When will the rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, stop? There has been much mayhem – including the police using tear gas – and much looting in the St. Louis suburb. The media covers this story heavily. Some estimate there may be as many media members as there are protesters.
All of this follows the shooting death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer Saturday Aug. 9. Though the facts are sketchy, many are convinced that an injustice has been done.
The reaction has created an additional crisis. Reports indicate that thugs from all over have descended on Ferguson to take advantage of the chaos, to get “justice” “by any means necessary.” How? By putting a small shop owner out of business by looting?
C. S. Lewis reportedly said: “The devil is always trying to trick us to extremes.”
Here we are 51 years to the month (Aug. 28, 1963) after Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. articulated his vision for a color-blind society, and some things seem to be worse. “I have a dream …”
Surely, America has made great progress in its race problem since the night in 1955 when Rev. King hosted a meeting in the basement of his Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to deal with the crisis of Rosa Parks’ arrest for not giving up her seat to a white man. That meeting led to a successful bus boycott and launched the civil rights movement.
Dr. King said in 1955, “If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, ‘There lived a great people – a black people – who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”
He also quoted Booker T. Washington, a premier leader of African-Americans after the Civil War, who said, “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.”
King sought to lead the civil rights movement in a non-violent way. He said in 1963, “We must meet hate with creative love. … Let us hope there will be no more violence. But if the streets must flow with blood let it flow with our blood in the spirit of Jesus Christ on the cross.”
Fast forward to today. How are we doing overall on the racism front?
America elected and re-elected the first African-American president, something virtually unimaginable in Dr. King’s time. Yet the incident in Ferguson shows that deep divides remain.
Many of us strive to live up to the biblical ideal expressed in Acts 17:26: “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth. …” Biblically, there is no basis for racism. Obviously, Christians have not always lived up to that ideal.
On the other hand, committed Christians have been among the most ardent opponents of racism. Consider William Wilberforce of England, the longtime member of Parliament whose lifelong crusade ended slavery in the British Empire.
Watch raw tape of civil rights marches and activities in the 1950s and 1960s some time. It was a religious movement – with leaders from all sorts of Christian denominations. King himself was president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In reference to the present crisis in Ferguson, Martin Luther King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, has called for calm and prayer. In a press release sent out by Christian Newswire, she said, “To burn down gas stations, loot and steal and rampage local business establishments won’t bring Michael back, to his family or to our hurting world.”
She added, “This painful incident brings to mind my father Rev. A.D. King in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 when our home was fire bombed by rabid racists. The people were angry and wanted to riot. Daddy stood on the hood of a car with a megaphone and calmed the people. This is not the time to riot. This is the time to pray. Please, protest, stand up for our rights, but do this with nonviolence!”
And she said, “In memory of my father and in honor to God, I urge nonviolence in the demand for justice of Michael’s death. This is not the time to burn, this is the time to turn our prayers toward heaven and seek nonviolent and just solutions to what has happened to Michael.”
Alveda King once told me the real issue is spiritual: “We were founded as a nation under God. And today, we have become lawless, and we’re running away from God; and we’re letting the government and other institutions replace the Creator by the created, and that’s the problem.”
As long as we continue to forget God as a nation and evildoers take advantage of the ensuing chaos, it is hard to see how we can move closer to Dr. King’s vision of a color-blind society.