Timelines and Bloodlines

It turns out that the shift along racial lines among evangelical and Reformed Protestants is remarkably recent. Some have objected to seeing 2014 as the turning point, but Jemar Tisby seems to provide the smoking gun:

remembering Brown on the five-year anniversary of his killing would be incomplete without acknowledging the impact that this tragedy had on race relations within American evangelicalism.

I know how that day and the subsequent events affected my faith and my relation to those who I once thought of as my spiritual family.

Six days after Brown’s killing, I wrote for the first time publicly about my traumatic encounters with the police.

Every black man I know has harrowing stories of being pulled over, searched, handcuffed or even held at gunpoint. When I encouraged readers to “pause to consider the level and extent of injustice that many blacks have experienced at the hands of law enforcement officers,” the responses disclosed a deep divide.

Tisby goes on to talk about the criticism that he and other African-American evangelicals for questioning police brutality. He then observes:

Black Christians like me and many others began a “quiet exodus” from white evangelical congregations and organizations. We distanced ourselves both relationally and ideologically from a brand of Christianity that
seemed to revel in whiteness.

Now, after this quiet exodus, we find ourselves wandering in a sort of wilderness. Some are rediscovering the black church tradition and moving in that direction for healing and solidarity. Others, often by necessity, have remained in white evangelical spaces but with a new degree of caution. Some of us still don’t have a faith community to call home.

In sum:

Brown and Ferguson highlighted that when it comes to some parts of conservative evangelicalism, whiteness is not a bug, it’s a feature.

Who can judge another’s personal experience? I do not doubt that 2014 was traumatic for Tisby and many African-Americans, though I still don’t see the issue of police brutality as simply indicative of a black-white divide in the United States. In the hyphenated world in which all Christians live, it seems possible to support in general the functions of the police and oppose racism. In other words, opposition to racism should not be synonymous with hostility to law enforcement. I could well imagine, for instance, someone supporting Robert Mueller’s investigation (part of law enforcement) of the 2016 presidential election and detesting racism.

What is a problem, though, is to write a book with a tone of exasperation that white Christians just don’t get it. Not only does Tisby in his book fault white Christians for being tone deaf to race today. He adds that this is the way it has always been. The white church has been racist and always oblivious.

But if it took 2014 for an African-American Christian to see the problem, might not Tisby also have empathy for those who are five years late?

Meanwhile, to John Piper’s credit, his book on racism came out in 2011. He did not need cops in Ferguson, Missouri to see what Tisby saw three years later. Here is how Collin Hansen reviewed Piper’s book:

Tim Keller writes in his foreword that conservative evangelicals “seem to have become more indifferent to the sin of racism during my lifetime” (11). That would indeed be a major problem, since conservative evangelicals have been responsible for so much of the institutional racism of the last 60 or so years. Piper saw racism in the form of Southern segregation. The church of his youth voted in 1962 to ban blacks from attending services. His mother, however, opposed this motion. Piper’s experience explains the burden for writing this book, in which he argues, “Only Jesus can bring the bloodlines of race into the single bloodline of the cross and give us peace” (14). No political platform, lecture series, listening session, or economic program can cure what ails us. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sin and make our diverse society whole again. Sadly, white Christians have so often perpetuated racism that we’ve largely lost the moral authority to help our neighbors confront and overcome this sin.

Bloodlines opens with a brief recap of racial history in the United States focused on the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and his masterful writing, particularly “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” This historical jaunt may indicate Piper anticipates a youthful readership who did not live through these events. Or maybe he believes the race problem is worse than ever. He writes, “There are probably more vicious white supremacists in America today than there were in 1968” (27).

Either way, no one can argue the church has made sufficient progress on race. Sunday mornings remain largely self-segregated. But Piper sells himself short as a credible leader when it comes to racial reconciliation. He and his church have made commendable and costly investments to live out what they profess about the gospel that unites Jews and Gentiles. I would have gladly read much more than a few appendix pages on Bethlehem’s experience of trial and error. We need theology that exalts the work of Jesus, and we also need examples from churches that have enjoyed God’s gracious favor in the form of racial diversity and harmony.

With Keller and Piper alert to the problem of racism in white Protestant circles in 2011, Tisby’s dating of the racial rift is curious. It is hard to believe he was not reading Keller and Piper.

