On August 9th, 2014 Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer. The event set off a series of both protests and then rioting. The subsequent riots wreaked havoc on this suburb of Saint Louis, Missouri.
What you will read below were my reflections of that moment in time. I believe they are still relevant today…
In any situation I believe it is my calling to point to Jesus in all of this. And where is Jesus in all of these situations and countless other conflicts—even the ones between individuals? He is right in the middle between them. Jesus isn’t called the Prince of Peace for nothing. Jesus stands in the middle waging peace. Notice I didn’t say status quo. A lot of people confuse peace with status quo. They want to go back to a time when it was peaceful for them regardless if it was good for anyone else. Jesus calls us to move forward into a new reality that brings good for all.
Jesus certainly is calling those who considers themselves disciples of Jesus to stand in the middle and call for transformative peace as well. The type of peace where everyone has a seat at the table and a voice about what happens next.
Long ago Jesus said to a crowd listening to him preach. . . Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.
God’s favor is with those who stand in middle and help bring transformative peace.
Notice Jesus didn’t say, Blessed are the peace-lovers. I think the vast majority of humanity likes and wants peace. It takes more than sitting on the side lines hoping for it to happen. We need more peace-makers in the world.
And if you are not a news junkie like me you might have missed it. There were some peacemakers out there in Ferguson, MO during a most violent time. Or at least they were attempting to be peacemakers.
A pastor was shot with a rubber bullet on Wednesday (6 years ago) during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, as clashes with police continued over the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.
Pr. Renita Lamkin, an African Methodist Episcopal church pastor, told reporters that she was “standing in the middle of the street, with people behind me, and the police were in front of me.” Lamkin said she was attempting to mediate (peace-making) between police and protesters.
She told the police, “They’re moving, they’re leaving.”
“And then there was a pop!” she said, as a rubber bullet struck her stomach. There are pictures of the injury—they are too graphic for this post.
A widely circulated photo of Pr. Lamkin’s injuries shows a large, bloody bruise. She said she was hit while standing, because her motto is, “Pray on your feet!”
Pr. Lamkin said the best way for people of peace to heal the community’s wounds is to “love people. Listen to them.”
Notice what she is saying. It isn’t about whose right and whose wrong (even when there is a clear sense of right and wrong). It’s about peacemaking. Listening to people—as opposed to talking over people— those are the seeds of peace.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 3:35
Then there was Pr. Willis Johnson. He is the one standing in front of that angry young man in the picture below. Read what Pr. Johnson had to say about this moment.
“People who are hurting need to be affirmed in their hurt; people who are angry need to be affirmed in their anger. Let me say it like this: I needed that as much as he needed that. We kept each other from harm’s way and from doing something that we would need not to do…
If you’re going to fuss and cuss and be mad, I want you to do it with me. Do it in my ear. And at the same time, I just begin to pray with him and to say, ‘Give him the strength — give us the strength — to be courageous enough not to do what they expect us to do.’”
Later on, in the same interview Pr. Johnson says this about the peacemaking process…
“I wasn’t out there marching on Monday, wasn’t out there marching on Tuesday. I was doing the things that I thought were necessary and I continue to do that.
But I also know that it requires by every means necessary to do what is going to bring about the sense of awareness, the attention, that will allow people to not only express and attempt to explain but to expedite and encourage us to some point of not only reconciliation but resolution and resurrection. Because we have to (continue to) live when everybody else goes and leaves from this place.”
Reconciliation, resolution and resurrection. Think about that last word for a second. New life—where there was only death and destruction. Jesus knows about death and he certainly knows about new life.
Peace isn’t just a truce. General McArthur said “A truce just says you don’t shoot for awhile. Peace comes when the truth is known, the issue is settled, & the parties embrace each other.” A truce is a return to status quo.
Peacemakers don’t just try to stop conflict. They’re doing something far more meaningful; something healing and transformative. They try to bring about reconciliation and relationship, even if it means going through the conflict.
Peacemakers stand in the middle and work for peace—even if it is one person at a time.
The author of Hebrews says it this way–Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15
That is some active peacemaking right there between Pr. Johnson and Pr. Lamkin. Watching for those bitter roots and addressing it before things got worse.
It’s hard to do that when we have demonized the other. It’s hard to love someone when you’ve made them the enemy. Standing in the middle helps minimize those attitudes.
Jesus cautioned us about the kind of peace the world offers. Often it is weak and stilted toward those with power. Kingdom peace is different. It offers redemption and a new way of living that values all. This is how Jesus put it, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27 Let us not confuse the two.
Let me close with the words of President Lincoln.
During the Civil War, Pres. Lincoln was asked if God was on his side and the cause of the north.
This was his reply–“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
God bless you,