Facing up to Ferguson

Faith communities play key role in conversations about race, local pastors say

August 25, 2014


A protester joins hands with community leaders to form a barrier between police and demonstrators in an attempt to defuse escalation between the two during a peaceful protest in Ferguson, Mo. —New York Daily News


Faith communities can and should play a larger role in calling for justice and leading difficult conversations about race, said two retired Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastors in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since the Aug. 9 killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer, the country has been focused on Ferguson and the confrontations between civilians and law enforcement there. Underlying the protests and marches is the complicated and painful state of race relations in Ferguson — a situation that could easily occur in many communities across the country, said the Revs. Ellie and Carleton Stock.

“People are really dismayed at the use of such force in situations like this,” said Ellie Stock. “People understand the racism underneath and that it’s a long-term issue.”

The Stocks are retired co-pastors of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Dellwood, Mo., which borders Ferguson. Northminster is now merged with First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson. The Stocks remain active in race relations work and a local ministerial alliance made up of several denominations that coordinates worship, education and social services for the community.

Since the shooting, the alliance is working with another group of local clergy, most of whom are black. That group is taking the lead in organizing marches and vigils.

“Faith communities have been really out there,” said Carleton Stock. “Black clergy have really been leading the way. They can really play a large role. There’s a lot of respect for clergy in the black community.”

PC(USA) churches, which are predominantly white, should join with black communities of faith and have the admittedly difficult conversations about racism and white privilege, the Stocks said.

Ellie Stock recommended the paper “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” by Peggy McIntosh as a good starting place.

“We’re hoping that this event will catalyze some of these conversations,” said Carleton Stock, who served on the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy’s Dismantling Racism and Privilege Ministry Team. He acknowledged that these conversations can be hard and will take years. The team is working to organize a way to reach out to congregations to talk about these issues, and the willingness of the congregations varies.

“I would hope for any community of faith … that there would be a way for them to address the issue within their congregation about race and white privilege, but also to be advocates in dismantling racism and white privilege,” he said.

That combination of dialogue and action is important, the Stocks said, repeating the refrain often heard from protesters in Ferguson: “No justice, no peace.”

Ferguson rally

A peaceful rally for justice in Ferguson, Missouri —Associated Press

In the past several years, the demographics of Ferguson have shifted so that the town is now about two-thirds black and one-third white, but the leadership remains largely white, the Stocks said. The police force, which is mostly white, patrols communities of color all the time, contributing to those communities’ distrust of law enforcement and uncertainty that they’ll be treated justly, the Stocks said.

“It’s going to take a while, but we trust in the resurrectional spirit that can come out of this,” Ellie Stock said. “We’re calling not only for calm but for new ways of working as community.”

A statement from PC(USA) leaders calls for “calm and prayer as justice is sought and righteousness pursued.”

The Rev. Landon Whitsitt, executive and stated clerk of the Synod of Mid-America — of which Ferguson is a part — released a statement calling the PC(USA) to stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and to “‘witness against and strive against’” systemic, institutionalize racial injustice.

“We must as the possession of God…stand where the Lord stands, namely against the injustice of the wronged.” The statement read. “Sisters and Brothers, we must stand arm in arm with the people of Ferguson. Black bodies matter and our white bodies will signify that the killing of black bodies is unacceptable.

“If you live in or around St Louis please come and walk with the protestors. Listen to their cries, and join them in the call for justice.

“If you live farther away, find the members of your own community who are standing against this injustice. Listen to their cries, and join them in their own call for justice.”

  1. As with so many regarding the Martin/Zimmerman case, getting out in front of the facts is a bad idea. It leads others to erroneous conclusions and anger at the wrong people, as well as misdirected actions.

    by Richard Aubrey

    October 27, 2014

  2. More detailed information from the investigation and autopsy do not support the contention that Michael Brown was killed because of his race. Perhaps we can learn from this incident that it is unwise for PCUSA to take a political position on an incident before the facts are known.

    by Geoff Goodman

    October 23, 2014

  3. Race isn't the prime problem in these issues The difference in cultures are the main problem which need be addressed The black community has a 83% of born out of wedlock rate which is a tremendous handicap trying to survive in any economic climate And their take on education,while being better as of late still many blacks see it as a "white thing" A guy like Bill Cosby tells them the same thing and he is booed off the platform Their black leaders virtually do nothing to turn that negative culture into anything positive but show up after the fact and fan the flames of racism Until their culture changes they are doomed to repeat the Ferguson incident over and over

    by R.A. Ledbetter

    August 27, 2014

  4. Sounds like the authors are judge, jury and executioner--similar to events of some 2000 years ago. Maybe, after the actual facts come out this was a case of a drugged up thief attacking a police officer. BTW, if the majority black city wants to see political change they might try actually voting--it is free and easy.

    by David Mowbray

    August 26, 2014

  5. We've been talking about racism for a long time. I know because I've taken part in the conversation. Here's what I've learned: as long as we go on talking without doing something about it, nothing changes. Racism will continue to divide us and occasionally erupt into violence. On Sunday I suggest that another way to ask the "Who do you say that I AM," question (Mt 16: 13-20) is: "What do I (we) really want?" If talking about it is what we really want, it's clear we're satisfied and racism will continue to divide us and harm us.......all of us.

    by Harrell Davis

    August 25, 2014