As violence and rioting continues in Ferguson, Missouri today after last night's not-guilty verdict, some Christians are offering their own take on what the decision, and its consequences mean for fellow believers.
Last night at around 9 p.m. EST, a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown back in August. The period leading up to this grand jury decision has been engulfed in racial tension, considering the officer is white and the victim was black. But it's last night's decision that turned the Missouri town into what some are already calling a war zone.
CNN reports that "at least 100" gun shots were heard during the night, while St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar insists that none were fired by police. "An entire row of businesses on West Florissant Avenue, a major thoroughfare, were engulfed in flames," CNN reports. "Police cars and a row of vehicles at a nearby dealership were turned into fireballs. There were so many infernos that firefighters couldn't get to every one."
So how are we, as Christians, meant to respond to such a major event?
In an opinion piece over at Christianity Today, editorialist Ed Stetzer has some advice. "I think it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk a little less and listen a little more," he said. "Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn't be upset and spend more time asking why some are."
Many Christians are citing one important Bible verse for this ordeal that sums up God's view fairly well: James 1:19. "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry," the verse says.
While no deaths have yet to be reported during the riots, there were six people treated and released between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. EST at St Louis' Christian Hospital.
Riots first erupted in Ferguson when news of the shooting death first hit the public back on August 9. Protesters took to the streets, but a quick Christian response was at least partially responsible for calming things down a bit.
A tent was erected in Ferguson for a daily 8 to 10 hours of worship and praise as part of the "Ferguson Response" movement last month. Spokesman Jonathan Tremaine Thomas commented on the importance of faith and understanding in these times of anger. "In these deeply intense confrontational environments there are a lot of agendas, a lot of ideological groups have gathered to this place to further their agendas," he said. "But we have an ancient agenda, and that is the transformation of the human heart through the gospel of Jesus Christ."
Paula Fuller, InterVarsity Vice President and Director of Multiethnic Ministries, agrees. "The events in Ferguson, and the broader social discourse, serve as a test for our core value of ethnic reconciliation and justice," she said.
"We want to establish something like a missions base there," Thomas adds. "And so we want to provide an avenue for that for anyone who feels compelled to come and visit and serve practically, anyone who feels maybe led to come and minister or be agents of reconciliation, counseling, different things."
If you'd like to sign up to spread the message of the gospel in Ferguson, head over to FergusonResponse.com to show your interest.