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Conversations Fifty Years Ago

You think having them today is rough, consider Wendell Berry’s experience:

While at Stanford, Berry witnessed several outdoor meetings called by black students for the purpose of establishing a Black Studies program on campus. In Berry’s recollection, the meetings were what historian Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn has called a “harangue-flagellation” ritual in which the black students condemned the white students and faculty for their racism and the whites in attendance nodded in agreement mixed with occasional applause.[30] In another situation on campus, Berry found himself in the middle of a civil rights protest. When a student in the protest heard Berry ask his companion a question in his Kentucky drawl what was going on, his accent prompted the response, “You damned well better find out!”

Berry thought there was no way for him to speak meaningfully in that context, and so The Hidden Wound is what he would have said had the moment allowed it. He wrote it during the winter break in the Bender Room at Stanford University’s Green Library. The essay was motivated by the feeling that the civil rights milieu at the time was at a stalemate and would stay there if the focus on power eclipsed other possible ends. Though Berry agreed that racism was a moral evil and political problem, he thought the most visible sentiments guiding these events were dangerous. Just as in his writing about agriculture, nature, and land—and in his, “A Statement Against the War in Vietnam,” delivered at the University of Kentucky the winter before—he fought abstractions and the separations that oversimplify: of means and ends, of thought and emotion, intentions and actions.

He wrote that the “speakers and hearers seemed to be in perfect agreement that the whites were absolutely guilty of racism, and that the blacks where absolutely innocent of it. They were thus absolutely divided by their agreement.” In his interview with hooks he said more simply: “I thought guilt and anger were the wrong motives for a conversation about race.” People can be more “dependably motivated by a sense of what would be desirable than by a sense of what has been deplorable.” By arguing that power is a necessary part of the discussion, but no more necessary than love, Berry refused the false dichotomy between structure and personal responsibility. During the demonstrations, in contrast, “one felt the possibility of an agreement of sorts, but nowhere the possibility of the mutual recognition of a common humanity, or the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, or the possibility of love.”

So why is it that adding Jesus to discussions of racism only heightens a sense of what is deplorable?

Yet, even some activists are willing to listen to Berry:

The Hidden Wound, an extended essay in which Berry traced the grim legacy of slavery and racism in Kentucky, and his family’s role in the perpetuation of these evils, was the result. The book was not widely read on publication in 1970, but it has been granted a second life through republication and the sustained admiration of poet, essayist, and activist bell hooks, another Kentuckian who went to Stanford a decade after Berry and later, partly due to Berry’s influence, returned to Kentucky. Since she returned to Kentucky to teach at Berea College in 2004, hooks has been teaching from The Hidden Wound and wrote a sustained reflection on it in Belonging: A Culture of Place. An interview with Berry follows the reflection.

Why the Personal is not Political

President Obama explained why policy is such a poor instrument for addressing something as personal as race relations:

But this is always one of the challenges of politics: It can never capture all the complexity and contradictions in life. So you end up having to try to be true in a way that can be consumed for a mass audience, but you’re always missing some elements of it. You’re always leaving some things out.

And that’s part of the reason why race is such a difficult thing to deal with in politics, because the evolution of racial identity, racial relationships, institutional racism, is never similar. The trajectory, I believe, has been positive. But anything you say on the topic of race, there’s a counterargument, there’s an exception, there’s a nuance. There’s a, Wait, hold on a minute, how about that? And that’s part of the reason why, I think, it creates frustration. It’s also why it’s easy to demagogue. It’s also why situations that look ambiguous can lead to people dividing into camps very quickly.

Justice is one thing. Politeness is another.

Did President Obama Throw Malcolm X Under the Bus?

Now that the missus and I are three seasons into West Wing, I understand that the nation’s presidents cannot say whatever is on their mind. They need to spin for so many different reasons. It’s almost like watching Tom Reagan in Millers’ Crossing.

Even so, President Obama seems to have once again provided a cliched account of Islam in the United States that “makes the rough places plain” so to speak:

Islam has always been part of America. Starting in colonial times, many of the slaves brought here from Africa were Muslim. And even in their bondage, some kept their faith alive. A few even won their freedom and became known to many Americans. And when enshrining the freedom of religion in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, our Founders meant what they said when they said it applied to all religions.

Back then, Muslims were often called Mahometans. And Thomas Jefferson explained that the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom he wrote was designed to protect all faiths — and I’m quoting Thomas Jefferson now — “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan.” (Applause.)

