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.