by Franklin Graham and Dr. Amos Brown
Recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island are dividing our country along racial, political, economic and ideological lines in ways that are not sustainable. Finding areas of disagreement about two grand juries deciding not to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed men is easy — just watch five minutes of television news on almost any channel. Finding areas of agreement, however, may not be as difficult as we think—if we’ll spend another five minutes thinking…and simply talking to each other.
We, the authors of this piece, are unlikely allies in many ways. We are a white evangelical who is conservative both politically and theologically and a black, mainline Baptist with more liberal political and theological views. In fact, it was through conflict — a strong disagreement on presidential politics — that we first connected over a lunch meeting several years ago at which one of us was heavily outnumbered by national representatives of the NAACP. Yet through civil dialogue, several visits with each other, mutual respect and a common belief that Christ has the power to unite any two people, we have forged a special relationship. Indeed, we are good friends.
Certainly, we still disagree on many things, yet, invariably, our deliberations and energies are focused on areas where we can agree and how we can leverage our respective influence to do something productive — expand our common ground.
In 1958, during a sermon he preached at Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced, “I have come to the conclusion, as a minister, it is not enough for me to stand in the pulpit and preach about the souls of men; but I must also address the societal conditions that make people do bad things.” As ministers, we believe we need to constantly and boldly do both.
So, in light of controversial decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, what else can we agree on?
1. The problems of Ferguson and Staten Island are America’s problem. “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly,” Dr. King wrote from his Birmingham jail cell in 1963. He also addressed the urgency of the hour, proclaiming, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are faced with the urgency of now.”
2. None of us is always right — and none is always wrong. We believe we could all use a good dose of humility — we must avoid arrogance, even in our convictions.
3. We cannot begin to understand, let alone appreciate, an adversary we have never met or had a conversation with.
4. There is only one race in the eyes of God: the human race. Those who hold racial prejudices here on earth will not be happy in heaven, for the writer of Revelation describes the following scene there: “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne….” (Rev. 7: 9)
5. Violence is a wrong reaction — to anything. After the grand jury issued its decision not to indict the Ferguson police officer for the shooting death of Michael Brown, Brown’s father wisely said, “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.”
6. Justice ultimately comes from God. The Old Testament records, “For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18) Justice administered by man will always lack something. This, however, does not mean we should not continually strive for justice on earth. The Psalmist instructs us to, “Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy.” (Psalm 82:3)
7. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately the only answer for fallen man. Most of a society’s problems are really problems of the human heart; as ministers, we call this sin, and government doesn’t have the solution for that.
8. We must pray for our nation — for we believe prayer is more powerful than marching, lobbying and crusading.
On the eve of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as our 16th president. His inaugural address sounded a clarion call for reconciliation with seven states that had seceded from the Union. Explaining why majority rule had to be balanced by constitutional restraints in the American system, this great statesman appealed to a divided nation with these words: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
Today, more than 150 years removed from the conflict of Lincoln’s day, there is still unrest across our land. As we now prepare to celebrate Christmas, we pray that America will look to the God of our forefathers as the ultimate source of life, hope, peace and justice, for indeed, He is the great liberator.
Franklin Graham is president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. Amos Brown is pastor of San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church and a national board member of the NAACP.
SOURCE: USA Today