A few thoughts on Ferguson

I’m reluctant to say anything, so I will say very little. Here are my thoughts on the morning after.

1. We still have race issues in this country. As President Obama said last night, we’ve made progress, but we have by no means arrived. It is an enormous grief that African Americans feel so regularly alienated by police and by the criminal justice system more broadly. It is a great sadness that black fathers have to have sobering conversations with their sons about encountering the police without getting shot—a conversation I never had with my father. As a people, we are not yet what we should be. It does no one any good to deny that. Again, as the President said last night,

“There are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up… these are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down. What we need to do is understand them and figure out how do we make more progress. And that can be done.”

The events that have unfolded in Ferguson since the shooting last summer have unfolded in a racial context. To miss that context is to miss almost everything. For my part, I want to do my best to listen and to learn.

2. Again, I find myself agreeing with the President:

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so, we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”

Likewise, John Piper wrote this last night:

I think this strikes the right balance. The grand jury says they could not find enough evidence to bring an indictment against Wilson, and so they didn’t. As Piper wrote, an indictment of Wilson may not have been the way to go, but that doesn’t mean that the broader issues should be left unaddressed. Neither does it mean that the broader issues should have dictated the outcome of this particular case. Having said that, let’s hope and pray that good citizens can come to terms on the broader issues. Really, let’s work for that.

3. Here’s a good prayer:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” -1 Timothy 2:1-4

4. I like what Al Mohler had to say today. He is always a reliable guide in thinking through tough issues. You can listen below or download here.


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5. To my African American brothers and sisters: You are on my heart and in my prayers this morning. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be you. But I sure do love you. Big time.

23 Responses to A few thoughts on Ferguson

  1. godandneighbor November 25, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    Link to Albert Mohler’s podcast today: http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/11/25/the-briefing-11-25-14/ (It didn’t load for me from this post).

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Denny.

  2. Jeff Clement November 25, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    I think this is another lesson in the practice of moving into truth with slow consideration of all facts and not to rely on emotional reactions. Crowds build in this twitter age of 140 characters all too quickly with narrow margins of fact gathering. It is a shame that the loudest voices often speak for the shy silent on both sides of any issue.

    • Brian Holland November 25, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      Well Jeff, shouldn’t we all be able to criticize the racist mob in Ferguson? What about people who protest (even peacefully) before knowing all the facts? I think moral clarity is definitely whats needed right now.

  3. David Shane November 25, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Denny, maybe I am “missing almost everything” here, but I’m a bit chagrined to find that almost no prominent Christian writers commenting on this issue have addressed the sin of prejudice – and I mean that in its most literal sense of judging before you have all the facts. When this all began, too many people saw a white cop shoot a black man and, knowing nothing about the details of what happened, immediately claimed it was racially motivated – that also was a sin (how would you feel if you were that police officer?). And then again last night, before any details about the grand jury testimony had been released, you had even Christianity Today writers like Laura Turner penning pieces saying a cop got away with murder! These errors too should be confronted – it makes me wonder if talking instead about white privilege is just taking the easy way out of the truly hard discussion.

    • Denny Burk November 25, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Totally agree. Lots of irresponsible talk out there.

    • James Stanton November 25, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

      David,

      You’re making some very good points here. I think, however, that this reaction is not based on this one event in Ferguson but rather a history of unequal treatment under the law and the heavy hand of local government. I make no excuses for violence and looting but I think it’s not easy for us to put ourselves in their shoes as we seem to live in totally separate worlds. I live in a safe, friendly neighborhood with a high level of trust and civic cooperation between city government, law enforcement, and the local population. This does not seem to be the case in Ferguson. Many of these people do not trust that the system is fair to them and what you call claims of racial motivation are frustrations expressed with that system, right or wrong.

      My last point is that we place a very low value on the lives of human beings. Every killing should be investigated objectively. We are perhaps to willing to accept that law enforcement is perfectly justified in taking a life. I’m not referring to the specifics of the Brown case at all.

  4. Brian Holland November 25, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    As not only a white man married to a black woman, but as an American, I’m truly saddened by all of the events in Ferguson. But I’m even more depressed and frustrated by such a pathetic (sorry that’s the only appropriate term) response Dr. Burk. Failure to call evil is itself evil if I can paraphrase Bonhoeffer here.

