A personal reflection on Ferguson by Betsy Miller
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” took on new meaning for me when I was in St. Louis, Missouri last month.
The National Council of Churches had made a deliberate decision to hold its annual meeting in St. Louis to stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Little could the board have known in September that we would be in St. Louis as the nation anxiously awaited a decision from the Grand Jury whether or not they would indict Police Officer Darren Wilson, accused of shooting Michael Brown.
We were meeting in the basement of the Washington Memorial AME Zion Church when the Missouri Governor declared a State of Emergency in anticipation of the decision. It added urgency and anxiety to the conversations we had during this fragile time.
While there are many, very complicated perspectives on the matter involving this incident in Ferguson, we heard from several African-American pastors who became involved in the aftermath of this tragic event. I was humbled by the words of The Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of the Flourissant United Church of Christ, near Ferguson. She welcomed us to the area, not as do-gooders or outsiders for she said, “there are no outsiders in the fight for justice.”
More than anything Rev. Blackmon said, I was impacted by her comments about young people. She said, “as church leaders we are always wondering where the young people are. This time, the young people were asking where the church was.”
Rev. Blackmon acknowledged her own hesitancy to get involved, but then realized that the people she met compelled her to get involved and claim her prophetic voice. She said, “In the face of injustice, nobody should ever have to ask, where is the church? Don’t come and study the change in Ferguson, come and make possible the change in the church.”
Later in the evening, we worshiped with the Washington Memorial congregation. Gospel music soared to the rafters. Then the Rev. Dr. Anthony Witherspoon preached a powerful sermon that shook us from our complacency.
“Am I my brother’s, my sister’s keeper?” asked Rev. Witherspoon. “Cain’s response to God’s query from Genesis 4 is not about ignorance, but about not caring and not acknowledging that every life matters to God. We need to care about the Michael Browns of our neighborhoods as if they were our children, because they surely are God’s children.”
I came away from our time near Ferguson, convicted of my own silence on matters of race and injustice. I was reminded that we worship a God who came to overcome injustice and hatred of all sorts; a God who died to show us that every life matters. The life of Darren Wilson matters, the life of Michael Brown matters, the lives of all our parishioners matter, and the lives of those who have felt ignored or forgotten by our church matter.
As an international body, the Moravian Church Northern Province seldom gets involved with social issues. Because we do not have a social action or advocacy staff, I confess that I have neither the time nor expertise to weigh in on social statements. The press never calls me for a statement on race relations in the U.S. or horrific violence in the Middle East.
But we don’t need to make statements to make a difference. We can act in our own neighborhoods. We can open our churches to the young people who are crying out for the church to care about what is happening around them. We can be in our neighborhoods inviting everyone—everyone—to be part of conversations and actions about things that matter inside the church and outside on the streets.
Our congregations, for the most part, are not in areas like Ferguson. But to think that because there are cornfields in our back yards that there is no injustice is to echo Cain’s response: Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my sister’s keeper?
We are all responsible for all our brothers and sisters—and every congregation has a brother or sister in the neighborhood who longs for the Moravians to remember our roots and be a voice for the marginalized, the exiled, and the outcast.
I invite our congregations to dare to start some of those difficult conversations about ways that we can be a witness to shalom, that we can be an open door to the neighborhood, that we can be God’s embrace to a world longing for the good news of Jesus Christ. ■
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller is president of the Northern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference.