Exactly one year ago in Ferguson, Missouri, the shooting and death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, struck our nation and catalyzed a movement for justice and reconciliation that has reverberated throughout the world.
One year later, we still lament. This summer we’ve seen the brutal, racially-motivated killing of nine of our Black brothers and sisters in a Charleston church. Having extended hospitality, they were murdered as they studied Scripture and prayed, by the very one they welcomed. And we’ve continued to see Black men and women die at the hands of police during seemingly routine encounters that end in violence.
If we are going to be people who put ourselves in service of Christ and His mission in the world, then we must be willing to face the reality of what Ferguson represents to our Black brothers and sisters. To those who are removed from the realities of life in poor, urban communities, Michael Brown’s death was an isolated and tragic incident. But, for many in the Black community who have watched the same scenario play out for decades in neighborhoods all over the country, what happened in Ferguson catalyzed a movement. Thousands of Black women and men have united in directing the weight of their sorrow, frustration and fear toward ending the systemic injustice that they live with every day. However, the cries that rose up in the streets of Ferguson last August have not been met with justice. Rather, as the year wore on, and more Black lives were lost, many of us see before us what the prophet Isaiah described: “justice has been driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance, truth has stumbled in the streets.”
As we seek to bring the Good News of the gospel to the suffering, marginalized and forgotten in the world, I have realized that the very integrity of the message we bring is at stake. As a ministry that serves on campuses more diverse than at any time in United States history, we must see the spiritual reality that surrounds us. We are told in Hebrews that God looks on us as one family, and he is our Father. Therefore we must rid ourselves of our cultural blinders and myopia, and care for and stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters during this time. We don’t have any other option if we call ourselves Christ-followers.
We are told in Hebrews that God looks on us as one family, and he is our Father. Therefore we must rid ourselves of our cultural blinders and myopia, and care for and stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters during this time. We don’t have any other option if we call ourselves Christ-followers.
The writer of Hebrews illustrates this by saying:
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”
Hebrews 10: 32-35
The book of Hebrews paints a picture of how we should wait and hope alongside one another as we wait for the consummation of God’s work in the world.
As I have sat many times in disbelief this past year, I have asked, “How are we to respond to this blatant evil in our country that continues to bring about the violent end of Black lives? How do we find healing and reconciliation in the midst of pain and division?”
An integral part of what it means to be reconciled with Christ is to identify with the others who suffer. My good friend Claude, a nationally prominent African American pastor, shared:
“Solidarity is what causes one to be willing to take risky action. It promotes sacrifice, the giving up of oneself for the benefit, promotion of another. Solidarity is what distinguishes the Samaritan from the others in Jesus' Good Samaritan parable. He ignores the excuses that he could rightfully use: ‘It's not my problem. I'm forbidden by law. I'll lose my status. I don't have the time. It wasn't on my agenda. The victim is not one of my people.’
“He moves past all of that. He enters into what seems to be a dead situation. Unlike the Priest and Levite, whose sympathetic looks from a distance, causes them to conclude the man to be dead and cross the street, the Samaritan comes close enough to see what can't be perceived at a distance. Solidarity requires proximity to see what can't be seen at a distance. It is entering into the space of the other to correctly and properly identify. The Samaritan's proximity enables him to recognize the faint signs of life. He takes upon himself the responsibility of the victim's care. He commits himself to the long term restoration.”
I am convinced that true healing will not come to our communities unless it comes to all of us together. And for this to happen, Christ-followers must be joined together in Christ-centered solidarity. This is part of what it means to be reconciled with Christ. Just as Christ identified with us, we now identify with others as one body and one household. Solidarity is a privilege I’m given, to walk with brothers and sisters who are hurting and grieving. Solidarity is part of God’s invitation in mission, as we are challenged to identify with communities being killed for their faith or for the color of their skin, as we are challenged to stand with and even pursue communities which are living under horrific oppression and injustice.
We are at a time when the solidarity and unity of the global church is perhaps of greatest importance—with division rampant across political lines, theological lines, ethnic lines, and religious lines. Severe persecution is at its highest point in decades.
