two valuable ways:

1.   It lays open the pain. We can be lulled into seeing this as a news story with a news cycle. For our African American friends this is an old story within a recurring cycle. We don’t know all of the facts in this case, nor where all of those facts will lead as the legal process unfolds. But we do know this death of an unarmed young man is a piercing reminder that young African American men are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, sentenced, or even killed than their white counterparts.

2.   It underscores the indispensable importance of the gospel itself. Whatever the specifics of this circumstance turn out to be, this much is clear: the racial divide is far from resolved. But the cross of Jesus is where we find common ground, level ground. It is where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The Covenant believes this and so we intentionally seek to be a multi-ethnic mosaic that increasingly reflects the Kingdom of God. Somewhere Christians need to do more than advocate the value of racial righteousness; the reality of oneness in Christ needs to be evident, demonstrated, and embodied. The Covenant wants to be among those who summon the resolve to do just that. Even as we stumble and bumble, we can more and more demonstrate a community the world longs for but is afraid is not possible. We can show that in Christ it actually is. A fallen world will continue to fall. It is the potent strategy of the Enemy to separate. But in the grace and strength of Christ we can press forward against all powers and principalities to a different hope and new reality. In the images of Michael Brown’s lifeless body, it is easy to project a son, a husband, a neighbor, a student from the youth group. Have you ever picked out the cries of a loved one amid the din of the crowd? You turn immediately and scurry to understand what is going on. In the ECC, the grieving but strong voice we recognize as family rouses us to better listen, to more fully understand, and to more deeply mourn. As we grow as a multi-ethnic mosaic, we will see things more clearly and feel things more deeply. It is part of God’s work and mercy among us.

I thank God for gracious, courageous, and persevering friends. The letter is a call to all of us to join God in seeking redemptive purposes out of the pain of Ferguson. We begin with prayer:  for Michael Brown’s family; for police officer Darren Wilson and family; for the witness and intervention of churches in Ferguson; for normalcy in the streets and progress in community reform; for Covenant churches in the region ministering through the complexities. But going forward we will best be God’s agents as our hearts remain pliable to seeing things more clearly, feeling things more deeply, and acting more resolutely. That happens when we continue to call out the best in one another and walk with one another into the harsh realities of a fallen world . Yes, we’re in it together.

Gary Walter
President, The Evangelical Covenant Church

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About the Author

Edward is an award-winning journalist and author. Besides being the executive minister of Communication at The Evangelical Covenant Church, he is author of Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church and Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity. Ed’s mission, both professionally and personally, is to be a bridge-builder, bringing people together across racial, denominational, and cultural lines.

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13 Comments

  1. It is refreshing and encouraging to read all of the honest, thoughful comments that have been expressed regarding this issue. I resonate with the sentiments that others have already stated. While certain aspects of Dr. King’s dream continue to be realized in our society, in many ways we are still a “yet to be United States of America.” In the context of this ongoing struggle, I am proud to be part of a community of faith in the Evangelical Covenant Church that seeks to embody the virtues of “compassion, mercy and justice” in today’s world.

  2. If you have trouble understanding what this statement about Ferguson is all about, I’d encourage you to pick up the April 2014 issue of The Covenant Companion magazine and read the feature article titled Tempered Tantrum.

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful, compassionate, gospel-based response. I deeply appreciate your leadership and vision.

  4. I so happy to see my church family give such a statement. There have been time when the church has been silent on such issues. The Village of Calumet Park stands behind your letter.
    Ronald Denson
    Mayor
    Village of Calumet Park, Il

  5. I truly believe the racial divide is being produced more and more by our media not giving equal time to all of the things happening in the states today. We have not heard anything about a black police officer shooting a white young person in Utah just 2 days after Ferguson.

  6. I am deeply grateful for the deeply moving, and urgently important, letter from our African American leaders and the fine response from President Gary Walter! I graduated from North Park Seminary in 1963, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the prophetic leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King! I, too, am deeply distressed that after all the years that have gone by this country has still a long way to go to assure justice for all regardless of race and class!

  7. I am so grateful to have been brought up in the First Mission Covenant Church in Rockford, IL. The progress that our leaders have made in the last 50-60 years, and especially in more recent years in fully embracing the African-American community, truly touches my soul. My husband Roger Wm. Johnson who graduated from North Park Seminary in 1955 and who died in 2012 would share my feelings I know. My heart aches for Michael Brown’s family and all who are grieving in Ferguson. I pray that God’s love will enfold and guide each one there and continue to bless our leaders in the Evangelical Covenant Church.

  8. Thank you for taking a stand and writing these letters. I am a white woman, but Michael Brown is my brother. All the writers here are my sisters and brothers. You are my family. When this happens to one of us, any human being who has been made in God’s image, it affects all of us. I am thinking of our African-American communities at this time, but also people who consider themselves bi-racial and multi-racial. How confusing this must be for our family who must feel the racial divide on a daily basis within themselves. I’m also thinking of other races who have adopted African-Americans and what those parents are feeling. See, the divide is not as large as we like to make it. We are ONE. We all bleed RED. We are a people who are called to stand together in non-violent ways, following Jesus’ example. There’s a reason why he healed Peter’s ear after it had been cut off. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, little Antonio (youngest victim of Chicago shootings this year at 9 years old), and the countless victims who have had their lives snatched from them at immature times due to violence of all kinds – we are mourning and we are angry. And we will use these emotions to channel passion, love and energy toward first reforming our own racist attitudes and violent tendencies, and then combatting the injustices around us. I am so proud to be a part of the Covenant church where we talk about this pain and we act upon it. Thank you, my sisters and brothers. No more silence. No more violence.

  9. Thank you friends, colleagues, sister and brothers. For speaking boldly and clearly on this heartbreaking issue. I am thankful to be part of a church who finds her prophetic voice, uses it clearly while many are still trying to define the problem.

  10. Once again, I am proud to belong to the ECC. Years ago, when my oldest daughter was 12, we sang the hymn who’s chorus goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” When we finished signing she said to me wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was true? This impacted me deeply and I have tried hard to live that way. One of the verses of that hymn talks about us working to give each person the dignity they deserve. I long for that to be accomplished. And I feel the Covenant works toward that. All my black brothers and sisters, I am so sorry that you have to live with the fears and realities that you face daily. I am trying to understand and I am praying.

  11. We must also remember the pain of the police officer. No one has yet been convicted of a crime and it is important to withhold final judgment until all the facts are in. Both the family of Mr. Brown and the police officer need to be in our prayers as well as all the community of Ferguson. If a crime is proven against the police officer, we must remember with guilt can also come the pain of remorse. Whatever the outcome we must resolve to love and not hate.

  12. This has been covered more in the news then the slaughter of Christians in the middle east. The news coverage did not say very much about the policemen who have to face crimes every day under difficult circumstances. I was wondering if the church has a similar statement about the innocent Christians being slaughtered by Muslim extremists?

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