The Common Good

Don't Ignore It: 5 Ways Christians and Churches Must Engage Michael Brown’s Death

I have so much emotions and thoughts in my mind, heart, and body – in light of the oh-so-much that is going on all around the world – including the utterly tragic, brutal, and unnecessary “death” of Michael Brown.

But I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts how churches, Christians, and leaders can be engaging the events of this past 11 days in their respective churches – now and in the future. I’m not suggesting that pastors have to completely alter their sermons or Bible studies, but to altogether ignore the injustice of Michael Brown’s death would be altogether foolish.

To be blunt and I say this respectfully,

The integrity of the church is at stake because when it’s all said and done, it’s not a race issue for me — it’s a Gospel issue. It’s a Kingdom issue. We shouldn’t even let isolated issues in themselves hijack the purpose of the church. The Gospel of Christ is so extraordinary that it begins to inform (and we pray, transform) all aspects of our lives. So, in other words, we talk about race and racism because we believe in the Gospel.

So, here are five suggestions for Christians, leaders, and churches:

1. Don’t ignore.

Silence, in itself, is a statement.

In some cases, it may be a powerful expression of wisdom but this is not that case. To say nothing, to pray nothing … is to communicate that it’s not a big deal. To say nothing, to pray nothing … is to tell your congregants – especially your black congregants and others of color, “C’mon. You’re taking this too seriously. Suck it up. Let’s just worship Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.”

I know much has been written on the interwebs but this piece by my friend, Austin Channing Brown, is one of those must reads: Black Bodies White Souls.

2. Name it.

Now, let me be clear. I don’t know all the details – not just because my family and I have been on our summer family vacation and almost oblivious to the early days of last week, but because the full details have yet to be shared, shown, distributed – let alone the integrity of those details.

But when it’s all said and done; when all the finger pointing and screaming subsides; when the focus on the looting and violence gets rightly placed back at the crux of the matter, what we have left is:

the death of an 18-year-old unarmed young black man.

Let that sink in.

Because of the sin of racism and the abhorrent history of slavery in this country, we still fight the myth of the suspicious, scary black man.

3. Explain that this is a justice issue.

Because an unarmed 18-year-old young black man is dead.
Because an unarmed 18-year-old young black man is dead.
Because an unarmed 18-year-old young black man is dead.

Furthermore, per this further research:

In a town that’s over 60 percent black:

  • The police chief and the mayor are white.
  • Just once city council member is black.
  • Just one school board member is black.
  • Just 3 of Ferguson’s 53 police officers are black.

In 2013 in Ferguson:

  • 483 black people were arrested, 36 white people were arrested.
  • 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of car stops involved blacks.
  • When police officers stop citizens in Ferguson, they’re almost always black. But white citizens are more often caught carrying illegal items, like weapons or drugs. One in 3 white people were carrying contraband while 1 in 5 black people were carrying contraband.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words are apropos – even still today – and especially to the church:

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they do not know each other; they do not know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.

Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal. It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself … Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.

4. Explain that this is a body of Christ issue.

For many – especially those who aren’t ‘black,’ this is simply news. But for others – especially in the African-American community – this is something entirely different.

In Michael Brown, they see a familiar story.
All too common of a story.
An ongoing common story that seems to have no end.
Some may call it a nightmare.
In Michael Brown, they see Trayvon Martin.
In Michael Brown, they see a son, a husband, a father, a nephew, or perhaps … even themselves.

So, I ask again, if our black sisters and brothers in Christ are angry, grieving, hurting, and mourning … can’t we at least listen, seek to understand, and mourn with them?

Are we the body of Christ or not?

We lament …

5. Explain the hope and invitation of the Gospel …

This is our unique contribution as followers of Christ. It’s not our contribution because in itself, it is the hope of the Gospel.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

God has a call and invitation to the body of Christ and we can’t ignore this. If the events of last week haven't convicted you to take this invitation and call truly to heart, I urge you to pour a bucket of cold ice over yourself and WAKE UP. Digest these words from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God,who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

I can write so much more but let me leave you with these thoughts:

This isn’t a one-time prayer.
It shouldn’t just be a one-time message.

This is about the church – the body of Christ, the bride of Christ – to truly take these words to heart and commit themselves to the long and laborious journey of living into the fullness of the image of God.

It’s about asking hard questions and committing to harder steps.
It’s about justice, shalom, and human flourishing.

In short, it’s about the Kingdom of God and I can’t think of a more compelling reason.

And lastly, pray.

OK. There’s more than five. And it truth, there’s more than six.

Reconciliation is painful because in essence, we have to confess to our collective brokenness.

And this is why … reconciliation … requires prayer. It’s a long journey and commitment but to do and engage without prayer is to convince ourselves that we can do this on our own.

And we can’t do this on our own.

Pray for all involved. Pray for Michael Brown’s family. Pray for the police officer – Darren Wilson – and his family. Pray for all law enforcement. Pray for the churches in Ferguson. Pray for all of us. We can’t do it alone.

Lord, in your mercy.

God bless you.

Eugene Cho, a second-generation Korean-American, is the founder and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle and the executive director of Q Cafe, an innovative nonprofit neighborhood café and music venue. You can stalk him at his blog, Twitter or his Facebook Page. Eugene and his wife are also the founders of a movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty. His new book, Overrated, is available now. This post originally appeared on Eugene Cho's blog.

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