Jefferson and John Adams had their own copies of the Koran. Benjamin Franklin wrote that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.” (Applause.) So this is not a new thing.

Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation. They were part of the flow of immigrants who became farmers and merchants. They built America’s first mosque, surprisingly enough, in North Dakota. (Laughter.) America’s oldest surviving mosque is in Iowa. The first Islamic center in New York City was built in the 1890s. Muslim Americans worked on Henry Ford’s assembly line, cranking out cars. A Muslim American designed the skyscrapers of Chicago.

In 1957, when dedicating the Islamic center in Washington, D.C., President Eisenhower said, “I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution … and in American hearts…this place of worship, is just as welcome…as any other religion.” (Applause.)

And perhaps the most pertinent fact, Muslim Americans enrich our lives today in every way. They’re our neighbors, the teachers who inspire our children, the doctors who trust us with our health — future doctors like Sabah. They’re scientists who win Nobel Prizes, young entrepreneurs who are creating new technologies that we use all the time. They’re the sports heroes we cheer for -— like Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon. And by the way, when Team USA marches into the next Olympics, one of the Americans waving the red, white and blue — (applause) — will a fencing champion, wearing her hijab, Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is here today. Stand up. (Applause.) I told her to bring home the gold. (Laughter.) Not to put any pressure on you. (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans keep us safe. They’re our police and our firefighters. They’re in homeland security, in our intelligence community. They serve honorably in our armed forces — meaning they fight and bleed and die for our freedom. Some rest in Arlington National Cemetery. (Applause.)

So Muslim Americans are some of the most resilient and patriotic Americans you’ll ever meet.

In many ways I salute the president for trying to make Islam part of the American narrative but I worry that his story line is one that suits Rotary or the Chamber of Commerce better than a president who ran and won in part because he is African-American. For blacks in the 1950s and 1960s, people that the president’s in-laws would well know (and possibly were), Islam looked more like a way to dissent from the nation’s racism and segregation than it did an on-ramp to the American mainstream. The tension between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. was all about the dilemmas that integration posed for blacks who wanted a separate identity from the one King was cultivating:

“You don’t integrate with a sinking ship.” This was Malcolm X’s curt explanation of why he did not favor integration of blacks with whites in the United States. As the chief spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim organization led by Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X argued that America was too racist in its institutions and people to offer hope to blacks. The solution proposed by the Nation of Islam was a separate nation for blacks to develop themselves apart from what they considered to be a corrupt white nation destined for divine destruction.

In contrast with Malcolm X’s black separatism, Martin Luther King, Jr. offered what he considered “the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest” as a means of building an integrated community of blacks and whites in America. He rejected what he called “the hatred and despair of the black nationalist,” believing that the fate of black Americans was “tied up with America’s destiny.” Despite the enslavement and segregation of blacks throughout American history, King had faith that “the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God” could reform white America through the nonviolent Civil Rights Movement.

Of course, the experience of most Muslims in the U.S. — namely, immigrants from the Middle East — is distinct from that of descendants of American slaves (like Michelle Obama). But a reminder about Islam’s plausible appeal to black separatists seems necessary for doing justice to both the history of Islam and African-American life in the U.S.

Update: And what would President Obama say to Muhammad Ali, a Baptist turned Muslim, who said this about the U.S. military when refusing to serve in Vietnam?

But who is this white man, no older than me, appointed by another white man, all the way to the white man in the White House? Who is he to tell me to go to Asia, Africa, or anywhere else in the world to fight people who never threw a rock at me or America? Who is this descendant of slave masters to order a descendant of slaves to fight other people in their own country?

That Clears It Up (for the PCA)

Among the matters that Greg Jao, vice president of InterVarsity, clarified to Rod Dreher:

You state that Michelle Higgins spoke as a representative of BlackLivesMatter. That is not correct. Michelle Higgins primary affiliation from Urbana’s perspective is as a minister of South City Church, a PCA congregation which engages in justice activism in St. Louis as part of its ministry. She spoke as a Christian minister (who does affirm our Doctrinal Basis) from the St. Louis area who has worked alongside the BlackLivesMatter movement. The distinction is important.

Bearing Each Other's Burden

Jeremy Jemar (apologies) Tisby is another African-American pastor in Reformed circles who is both attempting to plant a mixed race church within the PCA (Jackson, Mississippi) and is concerned about if not agitated by the ongoing effects of racism in the United States. He recently wrote about an effort to do Reformed theology from an “indigenous” or African-American perspective.

