A Call to Respond, Not React
As I write this at the end of August, tensions are hot but cooling in Ferguson, MO. You know the background: On Aug. 9, a white police officer named Darren Wilson stopped a young black man named Michael Brown on the street. It’s unclear what happened next, but it is clear that the officer shot the young man, who was unarmed, multiple times.
The races of the men are important because a sense of racial injustice fueled the protests and riots that followed. I imagine the families of both men involved are heartbroken. The officer and his family have left their home for now. Michael Brown’s father called for peace as he laid his son to rest. In recent weeks, the National Guard has moved out. And Missouri State Highway Patrol officers have been seen shooting hoops with neighborhood kids in a basketball hoop bought with their own money. Protesters march peacefully during the day, though at night some turn violent and still exploit the chaos.
This is close to home for us at Liguori Publications. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, is just a 40-minute drive from Liguori, the home of Liguorian. My family and my colleagues have connections with Ferguson. A friend is rector of an Episcopal church there. A couple of my son’s friends live there. One of our editors grew up in Ferguson; her parents still live there. Before the tear-gas grenades and the looting, Ferguson was woven into the fabric of our lives here at Liguori, and it remains so.
Before, we saw it as racially harmonious, peaceful, even progressive. Now, it’s as if a quiet friend suddenly and violently exposed a tortured inner life. Ferguson and the St. Louis area are in pain. They need our prayers. This month’s magazine theme happens to be “moral awareness.” Ferguson raises difficult questions for police, the government, people of all colors—and for Catholics. How does God call us to respond when something like this happens? How can we help heal? How can we avert such eruptions in the future? We can’t repair in their entireties the economic and racial unfairness that underlies American society. Or undo the undeniable stereotypes people have of each other, whether police or civilian, black or white, poor or well-off. But we can march, donate food, pray, help clean up—or just give each other a chance. Those are small steps toward larger goals—Christian responses to a crisis, not reflexive reactions.
What would the world be like if we didn’t automatically make assumptions about each other, if instead we treated others like we’d like to be treated? Jesus had something to say about this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a time when we can demonstrate powerfully what
it means to be Catholic. The cops playing basketball, the neighbor who stopped looters, the teens who cleaned up damaged stores, the people marching peacefully, and those running food drives: They love their neighbors as themselves. What about us?