Nashville, Tenn.–The unfolding Ferguson saga calls churches to “unify and pray for our nation,” the president of National African American Fellowship within the SBC, Marshall Williams, said in the hours after a grand jury reported its decision not to indict a white Missouri police officer in the shooting death of an 18-year-old African American.
“We need to be both an empathetic listening ear for the community and herald forth a prophetic voice for justice and compassion in a spirit of humility,” Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., said in a statement to Baptist Press.
The weeks-long crisis–from the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to the grand jury report and a subsequent night of arson, violence and arrests in the St. Louis suburb–fueled Williams’ statement.
“In times like these, our love for God must manifest itself in tangible ways by love for one another and love for our neighbor,” Williams said.
“The African American communities of this nation are our neighbor and right now we are hurting in ways which very few people groups in this nation have a historical reference point to appreciate,” he said, referencing eras in U.S. history when it seemingly was “safe to murder Negroes.”
“A radical obedience to the gospel and an unflinchingly Christ-centered engagement of the age-old questions of whether we are our brother’s keeper is in order especially at this time,” Williams said. The church must be “a catalyst for unprecedented revival and spiritual awakening in our land that will manifest itself in how we honor God, our Creator and the created of His creation.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, in a statement to Baptist Press, said, “Only the gospel of reconciliation through Jesus Christ can heal the broken in heart, bridge the racial divide that marks our society, and calm the passions that grip the human heart.
“Our prayers continue for the Brown family and for the pastors and churches in the Ferguson, Mo., area and across the United States as they seek to minister the message of God’s peace to individuals in their communities who have been impacted by this tragedy,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.
Fred Luter, the SBC’s immediate past president, told Baptist Press, “The only way that the racial problem will be resolved in our country is to understand what really is the main problem.
“As my friend Marshall Williams, the current president of the National African American Fellowship, often says, ‘We do not have a SKIN problem in America, we have a SIN problem in America!’ And to that I say Amen!
“Until lost men are changed on the inside, we cannot expect to see change on the outside,” said Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. Luter acknowledged that “there are mixed emotions about the verdict in the Ferguson case across the Southern Baptist Convention. “However, because of the fact that none of us were in the courtroom to hear the testimony before the grand jury, we must trust the process and the legal system.
“The fact is, the only thing leaders can do to usher in peace is to speak in one voice that violence is not the way to deal with issues that you do not agree with,” Luter said. “The life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a testimony of what can happen through nonviolent protest.
“A lot of the rights and privileges that African Americans enjoy today is a direct result of the nonviolet protest of Dr. King and those who marched with him during the civil rights movement.” (BP)
Art Toalston and Diana Chandler