In less than 5 months, the Urbana 15 Student Missions Conference will take place just 12 miles from Ferguson, Missouri. As a Conference we whole-heartedly stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters who are hurting and grieving. Though we haven’t always done so perfectly, standing with ethnic minority groups and empowering voices in the margins has been a part of our Urbana heritage since the 1940s, and we remain firmly committed to this.
As an individual, I also am learning and on the journey of standing in solidarity with my Black brothers and sisters. Growing up the son of Taiwanese immigrant parents, I grieved and grew angry as I saw my parents spit on and made fun of in our all-White neighborhood, disrespected and hitting glass ceilings in their workplaces. While my Asian experience is not comparable to the experience of my Black friends, I grew up a second-class citizen, always told that I wouldn’t be respected nor accepted by society. I was scared to walk in certain public places, and felt helpless to bring about any change. But those who stood in solidarity with me did bring about change. I benefited from courageous majority-culture leaders who sacrificed and advocated for me, who recognized that engaging in God’s mission meant identifying with someone like me.
Whatever your ethnic background, who might you stand with today? Who are the Black brothers and sisters around you? Who are the hurting communities who you might sacrifice and advocate for?
I am learning that solidarity isn’t easy. This past year, I have failed and missed opportunities. A friend gently reminded me that one significant avenue for solidarity is in writing, which prompted this post. It’s difficult to imagine the depths of pain and struggle that my African American brothers and sisters have experienced during these past 12 months and beyond. But not fully understanding shouldn’t prevent me from taking action. Today, I stand with my Black brothers and sisters as someone who has access to power, resources, networks, influence, and an elite education—and I want to courageously use it.
This past year, I have failed and missed opportunities. …It’s difficult to imagine the depths of pain and struggle that my African American brothers and sisters have experienced during these past 12 months and beyond. But not fully understanding shouldn’t prevent me from taking action. Today, I stand with my Black brothers and sisters as someone who has access to power, resources, networks, influence, and an elite education—and I want to courageously use it.
Right now people across our nation are declaring in a more emphatic way than ever that Black lives do matter. Our lives as members of the body of Christ should reinforce that every day in what we do and say. We belong to a God who declares that Black lives are lives made in God's image, deeply precious and valuable, with beautiful gifts that add to the richness of the world and to the Church. As Christians we are called to a deeper, stronger bond with our suffering brothers and sisters, because we know the truth that Black people bear the image of God.
If you are a student who desires to stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters, consider these suggestions as you move forward:
- Take the time to be present and learn. Listen before speaking. A well-known White pastor from California flew immediately to Charleston for the Memorial Service held in honor of those who were killed. He didn’t speak, nor was he invited to serve there in any way. He simply wanted to be present, to listen to the conversations in the community. Whether you’ve been engaging in conversations about race for a long time or for your first time, take the time to listen to various perspectives and ask good questions to go deeper in your learning. Check out these helpful resources on ethnic and racial reconciliation from InterVarsity Press.
- Reflect back on how you may have indirectly or directly contributed to the situation our Black brothers and sisters face. If you’ve made mistakes, ask for forgiveness. Don’t allow pride to prevent you from demonstrating solidarity. Author and speaker Christena Cleveland exhorts, “Our ability to unite with the entire body of Christ is seriously impeded when our primary concern is to preserve our self-esteem.”
- Consider the issues that Ferguson has raised and what vocations you might explore as you discern God’s calling. This student generation has the opportunity to work on long-term systemic change, to engage in the challenges related to unequal education, housing, incarceration, law enforcement, poverty and more. Will you consider vocations that will address these institutions? Are you willing to be mobilized into reconciliation work around the world which includes the urgently needed work here in North America?
- Pray that the justice and righteousness of the Lord would be near at hand. Ask the Lord to use you and your friends to bring his justice to a system that has oppressed our Black brothers and sisters for far too long. Put your hope in the Lord, the source of all truth and reconciliation, who is even now making all things new.
May this student generation both know and live out the powerful gospel of reconciliation in the midst of a North American context and global context that is full of racial violence and injustice. May this student generation make decisions to give their whole lives to God’s mission of reconciliation.