Photo: Tom Ferrara
This piece is written by my room mate Tim. He runs a small business in this city and belongs to a faith community rooted in the Wiccan Church of Canada. Here he responds to a reflection I wrote about why the local Evangelicals weren’t participating in a civil rights march.
I marched that night. I marched even tho I was, and still am, certain that a peaceful march would not cause even a tiny bit of change. I marched because I could do nothing else. I marched because an injury to one is an injury to all. I marched because the government claims to act in our names, and I needed to show them that such is not the case with me. Most importantly, I marched because my God commands Justice. I don’t know what god the evangelicals of Annapolis prayed to, or what he commands.
I was once told that the very definition of the adjective “evangelical” as it is applied to Christianity means a form of Christianity that is carried out from the church where it is preached and is practiced in the community beyond. Or so I’ve been told. I guess that the evangelicals of Annapolis know what they are about.
St. Francis of Assisi took his Christianity on the road, rejecting both ordination within the Church hierarchy and the order of St. Benedict, because to him locking his religion inside stone walls contradicts Matthew 10. Inspired by this passage, he went forth to evangelize. He was a true Evangelical. But the so-called evangelicals of Annapolis prayed for us. How nice.
Ian was very nice to the evangelicals of Annapolis, very conciliating. I don’t think that such was warranted.
He proposed some very excusable reasons why they might not have showed up, and every single one of those reasons is completely, thoroughly and totally wrong.
There is no moral ambiguity in the case of Mike Brown, except for the ambiguity created from the imagination of racist bigots who want an excuse to maintain their animus.
There are no bad people associated with the protests against the injustice of the Mike Brown case. There may be bad people who infiltrate or merely co-occupy with the protests, but they are not affiliated with them. And besides, this is Annapolis, a very boring town, and we like it that way.
“A gap in interpretation” is also called Heresy. The simple thing is, the mainline denominations read the entire Bible. It seems that the evangelicals of Annapolis are only reading part of it.
Let’s talk about the Mike Brown case. The Bible is full of accounts of injustice perpetrated by the established powers, through their courts, upon innocent individuals. From Paul and Silas, to the very Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Any person who accepts the decisions of officially constituted bodies without scrutiny is a fool, or worse. This is not to say that official bodies never do justice, or always do injustice. Rather, those bodies which have the potential for both justice and injustice and in between keep detailed records and publish detailed accounts of the reasoning as to how they reach their decisions. It is then incumbent upon all who love justice to scrutinise those decisions and records to determine whether justice was done, or something else.
In the case of Mike Brown, he never got his day in court. Instead, he was killed on the street. In our country, we are committed to the idea that every person is innocent until proven guilty. We also have a constitution which defines “proof of guilt” saying that a person can only be proven guilty by a legally constituted court, consisting of a Judge who is appointed by the executive and confirmed by the legislature, presiding over a Jury, composed of the peers of the defendant chosen from “the district wherein the crime shall have been committed”. Daren Wilson was neither a peer of Mike Brown, nor of the district where the alleged robbery was committed, nor was his decision presided over by a duly appointed Judge. Thus, Wilson usurped and stole the power that is reserved for the Judiciary. In the absence of a criminal trial by a Judge and Jury (or a confession), we must consider Mike Brown innocent of any robbery. To do anything else would be illegal and unconstitutional.
But Daren Wilson did not only usurp the authority of the Judiciary. He also usurped the Legislature. It is the task of the Legislature to determine what actions are crimes, and what is the proportionate and Just punishment for those crimes. If we take the least charitable (and, as above stated, illegal) view of Mike Brown, then at most he was guilty of petty robbery, misdemeanor assault, and contempt of the police. Actually, the last one is not a crime according to the Democratically elected Legislature. However, according to Daren Wilson, Contempt of Police is a capital offence. Contempt of Court is punished by jail sentences measured in hours, but Wilson, like Lamech, decided that an offence against himself should be punished far in excess of an offence against a legally constituted court, regardless of what the legislature has to say. Or, perhaps, Wilson killed Brown because he decided that shoplifting or pushing someone in the chest should be capital crimes. Whichever was the case, it is properly the task of the Legislature to make such decisions, but Wilson appointed himself to that task.
Wilson talked about how he feared that Brown would kill him. But let us remember that Brown was only one inch, and ten pounds larger than Wilson. I want the reader to try reaching their arms into the open window of an SUV and see what they do and do not have the strength to do. Wilson, in control of the SUV, could have easily escaped by flooring the gas pedal, by rolling the window up, or by not getting into that argument in the first place. After all, he reversed his truck to have a second conversation with Brown after he heard Brown verbally express contempt for the police. Since this argument lead to the killing, and was entirely unnecessary, we can blame Wilson for Browns death because he initiated that argument. If he had kept his pride in check, and kept a clear view on the law (which does not prohibit contempt of the police), then Brown would still be alive.
I see this as a straightforward case. I see Wilson as guilty of Brown’s death. But it is not my task to judge. That is the task of a criminal jury. If Wilson is innocent, then a jury should acquit him. This is precisely what the protest here in Annapolis was calling for: an independent Prosecutor to take the case in front of a criminal jury, where a real verdict could be reached.
