Our Hope: A Message from Gary Walter on the Ferguson Decision

CHICAGO, IL (November 25, 2014) — Below is a message from ECC president Gary Walter regarding last night’s announcement of the decision from the Ferguson grand jury.

Friends–

This morning we are in the aftermath of Ferguson in all of its heaviness at so many levels.

Covenant pastor Josef Rasheed wrote, “I am not surprised by the grand jury decision. I am not surprised by the violence. I am not surprised by those cheering the decision. I am not surprised by the use of scripture to criticize those speaking out peacefully. Nor am I surprised by my own pain.”

I hope the pain will make us better. The Church has the only hope, Jesus who breaks down the dividing walls. As a Covenant we will persist in obedience to Christ in the important matter of racial righteousness towards a more caring and just world. As I said in my pastoral letter first posted online last week and reprinted below, let’s believe God can redeem this moment for a fundamentally different future, and join to that end.

Many are weary, but Church, we will be in in this together, and together we will encourage one  another on. With the author of Hebrews I say let us run with perseverance the race before us.

Gary


A Pastoral Letter Regarding Ferguson (originally posted on Nov. 20, 2014)

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

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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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