Here is one thing that the church can teach the world: forgiveness is power. It is the power of life, and it is stronger than hate, stronger than death. This is not a metaphor. This was proven by Jesus on the cross, where he gave his life into the hands of those who meant to kill him, and did. And he forgave them. And he is risen from the dead. Through this, by this, Christians believe that we no longer have to fear death. And also that we can forgive, and be forgiven. This can and does transform the world, and every life in it, if we let it. Right now in our country there is so much turmoil and attention focused on the police shooting of an a unarmed young man in Ferguson, MO, and what has happened in the aftermath - protest and anger and anguish and fear, and what feels like continually escalating tension. There are echoes through history of the evils of racism, and the clear evidence that such evils continue to exist today. There are calls for action and genuine bewilderment about what we can do to make things better. Christians know something about unjust death, about suffering, about following a God who allowed his own Son to suffer, so that we will know that our suffering will be redeemed.
This is a moment that we can and should witness to the power of forgiveness and redemption. It is a time when we know that what we believe matters, really matters today, in this situation. Forgiveness is not just something that we give to those who have wronged us, it is something that we ask for when we are in the wrong. We are all responsible for the sin of racism, no matter how overtly or not we have participated in it. In this country, it is, unfortunately, an inherited legacy. It calls for repentance from the whole of society, so that we can someday hope to stop reliving its tragic consequences. And not just the violent ones that erupt in shocking ways, but the every day injustice that some live with and some can afford to ignore. As one who mostly, most days, can live my life without acknowledging this sin, I personally repent. When we genuinely confess the things that keep us from the love of God, then we have the chance to feel the power of forgiveness, from others, and most importantly, from God. This power can transform, can heal, if we let it.
We can also, following Jesus' example, not meet violence with violence. Violence is using force to exert power, and this can be physical, verbal, spiritual. If we truly believe we have nothing to fear, then this is the time to demonstrate that. It is fear that makes us think the worst of others, that continually invites us/them comparisons, that makes us lash out in word or deed. When we are not afraid, we do not need to control or condemn anyone else. At times when emotions are high, the life of faith reminds us that we are particularly called to remember the power of love. Love goes hand in hand with justice, but it is God's justice, ultimately, and it is not destructive. It is setting the world right. We have to believe that this is happening, and act accordingly, especially when we are afraid. We do not need to wield power to force our will. We can believe and stand for the power of God, by which the last will be first and the first last, and the powerless will become powerful through peace.
Sometimes it seems like believing something is not 'doing' anything, and when chaotic, tragic, or unjust situations occur, we want to 'do' something. But believing is doing something. How we see the world, our very orientation to others and to God, colors everything we do, and taken as a whole, shapes our society and our world. A world that believes in peace, in love, in forgiveness, in the power of resurrection, looks very different from one that does not. So it is always important to know what we believe, and that what we believe matters. It is doing something, and it is acknowledging that we believe God is doing something, which is redeeming the world. We can't see this in every moment, even though it is happening in God's time, but by believing it, we help others see, and we remind ourselves that it is true. And this also guides our actions towards forgiveness and gentleness, even (especially) when faced with injustice.
If we are Christian, we must pray. For the soul of Michael Brown, killed in Ferguson, MO. For his family, for this community, for all victims of violence. We must also pray for the police of this town, and in every town, where they face violence every day. We must pray for the shooter. We must pray for forgiveness of the sins of racism, injustice, intolerance, anger, hate and fear. We must pray for the courage to believe in love, stronger than death.