How should the gospel affect our response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri? For one, it should free us to truly listen to one another.
We humans are radically insecure people. In situations of conflict, we tend to be defensive and self-righteous. We speak loudly and listen poorly. We delight in airing our own opinions (Proverbs 18:2). We are quick to speak and slow to listen. We are confident that our way of seeing is the right way.
But the gospel humbles us. It asks us to admit that we are not righteous, but rather sinners before a holy God. It brings us before the bar of God’s judgment, “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” (Romans 3:19). And then it assures us that despite our foolishness and sinfulness and self-love, God is willing to accept us as his own sons and daughters in Jesus Christ – not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done.
When we receive and respond to this good news, we are changed. Our insecurity melts. Our hard-heartedness softens. We become the kind of people who love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), who are gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:23), who are quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). At least – this is the kind of people we should be, if we are walking “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14).
So let’s listen to one another.
Listening implies freedom. It implies space. It implies that not everything has to be a well-crafted sound bite. It implies that, in the safety of our unity in Christ, we can hash it out. There’s freedom to be imprecise or misguided or wrong without being judged or ostracized or labeled, because we’re family. And in a family we give each other the benefit of the doubt.
In the wake of #Ferguson, several African-American evangelicals have spoken out. They’ve let us into the pain and humiliation of systemic injustice. And it seems to me that white Christians have largely failed to be good listeners. We’ve been troubled by the rawness of emotion, the strong statements about injustice, the conflating of a particular event in Ferguson with larger concerns about racial bias. We haven’t been willing to just… listen.
Over the past few weeks I’ve processed the events in St. Louis in personal conversations, text messages, and e-mail dialogues with several African-American friends. In almost every case, I’ve found them to be good and gracious listeners. They’ve even been willing to acknowledge when they’ve made errors in discernment or been careless with words. And they’ve repeatedly asked for the same thing: please listen. Try to understand why we struggle to trust the police, why we tend to be skeptical of the justice system, why we’re cynical about race relations. Before you seek to respond, explain, or critique, just listen.
Because of sin, listening is harder than it should be. But for those changed by the gospel, listening should come (super)naturally. The gospel will surely call us to more than just listening in the current moment – but not less. Listening is where change must begin. So let’s not miss a God-given opportunity to show a watching world the power and grace of the gospel by listening well to one another.