On the one hand, he invoked a common Black Protestant trope of identifying with the Israelites:

So how does one endure as a Christian in the midst of oppression or the challenges of life as a minority? The Bible has much to say about this. At the LDR Weekend we were pointed to passages in the Old Testament that told about the oppression of whole people groups. The Jews in Egypt, the Jews in Babylonian Exile, the faithful ones in the book of Judges, poor and confused Job. In each of these instances and more, we see that the people of God cried out to their Lord for deliverance. In each instance, God delivered them or promised an ultimate Deliverer. We learn from them that believers are not called to passively endure oppression but resist it biblically knowing that true and final justice comes from the Lord alone.

On the other hand, Pastor Tisby attempted broached the subject of “imposed sin”:

While I have often heard sermons or read blogs or books about perseverance in the midst of personal sin, I have seldom heard how to persevere as a racial minority. Evangelical and Reformed Christians have much more experience applying theology to issues of personal piety. Thus it is common to talk about perseverance in the face of the constant temptation to sin. We are indeed called to holiness and righteous works. So perseverance in holiness is certainly a valid and needed application. But there are further applications.

At the LDR Weekend, I heard pastors and other leaders talk about perseverance not in regards to indwelling sin but in regards to imposed sin. Imposed sin is unrighteousness that is forced upon a person or people group by another person or people group. Imposed sin is oppression, and African Americans have endured much of it.

In both of these cases, Tisby distinguishes the experience of African-Americans from white-Americans. What he does not consider is the solidarity that exists between the races in both of these instances. On the one hand, white believers identify (maybe not as much as African-Americans) with the Israelites in both exodus and exile. Just because I am part of the so-called majority in the United States does not mean I identify with Pharoah or Nebuchadnezzar. Even if I am systematically part of an oppressing group or set of structures, can’t it be the case that the Israelites’ story has as much significance for me as an alien and exile as it does for Pastor Tisby? Arguably, the greatest instance of oppression was the execution of Jesus. Imagining white believers who identify with Pilate is simply unimaginable.

On the other hand, if African-Americans experience imposed sin at so many levels of American society and church life, which I do not doubt, I wonder why Pastor Tisby would seek a theological education at a school (RTS) and ordination in a communion (PCA) that both have had their moments with racism. This is not meant as a cheap shot either at RTS, the PCA, or Pastor Tisby. I am simply curious about the degree to which an African-American becomes responsible for or part of institutionally imposed sin — by virtue of belonging to the institution or social group that embodies such discrimination.

I am sure that Pastor Tisby is aware of the position of black separatists like Malcolm X who believed blacks needed to opt out of an American society so tainted by racist policies and systematic oppression of blacks. I am not insinuating that Tisby should adopt a separatist strategy. But I do wonder when he by virtue of his membership in an institution like the PCA becomes responsible, like his white fellow church officers and members, for any measure or structure of racism that still exists within his communion.

As always, comments are open.

Degrees of Pain

Ligon Duncan links to a piece by Bryan Loritts on his reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown. Loritts explains why others need to hear him about his pain:

If you sense exasperation from we African-American’s over yet another news story of a black man slain at the hands of a white man, this is a wonderful opportunity to grab some coffee and seek to understand our hearts. I need my white brothers to know how I felt as I sat in the preaching classes in Bible college and seminary not once hearing examples of great African-American preachers. I need you to know how I felt when I was forced face down on the hard asphalt of Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, 1993 all because I was nineteen and driving my pastor’s Lexus, a year after the Rodney King riots. I need you to ask how I felt when I walked into a Target recently behind a white woman who took one look at me and pulled her purse tightly.

I wonder, though, if Mr. Loritts feels this death the way Michael Brown’s family and friends do. I understand that an African-American male may be able to imagine what Michael Brown experienced before being shot in ways that white Americans cannot. But I wonder if Mr. Loritts distracts us from a much deeper pain when he likens this news to his own experience. Not to sound disrespectful, but Michael Brown’s experience seems to me to be in a fundamentally different category from Mr. Loritts’. One man is dead, the other is alive. Recognizing that difference may help a lot of people on both sides of the racial divide remember the family and friends in this situation who lost a loved one. Heck, some of those family and friends may even be of European, Asian, or Latino descent.

