Thursday, November 27, 2014

Voices from the Right Respond to Ferguson

On August 9th, Michael Brown, a young African American man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, during an altercation in Ferguson, MO. As outrage over Brown's death mounted, Ferguson would become the focal point of a heated national discussion about race and police violence. The harsh response by local law enforcement to Ferguson demonstrators, including the arrest of journalists and the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and LRAD, was condemned by human rights organizations

On the evening of November 24th, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch announced that a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson. Local demonstrators protested the decision by blocking Interstate 44 and intersections in nearby Clayton, while other protests took place in cities across the U.S.. Despite pleas for peace by President Obama and Ferguson clergy, riots broke out in Ferguson, with images of looters and burning buildings dominating the news. Many Ferguson business owners found their businesses vandalized or destroyed the next day.

Observers from across the political spectrum have offered commentary on the grand jury's decision and the Ferguson riots, and the Religious Right is no exception. While some figures from the right have called for unity, others have used recent events to criticize the left and the media.

First, two voices from the Southern Baptist Convention have called for unity and justice following the grand jury decision. In a commentary piece entitled "Ferguson and the Path to Peace" SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore laments that racial tensions still plague America. "The tension [in Ferguson] ought to remind us, as the church, that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us," he wrote. Moore calls for racial unity and recognition of all people as part of the Body of Christ.
"So what should we do? In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?

The answer for the Body of Christ starts with a robust doctrine of the church lived out in local congregations under the lordship of Christ. The reason white and black Americans often view things so differently is because white and black Americans often live and move in different places, with different cultural lenses. In the church, however, we belong to one another. We are part of one Body."
Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminar, acknowledged the existence of flawed systems in America and promoted a message of racial justice. In a transcript of a November 25th podcast, Mohler praised President Obama for urging restraint and calm following the grand jury announcement. Mohler seemed to take African American complaints of institutional racism seriously, urging Christians to demand accountability and justice from fallible institutions.
"...There are many people who are saying the system is broken. Well in one sense, Christians understand that every system is only as good as the human beings fragile frail and sometimes downright faulty involved in the process. There is no perfect system, not humanly speaking, because human beings are involved in it. And this means that some of the accusations and concerns coming from the African-American community have to be taken very seriously. Christians should be at the forefront of demanding that these concerns be thoroughly vetted, heard, and considered, because after all we do know that as important as these systems are, every system indeed breaks down at the very fallibility of human beings. It is no insult to the system, it is no insult to the society, to make very clear that we have to watch continually that we’re living up to our ideals – including the ideal of equal standing, equal justice, before the law."
Mohler also expressed disapproval of the Ferguson riots, writing that "the kind of reform, the kind of improvement in justice that is needed in our society cannot be brought about by flaunting that form of justice with the kind of injustice that was seen on the streets."
"The rule of law cannot be improved, nor corrected – much less reformed – by lawlessness. And the subversion of the rule of law on the streets of Missouri last night is a refutation of the claim that this is being done in the name of justice."
However, other Religious Right voices were quick to criticize Michael Brown, the left, and the media following the grand jury announcement. For example, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer spoke approvingly of the grand jury's decision. In the November 25th edition of Focal Point, Fischer discussed the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson, speculating that Michael Brown was under demonic influence during his encounter with Wilson. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"I think that at this point there was a demonic presence that was operating inside Michael Brown's body, activating him, energizing him, driving him forward in this homicidal rage. So when he says he looked like a demon, I think that's because he was looking into the eyes of a demon that was driving Michael Brown to do what he did."
Fischer described Brown's death as a "tragedy" and a "heartbreak" because of his "wasted potential", but added that he saw Brown as responsible for his own demise.
"Who is to blame here? Who's fault is this that this young life has been snuffed out? I think you look at the evidence, you have to say, well, I think we're going to have to expect Michael Brown to take full responsibility for his own death."
American Family Association news director Fred Jackson also weighed in on the grand jury decision. During the November 25th edition of Sandy Rios in the Morning, Jackson expressed disapproval of the Ferguson riots and denied that Wilson's actions were motivated by Brown's race. Jackson spoke several times about absolute truth and moral responsibility, arguing that truth is "under attack today" with regard to the public response to the Brown case. (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)
"Absolute truth is defined by scripture, the Bible, God’s word. That’s how it’s defined, and when you violate that, there are consequences. Now you may get away with it for a while, for a period, but God says there will be consequences ... When you do not have a dad figure around, there is not someone there in authority to demonstrate there are consequences to violating the rules. If you don’t have that presence in the family, you’re going to have problems."
In a November 25th commentary piece at the National Review, Dennis Prager called for "moral clarity" regarding racial tensions in the U.S.
"For decades now, we have been told that there is a black–white divide regarding how members of each race perceive racial matters in America. The problem with this belief that is that it renders moral judgment — of white police, of black crime and black incarceration rates, of white judges and jurors, and of black riots and protests — impossible ... Many blacks see racism almost everywhere — especially in arrest, conviction, and incarceration rates, and in white police interactions with blacks. On the other hand, whites (specifically, whites who are not on the left) think that white racism has largely been conquered, and therefore blacks’ disproportionately high arrest and conviction rates are the result of black behavior – particularly the high out-of-wedlock birth rate that has deprived the great majority of black children of fathers – not white racism."
Prager criticizes those who fail to condemn the Ferguson riots, as well as those who look at the Brown case through a racial lens. He calls current race attitudes "damaging", arguing that such attitudes ignore "objective truth and moral truth". Prager blasts liberals for supposedly treating truth and morality as subjective, writing that, "For every black and every white unwilling to condemn the protests over Michael Brown’s killing that took place before any relevant facts came out, their half-hearted condemnation of the riots notwithstanding, truth doesn’t matter."

