Ferguson and Faith, the new book from Leah Gunning Francis, takes us through the tragic death of Michael Brown in Missouri and how the faith community responded.
For me, it is a story of hope. A common frustration that many of us who are Christian share is that our churches and leaders are absent when they are most needed. We concern ourselves with issues such as divorce and personal morality but ignore larger social issues such as racial injustice.
Ferguson and Faith documents how interfaith leaders in the larger St. Louis community responded with courage, wisdom and a prophetic voice to the death of Brown and the protests that followed.
Francis tells the different stories of individual clergy and protest leaders in their own words. The interviews are compelling and emotionally charged. You read firsthand how people who never expected to find themselves in leadership roles at the front lines of a new and emerging civil rights struggle learned by walking through the fires how to engage difficult issues and to fight for systemic changes in our society.
Many of those profiled are people who are colleagues and friends to me from my days at Eden Theological Seminary, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree in 2005. It comes as no surprise to me that clergy such as Starkey Wilson, Nelson Pierce, Traci Blackmon, Heather Arcovitch and Deb Krause, Eden's academic dean, became such important voices in the days, weeks and months after Michael Brown's death. They each responded to the call to ministry with courage and humility. That much and more comes out very clearly in this book. Those of us in other communities can learn from their example.
One of the concluding chapters notes that "There is a Ferguson Near You." We know that here in Portland, Oregon as over the years we have struggled with the deaths of unarmed and mostly African-American citizens who have died at the hands of Portland Police. The US Department of Justice investigation of the Ferguson police department, in fact, uses tools that were developed first here in Portland after it was determined that police in our city engaged in a pattern of discrimination against people with mental illnesses. Where the DOJ in Portland failed wasn't recognizing that almost all of those killed were African-American and that the issue of race was linked with police shootings. We know this is true in many other communities. So yes, there is work for all of us to do across the nation.
My hope is that church members and students across the country will read the stories and hear the accounts of the faith leaders and young activists who demanded that racial injustices be addressed in Ferguson when others told them to go home and be quiet. Silence, as Francis illustrates so well, is not an option in these times.
We should not debate the reality of racism and it's impact on our nation anymore than we should be debate the reality of climate change. This is settled science. Racism is well documented in sociological studies and in the findings of the Department of Justice as they look at practices undertaken by police bureaus across the country. We know that our system is not fair and is in places quite broken.
All who have argued in the aftermath of Ferguson that "Black Lives Matter" should read this book, learn from the stories that it tells, and look for opportunities in all of our different communities to address racial injustices. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past. The civil rights struggle did not end with the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s. Ferguson and Portland both remind us that there is a great need to address racism so that all of our people are more free. It is heartening to read in the pages of this book how faith leaders in the Ferguson area have boldly proclaimed that this is not the world that God has intended for us and that we can and must do better.
"Ainsworth is a multi-cultural, multi-racial, open & affirming, Just Peace and accessible church. We celebrate that God is still speaking in our world today and that God’s extravagant welcome and love is for everyone. We hope that your journey of faith will lead you to us and that you experience God’s love through us." Those words have meaning.
It seemed appropriate the Sunday following the 4th of July - on a blistering hot Sunday - to consider the role of church and state. Conservative voices often say it is the role of the church to address social ills but churches like Ainsworth UCC, that help address the AIDS crisis, cannot do it alone. What does Jesus teach us?
Mark 12:13-17 was our focus text for the service. You can download a podcast of the sermon here:
(some browsers - like Firefox or Google Chrome - will allow you to simply click on the link and listen...otherwise click with the RIGHT mouse button on the hyperlink and choose “Save Target As” and save to your desktop or other folder – once downloaded click on the file to listen).
My name is Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie. I am a resident of NE Portland and serve as a minister in the United Church of Christ, currently in the capacity of the Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality and University Chaplain at Pacific University.
Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie & Rev. Kate Lore at Council hearing
The imperative first step is to repent of our sins, in the presence of God and one another. This repentance of our social and ecological sins will acknowledge the special responsibility that falls to those of us who are citizens of the United States. Though only five percent of the planet’s human population, we produce one-quarter of the world’s carbon emissions, consume a quarter of its natural riches, and perpetuate scandalous inequities at home and abroad. We are a precious part of Earth’s web of life, but we do not own the planet and we cannot transcend its requirements for regeneration on its own terms. We have not listened well to the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
The second step is to pursue a new journey together, with courage and joy. By God’s grace, all things are made new. We can share in that renewal by clinging to God’s trustworthy promise to restore and fulfill all that God creates and by walking, with God’s help, a path different from our present course. To that end, we affirm our faith, propose a set of guiding norms, and call on our churches to rededicate themselves to this mission. We firmly believe that addressing the degradation of God’s sacred Earth is the moral assignment of our time comparable to the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, the worldwide movement to achieve equality for women, or ongoing efforts to control weapons of mass destruction in a post-Hiroshima world.
In that spirit, I urge you to reject the proposal before you.
"Why do we still have a homelessness crisis after all these years? Part of it is political. Part of it is spiritual. We've never invested the resources needed to build affordable housing. The entire Metro region — Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties — needs a permanent source of funding to build affordable housing. The majority of those who are homeless are families with children and the working poor who cannot afford the high cost of housing. We need more drug treatment. We need more mental health counseling. But we need housing first.
We also need to recognize the common humanity we all share. Until then — until we acknowledge that we are our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper — we will never find the political will to end homelessness. We'll simply go on trying to manage and hide it."
Views expressed here represent the perspectives of Rev. Currie, as well as reader participants, and may not represent the views of Pacific University, the United Church of Christ’s national offices in Cleveland or any local UCC congregation. External links made from this site should not construe an endorsement. Rev. Currie has no more editorial control over such content than does a public library, bookstore, or newsstand. Such external links are made for informational purposes only.