On Aug. 9, 2014, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb half an hour from Covenant Seminary’s campus. The following reflection on that incident and the ensuing events is from Covenant Seminary’s Dean of Students Dr. Mike Higgins.
The recent situation in Ferguson has brought out a lot of emotions and actions that seem to have taken most of the United States by surprise. However, I believe that most black people in the country would say that there are “Fergusons” in many places in the nation, so this was bound to happen somewhere.
Although the majority of blacks were disappointed by the looting and the unwillingness to end nighttime protests that served to distract the country from real issues of justice and peace, we are not surprised by the rhetoric of race. Black folks know that they are not the privileged race, and when this becomes evident — by an alleged act of police brutality or racial profiling — they move toward a boiling point. This time the pot boiled over.
Even as an African-American male who is educated at the doctoral level and has reached the rank of full colonel in the nation’s armed forces, I still deal with anger. But this anger is so deep that it is unexplainable. And when the anger is challenged — especially by a well-meaning white person — the anger just gets worse. It is like we want to say to that white person, “Do you really need me to explain it? What planet do you live on?”
Yes, I am angry, but I try to use this emotion to effect change through dialogue and events that build bridges between those who have chosen to build walls to protect themselves from others. As a pastor in a predominantly white denomination, I believe I am called to love and serve those whose ancestors may have owned my ancestors. The only way to actually function in this environment without wanting to knock somebody down is to listen to what the Gospel says about real reconciliation based on agape love. The Holy Spirit graciously reminds me of the redemption provided by Jesus to me, a sinner. Jesus gave His life for me; He chose to do it because He loved me. I have tried to hate white people, but I can’t seem to pull it off. Three of the eight men who have mentored me in my life are white guys. When I get angry about white stuff, they listen, give me room, and then take me out to a restaurant. Bottom line: It is a Jesus thing.
The Lord knows what it is like to lose a Son to violence. And amazingly, He is a friend of sinners, and He restores the fallen. May He restore this fallen community. Pray for the victim’s family members as they are continually reminded of their loss. Pray for the police officer involved, as he too is somebody’s son. This is an opportunity for the church to show unity in the midst of circumstances that might otherwise tear us apart racially and politically. But we are the church of the Living God; we will fall on our knees and hear the Holy Spirit declaring that God’s righteous justice and perfect peace will prevail.
Dr. Mike Higgins, Covenant Seminary dean of students, grew up in St. Louis. He served for many years as a U.S. Army chaplain (colonel) assigned to the Pentagon. In addition to overseeing the seminary’s Student Life team, he also serves as a lead pastor at South City Church in St. Louis.