Everyone is Getting the Ferguson Story Wrong

I wrote this back in August, and some details have changed since then. The dust is beginning to un-settle, it seems, for example. However, the main thesis of this post remains the same: the hard path forward is usually the best path forward. 

Praying for my home city and hoping we can all find the good sense to love one another through our pain, not act out toward each other because of it.

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With the dust beginning to settle on the unrest in Ferguson, the narrative shifting, and the news cycle seemingly moving on, I thought I could finally post on Ferguson. I’m not eager to comment on stuff right in the thick of it, especially stories as controversial as this one. But there’s one thing I’ve thought from the beginning of this horrific sequence of events that I finally thought I should say out loud:

Everyone is wrong about the Ferguson story.

When I say everyone, I mean just about everyone, from the police to the protesters to the politicians. The vast majority of content I’ve seen, heard, or read since the death of Michael Brown surrounds an incomplete understanding of the events that have transpired. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but this much I know.

This is not simply a Black vs. White issue. Racism is real, prejudice is real, and injustice is real. All that stuff is real, and it is wrong. This is not as simple as a Young Black vs. Authority issue, as some have reported. Molotov cocktails and police shields illustrated this component of the story in vivid detail, but it’s not the whole story.

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(Getty Images)

This also is not simply a police brutality issue. Cops go too far sometimes, and if Darren Wilson was in danger of his life or not is a legitimate question being asked in this case. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure. It leads to another talking point that isn’t quite on point in this case — that this is a Cops vs. Criminals issue.

Every good story needs conflict. Every conflict needs two sides. The Cops vs. Criminals narrative got some serious run on major news networks all over the country. Pick the side you’re rooting for. Funds have been set up for the family of the deceased and the family of the officer who shot him. Public support seems to have shifted in recent days, and may shift again depending on the information we learn as time goes by. But that isn’t all that is going on here.

Some think this is about politics, but it’s not. Local officials made the rounds on the news, then state officials, then national officials. No one missed out on the chance for some face time. Much of it is dopey grandstanding that everyone sees right through. Most Americans don’t really take these talking suits too seriously these days, however, so this part of the story is dying off.

Some think this all comes down to whether Michael Brown was a bad kid (who stole stuff and punched cops in the face) or a good kid (that was headed for college). The hard part is, like most of us, he was probably both. But this whole Ferguson thing is a much bigger story than that.

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(Photo : nycjim / Twitter)

This is more than a ridiculous, crazy situation, though many describe it as such because we can’t describe it any other way. It doesn’t make sense, so we just shake our heads because we can’t wrap our minds around such things. How do we explain it? The above theories are too simple, the conspiracy theories too incomplete.

I believe what is really going on here is going to be as unpopular for me to say as it is true. This is not simply a race issue, a power issue, a police issue, or a political issue. If you want to start making sense of this whole thing, then there’s only one “vs.” narrative you need to adopt.

This is a Kingdom of This World vs. Kingdom of Heaven story. This is not a lot of things, but it is that. Among all the shock and horror and raw emotion we’ve seen on display the last couple weeks, I can’t help but continue to wonder, “Why are we surprised by these things?” Why are we surprised by hatred and prejudice and power struggles and opportunists and abusers of authority and dissension and division and strife and violence and sleazy politicians? I mean, seriously. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again.

That’s classic Kingdom of This World Stuff.

Nor should we be surprised by clean up crews and nonviolent protest and prayer vigils and love and kindness and friendship and beauty rising from ashes and community and Bible reading and reconciliation.

That’s Kingdom of Heaven stuff.

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(Charlie Reidel/AP Photo)

What is going on in Ferguson is not going on just in Ferguson, but in the heart of every human being in every city and state and country. This battle is internal, and occasionally it spills out into our streets in full view of news cameras ready to record our misdeeds as we take out our brokenness on one another.

For those whose worldview does not allow for a Kingdom of Heaven, events like these make no sense. When we turn to the Kingdom of this World for solutions, they all seem biased and unfair. Injustice remains. Nothing gets fixed. No real progress is made.

Without another world to look forward to, we have only one another to hope in. Without the Kingdom of Heaven invading our individual hearts, we war against each other in the name of fairness when our heart has no barometer for it beyond what our prejudices allow. Scars will only cover over the wound without the Kingdom of Heaven. There will be no true healing.

There is a vilified, dead young man and vilified cop still living and a reeling community and what we all saw unfold in Ferguson was nothing new. Indeed, it was more of the same. More Kingdom of the World and Kingdom of Heaven going head to head. At times, it seems like the Kingdom of the World wins, but don’t be deceived. It’s path is simple but disastrous. It causes chaos and inexplicable pain. The Kingdom of Heaven calls its citizens to a much more difficult path, but it is one with the lasting benefits of peace and joy.

It just isn’t fully realized yet.

How do we get there?

As my good friend Doug put it, “Justice without forgiveness is revenge; forgiveness without justice is anarchy. Justice and forgiveness are owed to Michael Brown and Officer Wilson.” That’s not an easy path to walk down, but even in a situation as complicated as this, it is the course the wise woman and man will choose.