Nov 26, 2014

Does Ferguson need justice?

Many people, including Christian leaders, are calling for justice with regards to Ferguson.[1] But is that what is really needed? Is this case mainly an opportunity for the Church to re-engage efforts for fostering a just society?


However, could a focus on justice be missing or distracting from the real opportunity? After all, justice is a very illusive, often debated idea. While the Church, i.e. all Christ-followers, should be part of that conversation, is that its essential purpose?

I would like to suggest that what Ferguson needs most; what our communities, our cities, our nation—our world—need most is not justice necessarily, but reconciliation. Racial reconciliation. Socio-economic reconciliation. Gender reconciliation. National reconciliation. Religious reconciliation. Reconciliation is about restoring relationship and harmony. It is about mutual understanding. It is as Henry Covey writes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”[2] It is rooted in wisdom: “The beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NASB).

What is wisdom?

One of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definitions of wisdom is “the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand.”

What is it that most people do not understand?

It seems that what most people fundamentally do not understand is love—what it means to actually love someone, not to mention where that meaning and purpose actually come from.

The driving source of true reconciliation must be love: love for humanity, love for each person. Only with love can reconciliation hope to succeed. In a politically-driven society like the United State, for example, perhaps that love needs to first be demonstrated through the counter-cultural, counter-human approach of nonviolence. "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love” (Martin Luther King Jr.). Granted, like with justice, nonviolence is somewhat flawed. Its complexities really cannot be adequately examined here. Nor is that the point. The point is that we must remember the legacy of our forefathers.

How can we hope to know and share love? Because the greatest model for love is Jesus Christ, and the heart of Jesus is God, our Creator. From the Apostles Peter, Paul, and John, to Patrick of Ireland, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr., some of the greatest social reconcilers of our world recognized the powerful inspiration of Jesus’ love—whether they personally worshiped him or not. For the mystery of love is how it reconciles broken relationships through mercy: not getting what is deserved. How it deepens relationships through grace: extending love when it is not merited, despite barriers and defiance.

Each of us maintains barriers. Each of us harbors defiance. No one is innocent. From the aggressive youth to the life-taking police officer, from the protesting citizen blocking traffic to the irritated driver, or the back and forth of social media bulldogs, we all contribute in some way to the brokenness. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22b-23 ESV).

What then? Do we succumb to our nature, to indignation, to hurting whoever crosses our path because we cannot contain ourselves? Jesus teaches us that transformation will only succeed through selflessness and through sacrifice. Therefore, in the wake of the jury’s ruling on the case, whether all who agree or disagree, let us heed the experienced wisdom of those who truly fought for reconciliation:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Most importantly, let us remember that all “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 ESV). Hallelujah, thanks be to God, Jesus offers us hope that reconciliation is truly possible. That the Holy Spirit can foster deeper understanding in each of us, that such empathy can stir our hearts toward loving each other better and changing this world. Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be all glory. Alas, we will never do so perfectly, but still the call for Christ-followers is to certainly try. It needs personal faith strengthened by a united community. It needs to begin in the Church. Therefore, let us pray for hope. Let us pray for unity. Let us pray as Jesus prayed: “Let your kingdom come, God, let your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And may it not remain merely a prayer, but spur us toward action on behalf of the Kingdom of God. Or as the Apostle Paul exhorts the Church of Galatia, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.”

It begins with each of us—our choices in words and actions. Therefore, in the sage words known as The Prayer of Saint Francis, let each us offer what wisdom we can toward peacefully reconciling—and not further fueling—the disheartening turmoil in places like Ferguson:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


[1] By “Ferguson” I refer to the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on Saturday, August 9, 2014.
[2] The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

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