    I realize that most whites are terrified of being called racist, but that’s a HUGE part of the problem! There is zero excuse for this type of truly racist behavior from the mob, who held a city captive first, and then burned it down! The change that needs to take place is primarily in the black community (with a 72% out of wedlock birthrate, and a crime rate that is through the roof). That’s the sad truth, and that black racism is out of control.

    We need Christian leaders who fear God and not men. Sadly we also have so many black churches that are apostate, and fail to preach Biblical truth, but tickle people’s ears. I know there are lots of white churches that do this as well, but thankfully they at least don’t make racial politics an idol. You would have been better off staying silent on this issue rather than pandering and compromising with attitudes and actions that are sinful and out of line with reality.

    And finally why aren’t the innocent people of Ferguson, and the cops on your mind, and in your prayers? They are the ones who are truly victims in all of this insanity!

    • James Stanton November 25, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      Brian,

      You seem to be making points out of an excess of emotion. I don’t think you realize that you yourself are engaging in racial politics through your post which is quite divisive in nature. You are lashing out at this people group and it’s not very charitable. Build bridges to make a positive change with people and resist adding fuel to the fire.

      • Brian Holland November 25, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

        James, it’s hard not to get emotional when you see your hometown burning completely unnecessarily. So I plead guilty to that. But ultimately it’s about culture and values not race. I think we need to understand that leftism is fundamentally opposed to the Gospel and Christianity. We do ourselves no favors in ignoring that. My wife (who again is black) unfortunately has given up on trying to reach most black people. I haven’t, but I recognize the near hopelessness of the situation. So my question to you is how can you dialogue with people (the protestors and a very large percentage of black America) that have completely ignored the facts in this case?

        I’d also like to get your reaction to what Dennis Prager has written. He’s honest, and not lacking in courage. I have so much more respect for him on this and many other issues than many Christian leaders who all to often cower in fear of being called racist.

        http://www.dennisprager.com/moral-divide-not-racial-one/

        • James Stanton November 25, 2014 at 5:01 pm #

          Brian, I think we are letting down our brothers and sisters if we dismiss reaching out to them due to differences in politics and ideology. I find terms like leftism or rightwing useless when it comes to dealing with people. These terms are judgements on people meant to dismiss their worth. There is nothing left or right in looking for justice or unbiased treatment from government. There’s nothing left or right about engaging in looting or burning down buildings in your own community. That’s simply anarchy.

          I’m not sure what you think would be gained by having white Pastors condemn the black community. You want absolution for casting wide judgement on a people. Are other ethnic groups free from sin?

          • Brian Holland November 26, 2014 at 4:11 am #

            James, I think we are talking past each other here. Let me be as clear as I possibly can. I have not given up on reaching out to the black community. I have quite a few patients in South Central, Compton, Watts etc. The essential point is that there has been a collapse in morality within the black community that is as catastrophic, and breathtaking as it is tragic. To deny that is to deny reality. It is the implosion of an ethnic group, and again I say this with great sadness, and a heavy heart. To fail to speak to this reality not only does them no favors, but continues to make the problems worse. Just as the only hope for America is to embrace conservative, biblical principles, this is especially true in Black America, where it’s a crisis situation. The politics of this situation reflects the values of those who vote against biblical principles consistently. And for the record, I’m not asserting that any culture is without sin. We all are completely lost apart from God’s Grace. However, to say that all cultures are equally sinful, or that some aren’t more decent than others is to engage in the worst kind of moral/cultural relativism and multiculturalism.

            I’m also not dismissing anyone by describing leftism. We need to be able to honestly discuss worldviews that oppose biblical Christianity. It’s not meant as a pejorative, but just an accurate description of the differences in values. Hence the term social justice (think Eric Holder’s version) vs justice (the true biblical definition). As to white pastors speaking about these uncomfortable truths, well it’s not likely in my lifetime since courage is in short supply these days. Most black pastors are either afraid, or unwilling to tackle these issues as well. Which is why again I thought this blog was such a missed opportunity, and dare I say a disservice.

            Now you never answered my original question about how to dialogue with people who either deny or ignore the facts of the Michael Brown case? If nothing else a Biblical Worldview should be concerned with pursuing the truth, should it not? And you never answered my question about what you thought about Dennis Prager’s column.

  5. Aaron O'Kelley November 25, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    “Neither does it mean that the broader issues should have dictated the outcome of this particular case.”