Comments Are Open

Leon Brown wants to have a conversation about race at a blog where comments are always closed. So let me help him out — servant serving servers I am — by opening up comments at a site where even spammers get through.

Brown’s post about the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the subsequent interview with Scott Clark has me puzzled and that is why I would like to open the comments.

First, I’m not sure I recognize myself as an American of European descent in Brown’s post. On the one hand, he acknowledges whiteness and says that whites should not be ashamed:

Let’s be transparent: the majority of both readership and authorship on this blog are white. Do not be ashamed that you are white. I am unashamed of this visible difference. You should be unashamed, too, and take great pride in God’s creative genius to create us visually different. Yet, simply because we are in Christ does not flatten the beauty of ethnic and cultural distinctions that we maintain. Galatians 3:27-29 provides no grounds for such a conclusion.

That’s all well and good but then Leon goes on to mention white perceptions or treatment of blacks that should make every white American very ashamed:

With these ethnic and cultural distinctions, therefore, we may see the Mike Brown proceeding through a different lens. For some of us this simply highlights what we have always known, or at least believed, to be true: young black men are unsafe in this nation. For others, perhaps some of you, especially if you have been following this event, may wonder, “Why do they (i.e., African-Americans) have to make everything about race?” Based on your observations, you have concluded that blacks, and/or other minorities, unnecessarily pull the proverbial race card. Some African-Americans, or other sub-dominant cultures, might respond, “Why do whites always dismiss the possibility that race, or ethnicity, was a motivating factor in said event?” . . .

Consider the recent and ongoing immigration debate. How has it affected you? What do you think when you see a Spanish speaking image-bearer, one who knows, or at least it is assumed, very little English? What has caused your conclusions? Do you remain unaffected by the outcry of some in the media who thrust names on them, such as, “illegal,” “unwanted immigrant,” or “wetback”? The point of the news, while to inform, is also to sway opinion, and I think we may lack transparency if we claim we are not, at least in part, somehow affected by what some branches of the media portray about immigration.

The same can be stated about African-Americans. For years in this nation, African-Americans have been, and continue to be, portrayed in shrouds of untruth. “We are lazy, good-for-nothings,” some have and do say. “We are animals,” it has been said. Or in the words of PCUS minister, Benjamin Palmer (1818-1902), “The worst foes of the black race are those who have intermeddled on their behalf. We know better than others that every attribute of their character fits them for dependence and servitude. By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they are also the most helpless.”

I don’t deny that these attitudes exist or that they are worthy of shame. But Leon doesn’t seem to understand that whenever he (and others) bring up race in ways that shame whites, he introduces a one-way street of discomfort. Whites do and should feel uncomfortable. But Leon doesn’t seem to show any awareness that such an uncomfortable subject may shut down conversation — sort of like a wife wanting to talk to her adulterous husband about his affair; what do you say, “honey, let’s talk more about how I betrayed you”? In which case, what kind of conversation does Leon want?

One way to facilitate conversation might be for Leon to notice at least two segments of his white audience — those who are racist and those who don’t think they are (though they may harbor some residue of prejudice), don’t generally make stupid comments to black pastors, and who empathize with black frustrations and resentment. If Leon wanted to have a conversation with the second of these groups, what good does it do to bring up insensitive remarks? Doesn’t this miss the target? But if the former group, doesn’t the introduction of matters that should cause embarrassment (or require explanation of why it’s embarrassing) — again — shut the conversation down?

Another question worthy of conversation, it seems to me, is whether Leon would be interested in discussing the black church and its own lack of integration. I don’t raise this as a tit for tat. I have great admiration for African-American Protestants. Here you have a group of Americans disproportionately Protestant compared to Americans of European descent. Here’s is what a Pew survey found:

The Landscape Survey also finds that nearly eight-in-ten African-Americans (79%) say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56% among all U.S. adults. In fact, even a large majority (72%) of African-Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular faith say religion plays at least a somewhat important role in their lives; nearly half (45%) of unaffiliated African-Americans say religion is very important in their lives, roughly three times the percentage who says this among the religiously unaffiliated population overall (16%). Indeed, on this measure, unaffiliated African-Americans more closely resemble the overall population of Catholics (56% say religion is very important) and mainline Protestants (52%).

