Shalom in St. Louis

On Aug. 30, Covenant’s chapel was filled with pastors from local churches, African American Leadership Development Resource Weekend (LDR) attendees, and members of the Covenant College community for a panel discussion called Shalom in St. Louis, a conversation sparked by the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, on Aug. 9.

The panel consisted of five African American leaders and pastors from St. Louis: Dawn Jones; Michelle Higgins; Rev. Tony Myles, pastor of New City Fellowship; Rev. Thurman Williams, pastor of Grace & Peace; and Rev. Mike Higgins, pastor of South City Church and dean of students at Covenant Seminary.

At the beginning of the panel, Michelle Higgins set the tone of the discussion by laying a ground rule: “It’s gonna get a little rough.  We’ve got some real talk coming, but that’s how we behave because we are family…  We’re gonna use the language of family.”

The church must take a stance, Dawn Jones argued, and show righteous anger instead of hatred or apathy. Racism is everywhere, and each panelist urged the audience to take responsibility for it instead of ignoring it.

These issues are not isolated in Ferguson but are present here too,” Christiana Fitzpatrick, Special Programs and Mentoring Coordinator for Covenant College, said. “I was so thankful for the call to grieve with our brothers and sisters, reminding us on Lookout Mountain that we are part of the family of God and when any part of our family mourns, we must mourn with them.”

“I’m just sad,” Rev. Tony Miles said as the panel continued. “I’m sad that another young African American man has joined the ranks of all the other young African American men who have been killed through violent means… My personal grief is around the fact that I hear so many Christians who can’t grieve over that. … It’s troubling that it’s taken this for the church in St. Louis to start asking hard, tough questions around these things.”

Michelle encouraged everyone under thirty especially to counter and engage the youth in St. Louis, and encourage them to choose righteous anger over hatred. “Racial reconciliation has to happen in the church before it will spill out into the community,” she explained.

Currently, there are three main organizations operating out of Ferguson: the Organization for Black Struggle, The Nation of Islam, and Hands Up United.

None of these organizations are particularly Christian in name or purpose, but Christians are involved in Organization for Black Struggle and Hands Up United—Michelle joked that the Nation of Islam probably does not have any Christian participants.

Rev. Mike Higgins noted that whether one thinks Darren Wilson was right to kill Michael Brown or not, “the train has left the station; we’ve got race problems.”

Rev. Higgins’ said that even though he is educated, works in nice places, and has a white son-in-law, he still has to find ways to let the police remember his citizenship. In particular, his license plate identifies him as an Army Chaplain so that if the police ever pull his car over, they will realize that he is an American.

Dawn Jones asked, “Why do you think the public schools don’t have money to get books? They’re predominantly black. That’s white privilege.” Jones then urged white people to use that privilege to go to areas that black people cannot, and tell the truth in “the pool pit, city hall meetings, and school board meetings.”

The healing of the racial divide must be both ways, the panelists said, instead of hiding behind “black isolation.” When black people sit across from their white brothers and sisters, they have to hear their hearts.  Senior Danielle Smith said that she learned “Practical ways of addressing racism in my community and that I should be uncomfortable and it should be a struggle because that’s what God is calling us to in our lives.”  It was a joy for her to see the chapel filled with such diversity.

Rev. Thurman Williams closed the panel by reminding the audience that when talking about race wears them out and makes them uncomfortable, “God comes and gives a gospel healing and surgery in our hearts to make things right. That’s the healing that we long for.”