    Denny, this is right on target, and this is true for every judicial proceeding. If juries ever turn their attention from the specific cases brought to them and instead seek to make decisions based on broader considerations, then justice will be denied to all. Every case would not be about the case itself, but about the broader narrative that has been constructed by those who shape the culture at large. And that could result in injustice for black defendants (as fictionalized, though certainly believable, in “To Kill a Mockingbird”) as well as white defendants, especially police officers. All that would matter would be who determined the broader narrative, and then the outcome would be predetermined.

    The fact that the grand jury rendered a decision that ran counter to the prevailing narrative, and that they did so in spite of the near certainty that riots would follow, makes me think they were extremely careful in their deliberations and rendered a decision based on an honest assessment of the evidence.

  6. Garth Madden November 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Did anyone see the video of Michael Brown throw the convenience store owner around like he was a rag doll when he was stealing cigars?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KaddKP9PSQ

    Brown’s behavior is consistent with the testimony of the officer, who said that he was enraged and aggressive. The scene shows that Brown was storming towards the officer when he shot him (this after being physically attacked in his police vehicle). Evidence and testimony indicates that Brown was reaching for the officer’s gun.

    What is sympathetic about Brown’s actions? Why is this a moment for us to talk about racial injustice? Why is there no sympathy for law enforcement of every color being treated as the criminal instead of the kind of behavior Mike Brown demonstrated, not to mention the looting, anarchy and violence we witnessed yesterday?

    • James Stanton November 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

      Garth,

      I don’t think there’s anything particularly sympathetic about Brown’s actions nor do I think any here voiced sympathy for him but rather for his family in losing a child. To have any sympathy for them requires us to treat Brown as a human being and not some beast or monster. The trouble in this particular case is that Brown was not shot in the course of reaching for Wilson’s gun. The grand jury was meant to decide on whether Wilson should face charges and if there should be a trial to determine if Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. I’m comfortable with their deliberations and the outcome.

      Countless articles have been posted in the press about how minorities are targeted at high rates by law enforcement in Ferguson and much of the city’s revenue is generated by fines and tickets levied on the mostly black residents. I think this incident was just a tipping point in that city.

      Law enforcement needs to be held accountable just like every other government agency. The taking of a life is not a simple thing to be glossed over and dismissed as routine and unavoidable. I hope Officer Wilson will be able to go on with his life and have peace.

      • Garth Madden November 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

        Michael Brown was a lawless thug, if the video I linked to is any indication at all. His parents have my sympathy for his loss of life, but so does the law enforcement community, who have to deter a 294 pound bully who throws a man half his size around like you see in the video. And James, you’re wrong, the forensic and eyewitness testimony, and even scrape marks inside the car indicate that there was a struggle for Wilson’s gun. Unbelievable. Think for a moment how shocking it would be and how little time you have to react if a 294 pound, angry man is attacking you and inches from turning your own weapon on you.

        • James Stanton November 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm #

          Garth,

          i think I see where you’ve misunderstood me. At no point did I mean to say that there was not a struggle for Wilson’s gun. I meant that the struggle was not the point at which Brown was shot and killed. That occurred later and some distance from the police car.

          I’m not sure why we’re litigating Brown’s actions here. He’s not here to defend himself. The only pertinent issue is whether Officer Wilson was justified in taking Brown’s life. This has been resolved with the grand jury’s decision at the local level. The rest is for God to judge.

  7. Christiane Smith November 25, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    my reaction is mixed . . .

    I support the decision of the grand jury because they had access to the evidence (most of it) and had ample time to reflect on the merits of all of the various witnesses and the evidence that was presented to them in order to sort out what actually occurred . . .

    but I am concerned over a few matters that others may see as unimportant, these:

    1. if ‘racism’ is being raised as an issue, then if we go back to the initial recorded evidence of ‘trouble’, the victim of abuse is Asian . . . and the perpetrators were of another race . . . so why isn’t this mentioned in the media, or have I missed it?
    (subsequently, I understand that some in the community did attack the Asian man’s business and destroy it after the verdict was announce yesterday)

    2. why was the boy’s body allowed to lie in the street for over four hours ? this is, I understand, a departure from the usual treatment of a crime scene, and in this case, I am curious as to why it happened, and also I am understanding why such a thing would enrage and disgust many in the black community of Ferguson and many other Americans as well, my own family included

    3. how is it that some young people are openly engaging in conflicts with the police and are not aware that if they do not respond to instructions from the police in a tense situation, that they are in danger of being hurt ? is this a new thing in the fringe groups of the black community . . . to take a stand to disobey a police officer openly? What is going on?