This seems a perfect time to segue to discussing the protestors here in Annapolis and elsewhere. Annapolis is a very boring town, and the people who live here like it that way. The protests here in Annapolis were organized by the churches of the city. Organizations which all profess Christianity. Do the evangelicals of Annapolis have so little faith in their Brothers and Sisters in Christ? While it may be the case that bad people have used protests in other cities as cover to exercise their badness, how likely is that here in Annapolis?
Actually, let’s talk about Oakland, CA. In Oakland, there was a solidarity protest much like the one which happened here in Annapolis. Like the protest that happened here, no looting happened in Oakland, no thanks to the Police. The Police in that suburb of San Fran sent an undercover agent to try to incite looting. He said to one person after another “Hey, let’s grab some stuff!” (or something like it, I have no actual quote). No one agreed with him. Finally, someone realized that he was a cop, told everyone around them so, and the cop pulled his gun. There are some violent, dishonest thugs in this story, but none of them are protestors. Sure, there was some property destruction in Ferguson, but there is a 50 year history of the citizens of that jurisdiction feeling alienated and disenfranchised from their own homes. No wonder that they feel no urge to keep their town clean. While Annapolis has a history of segregation and injustice, it is nowhere near as bad as Ferguson, and so the likely hood of rioting and looting is FAR less than what it was there. Anyone who could not come to the same conclusion is not paying attention to this town in which they live.
But even if there was a risk of violence, that would make the protest even more worthwhile. When Martin Luther King Jr. led his movement, culminating in the passage and signing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, why do you think that civic leaders were willing to meet with King at all? Today, we remember him as a hero. At the time, he was just some “darkie” stirring up trouble. He had one thing going for him: Malcolm X. King’s representatives could say to civic leaders “If you do not talk to Mr. King, we will leave, and then Malcolm will come. We will not send him, we have nothing to do with his organization, but we can predict his actions, and he will be here.” (Or something like that, again, I do not have a direct quotation.) This fear of violence drove those civic leaders to accept those meetings, and the rest is history. Without a similar foil, the non-violent resistance of the Just will be ignored out of existence by the powers that be.
That is exactly what the Solidarity protestors are: the Just. We demand that Daren Wilson be tried by an independent prosecutor, one who will seek justice impartially, and we will accept any decision reached by a process involving such an individual. We also demand reasonable reforms which will make similar tragedies far less likely in the future, reforms including mandatory body cameras and mandatory investigation by outside agencies after every officer involved shooting.
Ian suggests that the evangelicals of Annapolis fear that, because of the ambiguity of the case, they may end up on the wrong side of history. Yet, above, I have shown a case that is not at all ambiguous. I’m sure someone can drain the clarity out of it (or fill it with mud, whichever metaphor you prefer), just as the opposite operation has been done with so many other issues. When you decide to take a stand, all ambiguity vanishes, whether it is a stand on premarital sex, divorce, or any other moral issue. So many people, especially ones who call themselves christian, take stands on such issues, and the issues become perfectly clear to them.
This is an issue that demands that a stand be taken, and I know what Just stance is.
Daren Wilson is the Roman Soldier who pierced the side of Jesus when he was on the Cross.
Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch played in the dice game, gambling over His clothing.
These men are Romans, figures of Power and Authority. Jesus spent his time among the poor, the reviled, those that society had no use for. He spent time with the tradesmen, and the men who were scheduled to begin classes at a Technical College in the next few days.
I have nothing but contempt for those who claim to be Christian, and then wait passively for the Kingdom as Heaven to be built by someone else for them to be spirited away into. First, let’s break down some Greek language. The Lord’s Prayer expresses a hope that “Your (God’s) KingSHIP come to be, on Earth, as it is in Heaven.” We do not wish for that which already is, but only for that which could be. Throughout the parables Jesus tries to explain to his followers what the Kingdom AS heaven will be like. “As” being a word of comparison, indicating similarity or identically. Thus, we are looking for a Kingdom stretching the entire width of the world, without distinction or boundary within it. We know from Matthew 25:31-46 that entrance into the Kingdom will be based on what people do in life. “When injustice was done to me, you sat at home while others went out to demand a redress of that grievance.” Sounds like goats to me.
If Jesus is the λογοσ of God, then he is not a word (φανη), but rather a “statement of meaning”, a “science”, a “method”, or a Plan. Given that last option, let’s call him a blueprint. God the Father created a blueprint for the Kingdom as Heaven, and placed it upon a Trestle Board in a vast plot of land, all set about with orange safety fencing. Within that fence, beside that trestle board, he piled up a vast heap of building materials. Weeds grow from amongst the bricks and unmixed bags of cement, because so few workers have strapped on hard-hats and “set to” that only a tiny corner of that vast heap has been touched. Recruiting more people to wait in eager anticipation how wonderful things will be when that vast edifice is completed is futile and stupid. Humanity are supposed to be the workers, stacking the bricks according to the plan that is Jesus Christ. When the construction is complete, he will be present in every brick, just as the temporal plan is present in every brick of a temporal building. This will be his return, being a part of every thread of the new world.
But go ahead, sit and pray for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. We will be out here building it, with dirt in our knuckles and broken nails upon our fingers, and a great joy in our hearts as we see each little bit of progress.