I know I’m late in coming to this conversation publicly, but after a weekend of trying to respond individually to friends who posted things about Ferguson that ruffled my feathers, I realized I probably needed a place to get my thoughts together in a more cohesive way. Honestly, it was one article in particular that got posted over and over again that raised my hackles: The Gospel Coalition piece by Voddie Baucham. Mr. Baucham, a black man and a father of seven black sons and a preacher, wrote about the plight of black men, about racism, about individual responsibility and about fatherlessness. I am dramatically simplifying my reaction to his words because I want to get to a different point, but I will summarize by saying I don’t love Mr. Baucham’s piece because I think that it vastly and perhaps dangerously underplays the impact and possibly even the reality of systematic racism. That doesn’t mean that I disagree with every point he makes. Yes, fatherlessness is a huge factor in the ways families and societies function dysfunctionally. And certainly he is exhibiting Christ-like humility and forbearance with the advice that he gives his sons: “I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs.”
Though I don’t agree with everything he says, it was not Mr. Baucham’s opinions that got me most angry. Certainly he has a right to his perspective and he has a voice and a place in a conversation in which I may not have one. The reason I found myself exceedingly angry when so many of my friends posted his article on Facebook, some of them including statements about how this was “the best” or their “favorite” post on Ferguson, is because all of the people reposting the article were white. Many of Baucham’s points are directed at black people, challenging a response to fatherlessness and black-on-black crime from the black community. For a white person to post this as their preferred response to Ferguson seems to me the precise kind of behavior that Jesus was aiming at when he says, “ Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
I think the reason so many white people appreciated Baucham’s post is because he very (perhaps too) graciously didn’t place the weight of the responsibility for Ferguson on the shoulders of white people. He talked about his own experience in resisting vengeful or bitter attitudes regarding racism and he waved his hand in dismissal at any privileges and advantages that his white neighbor might have and literally said, “God bless him!” The reason so many white people liked Baucham’s post is because it allowed us to feel very, very comfortable. The problem is, I’m pretty sure white people shouldn’t leave any conversation about what’s happening in Ferguson feeling that comfortable. It seems inappropriate to me that Baucham’s post should be the thing that any white person posts and especially not as their end-all-be-all conclusion on this matter.
I had several friends ask me about my reaction to Ferguson. It’s hard to know what people mean by this. Usually it seems they want to know who I think is right and who is wrong. They want to know whether I thought it was Darren Wilson to blame or Michael Brown. They want to know whether I believe the looting and rioting is justifiable. They want to know whether I think that the criminal justice system is racist. Personally, despite all the pain and ignorance and anger that is coming out around these topics, I’m glad the conversation is happening. But I think white individuals will be wrong if our take-home message in any of this is that it’s some other group’s fault and some other group’s responsibility. I know that some of us white people living way up here in Minnesota are under the assumption that we didn’t do anything to make what happened in Ferguson, MO happen. I know I’ll leave some of my readers at the door when I say that I believe we DO have some responsibility. But if we care at all about justice or reconciliation or healing (and if you’re a Christian, you must)–even if we can only connect with what’s happening in Ferguson because of our own self-interest in living in a peaceful society– a wise and helpful activity would be to take a break from pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye and instead try taking the log out of our own.