A Pastoral Letter Regarding Ferguson

Dear Covenant Family,

One consistent promise throughout Scripture is that God weaves redemptive purposes even out of distressing and troubling circumstances. That bedrock promise and premise means we ultimately are bearers of hope to the world. This letter is a call for all of us to seek God’s redemptive purposes out of the pain and dilemmas presented by the saga of Ferguson, Missouri.

As the grand jury finalizes its deliberations concerning the death of Michael Brown, I yearn that we not default to separate camps but instead together aspire to claim this as a redemptive moment for a better future.

I see God laying two redemptive rails to carry us forward. One is deeper awareness of pain and the other is deeper resolve for progress. Side by side God can use these rails to convey us to a more caring and just world.

Michael Brown’s death has laid open disconsolate pain. One could have been lulled into initially seeing this as a news story with a news cycle. But the persistence of voices from the streets of Ferguson, particularly from Christian leaders including from the ECC, has helped people see that in reality this is an old story within a recurring cycle. We may or may not ever know all of the facts in this case. But we do know this death of an unarmed young man is a piercing reminder that young African American men (and other young men of color) are disproportionately more likely to be arrested, sentenced, or even killed than white counterparts.

In the images of Michael Brown’s body, it is too 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 multiethnic mosaic, we will see things more clearly and feel things more deeply. It is part of God’s work and mercy among us. It is happening now.

In the soul-searching taking place throughout the country, there are hints that this could be a defining moment for the second rail, namely greater resolve for progress. For example, the Missouri governor’s establishment of the independent Ferguson Commission has as its charter to conduct a “thorough, wide-ranging, unflinching study” of underlying social and economic conditions for making the St. Louis area a “stronger, fairer place for everyone to live.”  That the commission is co-chaired by a respected pastor speaks to the constructive role people of faith bring in underscoring the inherent value of every person, each created in the image of God. While it is too early to tell, this and other similarly emerging efforts in other communities could be early evidence of a longed-for move toward greater systemic understanding and commitments. May it be so.

In it all, we are mindful of the very real dangers and stressful decisions law enforcement personnel are confronted with in every community every day in seeking to serve and protect. This we honor with profound gratitude. May we do our part within our communities to exemplify and promote what it means to be engaged citizens respecting the rights and safety of our neighbors.

Here are tangible things I would ask from us in the coming days.

Begin with prayer: for Michael Brown’s family; for police officer Darren Wilson and family; for the witness and engagement of churches in Ferguson; for peace in the streets; for definitive progress in community reform; for Covenant churches ministering in the region.

Grow in understanding the pain. Ask someone with whom you might be inclined to disagree, “Why do you feel this way?” And listen. Find thoughtful resources looking at the depth of cross-currents and complexities from 360 degrees. Model God-honoring conversation for your children and neighbors.

And stay engaged, leaning into opportunities for progress. Take to heart that Ferguson, yes this very circumstance, can indeed be God’s kairos moment, a defining marker in time, crossing us into a fundamentally new period of more humbly and forthrightly aspiring to God’s peace and justice across the fractures that too readily divide.

Beloved Covenant community, let’s take this journey together. God is laying down two redemptive rails to carry us forward: deeper awareness of pain and deeper resolve for progress. Side by side God will use these rails to carry us to a more caring and just world.

In It Together,

Gary Walter
ECC President
November 20, 2014

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About the Author

Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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10 Comments

  1. Thank you, President Walter, for addressing this topic. The denomination needs continued and courageous leadership to speak from the pulpit about the two rails that you eloquently describe. It’s a painful and uncomfortable topic for many, yes, but that will not change if we don’t bring it to light through sermons, as well as corporate mourning and prayer. You have created a space and given us a framework to use in moving forward. May we seize this defining moment in a way that glorifies our maker and Lord.

  2. Well said, Gary, If only we would adapt the same approach to the question of those suffering from the pain of being marginalized by their sexual orientation.

    1. “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

  3. Many thanks to President Gary Walter for his fine pastoral letter. In our continued work for compassion and justice for all persons regardless of race or class, the journey that he is calling us to must be taken with resolve and urgency!

  4. The third rail is having a Biblical world view. We live in a fallen world. Try as we may we will never achieve caring and justice without it.

  5. Please pray for all our law enforcement members and their families. In 2013, 33 officers never returned home because of fire arm incidents and 46 died in traffic accidents.

    1. Thank you Tom Swanson. Yes, let us remember that our sons and daughters are also police officers, making split second decisions every day. This young ‘unarmed’ man broke the law, assaulted a police officer and resisted arrest. I wonder how different it would have been, had Michael Brown been a Caucasian high school football player and the police officer an African American woman? I ache for the true injustice in the world for all who are marginalized in our neighborhoods – I do not feel however, that this case is one of them. That said Gary, thank you for bringing a word of hope and healing for us all.

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