But the scripture calls us to a different posture. Not so much different as if family stability and marriage do not matter. They do. Different in terms of how we position ourselves for justice in such cases. Consider Deut. 24:16-18).
Why should we think this an application of the gospel? Is it not because we who were sinners were adopted by God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son? We were orphans, separated from the love of our True Father. But we were not finally rejected or vilified. We were loved. We received a Mediator. Jesus became our Advocate. Our adoption was completed and we became the family of God. If we want to live our faith and the gospel in trying times like these, we need to be the people who adopt the Michael Browns (literally and figuratively) rather than condemn them or justify any injustice based upon their fatherlessness.
6. Cultivate Gentleness in Conflict
In our day and age, few things could be more sapping of Christian activism and encouraging of conflict than many of the so-called “news outlets” we consume. Good journalism remains hard to find. We can find it, but it means turning off the constant blare of talking heads, pundits and political hacks masquerading as journalists. It means avoiding the rapid-fire opinions of blogs—perhaps including this one. These sources flood our minds with worldly thinking. They stir us up to greater levels of fear and anger. They keep us from reacting and speaking as we ought.
Instead, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Why? “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:24-26). If we care about gospel fruit in the midst of Ferguson-Garner situations, we need to learn what our mothers tried to teach us as children: kindness, patience and gentleness. Our effectiveness as witnesses depends on our avoiding that quarrelsome spirit of the age while replying with gospel-inspired kindness. Maintaining this posture requires we turn off the TV and the talk radio so that we can renew our minds and refuse the squeezing pressure of the world (Rom. 12:1-2).
7. Lean in for the Long Term in the Messy Times
When news of Michael Brown’s death spread, the world—including the Christian world—found itself quickly polarized. Most people considered the Brown situation messy, unclear and a “bad case” for establishing justice. A week later, the Staten Island grand jury failed to indict an officer in the choking death of Eric Garner. The video evidence and the illegality of the evidence led parties long divided to chorally decry the injustice.
Here’s the thing: Bible-believing Christians have a repeated mandate to “not pervert justice,” especially on behalf of the victimized (Exod. 22:16; 23:2; etc). If we are to prevent the perversion of justice, then as Christians we need to be most involved in the least clear situations. If we believe we have the mind of Christ, if we believe we bear the message of hope, if we believe ourselves to be salt and light in the world, then we must reveal that mind, deliver that message, and spread our salt and light where and when others are least likely to do so. We cannot retreat to the convenience of “neat” cases when the very nature of injustice is its messiness, its defiance of order, its stubborn insistence on not conforming to goodness and righteousness. Restricting ourselves to the tidy cases provides us more comfort and convenience, but it does nothing for the poor, oppressed and mistreated whose cases go unnoticed by video cameras or whose testimonies are challenged. I most want Christian minds and sensibilities where the world is most likely to get it wrong.
It’s good to partner wherever you can with whomever you can if in good conscience you agree. But sooner or later, there’ll be another messy case and this temporary unity will revert to the deeper disunity beneath. We had better have a deeper, biblical theology of humanity, love, justice and mercy to sustain us when it’s messy and when we disagree on this or that particular.