    I’m sure I’ll have a lot more unanswered questions in time, but I do appreciate an opportunity to comment about my own concerns and an opportunity to learn about the views of others on this web site. I hope our country learns something from Ferguson that helps us in future, so that this incident did not occur for no reason in the long run.

  8. Esther O'Reilly November 25, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Where are the calls to the black community of Ferguson to end the arson, violence, pillaging and looting? Where’s the concern for innocent black people whose lives and property are being threatened as we speak? I’m sorry, but it seems like people are afraid to speak out and condemn this monstrous violence for what it is, because they’re worried that it will appear like we’re “talking and not listening” or being “racially insensitive.” If someone wants to call me a bigot for pointing out that arson is arson is arson… well, then I guess I’m a bigot for a day.

  9. brian darby November 26, 2014 at 1:52 am #

    Dr. Burk I did not want to drone on here. Just a side note, why should I be afraid of God? I have never gotten that to be honest, I get the fact we should respect God, honor God and be in utter Awe of God. Well I dont but I understand it. I dont get why I need to be afraid of God. Why does God want me to be in terror of Him? Thank You for any help in this area.

  10. Curt Day November 26, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    The reaction to the failure to indict Wilson shows some both the fact that it would have been impossible for Wilson to get a fair trial and that we have two presenting problems here in the US: a problem with racism and with abuse of power.

    We should have acknowledged a long time ago that we still have a problem with racism. And when will enough people confront our elected officials on our abuse of power problem that has hit every level of government from the President–including Republican and Democratic Presidents- down to all levels of law enforcement?

  11. James Stanton November 26, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    Brian,

    I’ll try to engage you on your thoughts. I think it’s both useless and dangerous to single out a particular culture or community for moral failings. We are all part of the human race and all of us have fallen short. There is no environmental predisposition to moral failure in the black community as compared to any other demographic group. The statistics you refer to are a matter of degree. For example, a higher rate of births outside of wedlock in the black community may indicate a lower usage of methods of birth control compared to other ethnic groups. I think any moral conclusions here are dubious at best.

    There is no way to measure a particular culture’s sinfulness or level of decency. This kind of thinking is to be avoided, in my opinion, as it prevents a believer from engaging people on a individual basis, as is proper.

    As far as the Michael Brown case goes: The fact the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to merit a trial for Officer Wilson does not mean he is guilty or innocent of murder. It’s simply very hard and uncommon for police to face trial for potentially unjustified shootings. Only God knows the truth of that. OJ Simpson was acquitted yet I doubt much of America, white or black, thinks he is innocent in that crime. People who lack faith in our criminal justice system are entitled to their views, when reasonable, as are you in your trust that the outcome was just.

    I took a look at Dennis Prager’s article and I suppose that it clearly reflects his worldview. I, however, can’t put much stock in an article on moral failures from someone who is twice-divorced and on his third marriage.

    • Brian Holland November 27, 2014 at 5:00 am #

      James, l’m not sure if we’re making progress here or not, but let me throw a few questions out there and I’ll let you respond:

      1) You seem to think it’s only proper to engage people on an individual level, but where does that leave the prophets of the OT, who called the nation of Israel to repentance, or the people of Nineveh etc?
      2) Why are any moral conclusions dubious at best in discussing the black community? Would you make the same argument for the Germans in WWII Germany, or any modern Islamic society? For the record, I’m not making any direct comparisons, but trying to illustrate a point any given culture’s morality, or lack thereof.
      3) Do you not think It’s possible to look at “the forrest,” so to speak and not condemn individual trees? In other words, can you grant that we can look at the direction of cultures without condemning every individual who makes up that particular culture? I submit that blacks who are outraged by the reaction to Ferguson have to speak out against the rioting (as well as other cultural trends that are destructive) just like good Muslims have an obligation to publicly speak out against Islamic acts of terror.
      4) You seem to have concluded that only God knows whether the shooting was justified, but the ballistics and forensics were clear that Brown went for officer Wilson’s gun. What was he going to do with it, if he’d gotten it? Is lethal force not justified at that point?
      5) And finally how is Dennis Prager’s marriage/divorce history (the details of which we know nothing about) even remotely relevant to the discussion here on protesting and rioting over someone who attacked and tried to disarm a cop? I think it’s much more relevant to speak about the very clear and obvious moral failure of those in Christian ministry who are afraid to speak the truth on these issues for fear of being called racist. I’m much less likely to trust or value their opinions on other subjects, when they fail to accurately judge on issues like this one, which are “clear as day,” and have such vital national importance.

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