In a November 24th column at Red State, Erick Erickson points to the Ferguson unrest and writes that "This is what happens when everything becomes political," adding that "Michael Brown’s death should not be political." He complains that many Americans cannot have honest conversations about the Brown case because of "too many agendas" at work. Many factions (especially the media) want to inflame tensions, Erickson argues, making it unlikely that issues surrounding race and the Brown case will be resolved any time soon.
"The sad truth is that too many young black men have been, for so long, told they are victims that they’ve started acting as if they are not responsible for their actions and that society is out to get them.

And you know what?

In a lot of cases, it is true. Society is out to get them. Instead of judging them individually, police and others judge young black men collectively. In a group? Probably up to no good, whether it is true or not.

Conservatives have a tendency to say young black men need to rise so far about the stereotyped behavior they cannot be blamed. Liberals say that is unfair. And the truth is that in some cases they could rise as close to the standard of Jesus as possible and some policeman somewhere still might pull them over.

If only we could all rely on our better angels. But I am a pessimist on this issue. Too many people on both sides have too much of an incentive to keep tensions going. It is a TV ratings bonanza for cable news and reality shows. Too many profit off it."
Erickson accepted the grand jury's decision not to indict Wilson. "The facts and witnesses show that Michael Brown was a thief. The facts and witnesses show Officer Wilson was doing his job," he wrote.

To watch key videos related to the grand jury decision, visit the following links.

CNN: Ferguson grand jury announcement

C-SPAN: President Obama on Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

Vice: Highlights from Live Coverage in Ferguson, Missouri


  1. There is such a wide gulf between the reasoned religious voices that call for peace and accountability, and those religious voices that use their platforms to spin the facts in a way that validates their beliefs while fomenting division. Thank you for highlighting those differences, Ahab. It's a good reminder that not all people of faith are divisive and exclusionary.

    1. Agi Tater -- I've been pleasantly surprised at how measured some Religious Right responses have been. In other good news, progressive and moderate religious voices are also calling for peace in the wake of Ferguson.


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