UCC voices part of faith community call for peace in Ferguson
Five executives of the United Church of Christ, along with area pastors and a seminary president, are calling for peace in Ferguson, Mo.—a peace based on justice in the shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager.
UCC representatives, attending the National Council of Churches’ governing board gathering in St. Louis, Mo., Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 17 and 18), are watching as the situation in Ferguson changes by the hour. A grand jury is expected to announce whether or not it will indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year old Michael Brown in August, setting off protests and riots around the St. Louis area.
With the grand jury’s decision looming any time now, there are fears from the public and peacekeepers that violence may return. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency on Monday, activating the National Guard for the “possibility” of unrest.
“There are no outsiders in the pursuit of justice,” said the Rev. Traci Blackmon, as part of her welcome to out-of-town visitors. Blackmon is pastor of Christ the King UCC in Florissant, Mo. As she reflected on the violence that many fear if Wilson is not indicted, she said, “My prayer is that there is no violence, because violence never wins.”
Blackmon and the Rev. David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary, were two voices of the UCC at “Ferguson and the Response of the St. Louis Faith Community,” an event sponsored by the NCC at Washington Metropolitan AME Zion Church. The panel of local and regional leaders addressed the response of the faith community to Brown’s shooting, and the aftermath of the events that transpired in Ferguson.
The Rev. Roy Medley, of the American Baptist Churches and chair of the NCC governing board, introduced the speakers. “Regardless of the color of our skin, we all have skin in this game,” he said.
The Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister of the UCC Wider Church Ministries, is in St. Louis and attended the discussion. He believes people should look closely at the issue of race–in Ferguson and around the world.
“It was an important faith based discussion, and the fact is it’s not just Ferguson—Ferguson is a lens to which we can and should view race issues as a whole,” Moos said. “Young black men, African-American men, are unemployed, killed and incarcerated at much higher rates than any other groups in this country, and our faith calls us not just to be concerned, but to take action.”
“It’s irrefutable that black lives matter to God,” Greenhaw said.
Moos said “we are thankful that Traci has been become the leading face of the faith-based response. She and David have been at the front of [the UCC] response in St. Louis.” Blackmon felt “it was for the cause of Christ that I stay.”
Moos is joined in St. Louis by the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, ecumenical officer, the Rev. Waltrina Middleton, minister for youth advocacy and the Rev. Elizabeth Leung, minister for racial justice.
“I am in Ferguson because we are called to be present with one another in a time of need,” Middleton said. “There is a great urgency of now to pay close attention to what is happening on the ground in Ferguson. What is happening there speaks volumes to what is bubbling up around the globe. I am called to be here to be present with the young leaders crying out to the church to have their back.”
Greenhaw called on the church to be active in communities at risk for violence and injustice. St. Louis-area clergy promised they would be visible in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the grand jury’s decision, supporting non-violent protest for everyone in a quest for justice. Churches, serving as places for healing and conversation, have opened their doors to the community.
“[W]e do not seek to demonize police officers, but rather challenge and hold accountable a system of policing and criminal justice that stigmatizes black and brown people,” a statement by area clergy reads. “We support and defend the rights of all, no matter their rhetoric or level of anger, to participate in non-violent protest. For this reason you will see us and hear from us in the days and weeks ahead as all of [St. Louis] anticipates the announcement of the grand jury. … While we yearn for justice to be served in this case, we also believe that God’s purposes transcend this moment, and call all of us to work for systemic justice and healing in our community.”
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