My recent post Ferguson, Saint Louis, Missouri made quite a stir in my albeit small blogging world. Some folks loved it, some folks hated it. Most people I heard from in one way or another appreciated it to some degree.
Then I got a Facebook message from my friend Gary at the church I previously worked for as youth pastor in Saint Louis; Hope Church in Berkeley. He said:
I’m sure you feel you have gleaned much wisdom after living in STL for five years. Your article took quite a shot at the most racially demised city in the USA and Hope Church. After 15 years at Hope, I know they deserve a much better evaluation than you left in the public’s eyes.
Gary is a man I really respect and whose heart I trust. I was honored to serve his kids as youth pastor and appreciate the ministry of him and his family. So when I received his message, I was deeply grieved.
I want to apologize on this blog collective to Gary and anyone else at Hope I offended with the illustrations I used about the young lady in our youth group or the comment from that previous elder in 1999. Those were real situations, but I did not mean to infer those situations to be the identity or character of Hope Church. Hope Church cared for and sustained my family through some of the darkest times in our lives. I could not be more thankful for Hope’s impact on my life and the life of my family. The staff and leaders of Hope Church are godly, compassionate people who love Him and one another, and are seeking to fulfill Hope’s calling in their neighborhood and around the world. Pastor Clint is a man of God who shepherded and empowered me, and who would love to serve you in the same ways. No matter the color of your skin or ethnic heritage, Hope Church is a biblical church that is pursuing Christ together and you will be deeply loved for who you are.
The illustrations I chose were because this is a theology and culture blog, so it’s primarily Christians reading it. We Christians often act like sin belongs to the world, especially a really “bad” sin like racism or discrimination, so I offered some key perspectives/observations I received from The Church regarding espousal of this unrighteousness posture. As my post says, my observation is that racist posture is especially pernicious and destructive in the city of Saint Louis. Obviously, my time at Hope was a lot of that church exposure and my most intimate church exposure (thus the illustrations), but I could/should also have spoken of:
- the regional youth pastors prayer gathering I attended in Kirkwood and listened to three other pastors (white guys) talking about ways to market their youth group so as to maintain a youth group demographic that makes parents comfortable, particularly regarding racial demographics.
- or the time we were on a mission trip downtown and a black lady stopped to make chit-chat (or so I thought). She ended up saying she went to a church down the street and that the presence of my “spoiled lily-white children” was not appreciated; they didn’t need our charity.
- or the fact that North City at one point was a white Christian neighborhood, but once the HUD Act of 1965 started to gain traction there causing de-segregation of urban neighborhoods, the white Christians left.
- or the white lady from another church who renamed Dr Martin Luther King Day for her small children — admitting that they’d learn about it what it really was when they got older — but until then she was going to keep her kids as far from “those people” as possible.
I stand by my major points and the heart of the article that this situation in Ferguson has the opportunity for redemption, but in my experience (and admittedly from an outsider’s view), in Saint Louis these roots of racism, fear, discrimination, hate and suspicion run especially deep. Therefore, Saint Louisans — especially God’s people in Saint Louis — need to understand the fuller story, the broader picture, and the ramifications of generational iniquity. I mean none of these things as points of judgment or condemnation from me against Saint Louis. We love St Louis and we love North County. It’s just that truth — the full truth, the whole story — has to be the starting point. Only then can the truth set you free, which is my prayer for Saint Louis. Freedom in Jesus’ name.