Additionally, several measures illustrate the distinctiveness of the black community when it comes to religious practices and beliefs. More than half of African-Americans (53%) report attending religious services at least once a week, more than three-in-four (76%) say they pray on at least a daily basis and nearly nine-in-ten (88%) indicate they are absolutely certain that God exists. On each of these measures, African-Americans stand out as the most religiously committed racial or ethnic group in the nation. Even those African-Americans who are unaffiliated with any religious group pray nearly as often as the overall population of mainline Protestants (48% of unaffiliated African-Americans pray daily vs. 53% of all mainline Protestants). And unaffiliated African-Americans are about as likely to believe in God with absolute certainty (70%) as are mainline Protestants (73%) and Catholics (72%) overall.

These same African-Americans profess the faith (though in separate communions) that their former masters and oppressors used against them. It would make more sense to me if I were African-American to be a Muslim than to be a Baptist, Methodist, or Pentecostal. Why have anything to do with the religion that white Protestants used to justify slavery and segregation? But for some reason, African-Americans remain a devout people.

The strength and institutional significance of the black church means that establishing mixed race churches as Leon wants to do may be akin to integrating Major League Baseball. With Jackie Robinson’s joining the Dodgers also came the beginning of the end of the Negro Leagues. No offense to Leon, but I doubt his efforts will bring an end to the black church. But the idea of attracting African-Americans to white churches does raise a few additional questions for the desired conversation.

Do the African-Americans who come to Presbyterians churches leave black churches or are they converts? In other words, how much sheep stealing may be involved in trying to integrate white churches? And if some respond that we want African-American Baptists and Holiness folks to leave the churches and come to the best expression of Christianity (Reformed Protestantism), then can we lay off the Machen’s-warrior-children put down of confessional Presbyterians who raise questions about whether Baptists or evangelicals are Reformed? I for one welcome support for the Reformed cause. But to be militant about Reformed Protestantism in discussions about race relations can raise another delicate subject — namely, whether the black church is good enough. It may not be (from the perspective of the Reformed confessions), but what white Protestant who does not want to insult fellow Americans or professing Christians wants to argue that black churches need to be more like white Reformed ones?

A final question that deserves comment is why Leon decided to make further remarks about race in the highly charged context of the Michael Brown slaying. Since his post was personal let me be as well. The news of apparent police brutality carried out again against a black young man was deeply discouraging. Leon uses the word, “unfortunate.” I’ll use “tragic.” I cannot imagine the grief to his parents, siblings, friends, teachers, and neighbors, nor the fear of living with police that appear to be capable of such actions, nor the resentment that a minority people that has taken lots of hits now having to endure another. But this incident also sent me looking for news about the St. Louis neighborhood, Mark Brown himself, and even church life in Ferguson. Well, aren’t I special. But why didn’t Leon try to present more information about the incident and aftermath? Why did this piece remind him to remind us that American Protestants are still divided by race?

For that reason the piece about Ferguson that American Conservative posted might have been more instructive and even hopeful than Leon’s post:

Adam Weinstein put it more bluntly at Gawker. “The U.S. armed forces exercise more discipline and compassion than these cops.” He cites the first page of the Army’s field manual on civil disturbances, which emphasizes proportional, nuanced responses. “Inciting a crowd to violence or a greater intensity of violence by using severe enforcement tactics must be avoided.” The manual also notes that “highly emotional social and economic issues” inform such disturbances, and that “it takes a small (seemingly minor) incident” to set off violence “if community relations with authorities are strained.”

Unlike the military, who are trained in nonviolent options for conflict resolution, the police often lack such knowledge. Bonnie Kristian expounded this failure and reasons behind systematic police brutality earlier this summer, noting also that cops are rarely held accountable for abuse. “Only one out of every three accused cops are convicted nationwide, while the conviction rate for civilians is literally double that.”

The entrenched racial injustice behind Michael Brown’s death will be difficult to root out, as it has been over centuries of American history. But the decades of policy that allowed for police abuse of Brown, and his town’s peaceful protesters, could be reversed—and if the public outcry over Ferguson is anything to judge by, Americans will be keeping a closer eye on the police in the coming years.

Let me be direct: Leon, some of us white American Presbyterians (vinegary though we be) want to know what to do. We want to be good neighbors and good fellow presbyters. As the American Conservative piece indicates, racial injustice and racial prejudice are hard to transform. But trying to curtail police abuse sure seems like a policy and social good. That might not help with planting mixed race churches. But churches may be beside the point in instances like this, or if they are part of the point, American Protestantism is a whole lot more complicated than churches separated along racial lines.