Monday, August 18, 2014
Plead the Cause: A Response to Professor Jon-Michael Brown Concerning the Mike Brown Killing.
Over the past several days, I have practiced an uncharacteristic amount of self-control by refusing to talk openly about the ongoing case of eighteen year old Mike Brown and his death at the hands of a police office in Ferguson, Missouri.
That ends today. (But I made a good run at it!)
After the national debacle that was the Trayvon Martin case and watching as some of my own relationships strained under the pressure to take sides and argue for this or that view of race and justice, I decided to sit this one out.
That was until I read a blog post written by current professor of youth ministry at St. Louis Christian College and St. Louis area youth pastor, Jon-Michael Brown (not to be confused with the slain young man "Mike Brown"), and knew I was ready to speak out.
Professor Brown narrates his own story of growing up in a mixed race family (something I can relate to) and of achieving the feat of being one of only two black men in his high school's honors program.
The professor also tells this story:
And I remember Anthony, too. He embodied for me a choice. I once asked Anthony, an intelligent black male who later turned to crime, why he did not seek the honors program. He replied, “I don’t want to be no nerd!”
Anthony succumbed to the stereotypes and pressures of our environment, when he could have taken a different path. From what I have learned about Michael Brown, he is no different.
The title of Professor Brown's blog post is “I Will Not March for Michael Brown”, the reason for which being closely related to the aforementioned anecdote.
For the professor, Michael Brown failed to live up to the exalted image crafted of him by his parents and others.
He was not a good kid or a “gentle giant”, but “a cool, calm and calculated criminal” and a “source” of “racism and brutality”, according to the professor.
This biting characterization of a recently dead teenager find its justification in a video surveillance tape released days after the shooting that showed Mike Brown strong-arming a convenience store clerk and stealing some cigars.
From this, the good professor apparently feels he is able to make an informed summation of the totality of Michael Brown's eighteen years, saying “he did not stand for justice and truth”, “did not choose the right path”, and was a “criminal”.
It is the last two sentences of his post, however, that really take the cake. He says,
For me, marching in Michael Brown’s name dishonors the struggle and sacrifice of every just and honorable minority before us. Michael Brown’s death is tragic, but it will not be my cause.
I will stand for truth and justice.
Where to begin.
First of all, I reject the blanket judgment against Mike Brown's person based on one act.
Mike Brown had no previous adult criminal record up to this point and, call me jaded, but I live in a community with plenty of crime, so when I see a video of an unarmed guy going into a store and stealing something without so much as even punching the clerk, what I don't see is the “source of brutality and racism”, nor someone's life story.
Secondly, and more important, since when do "truth and justice" only apply to certain categories of people based on their prior history?
I mean, if justice was only given to the just, wouldn't that empty the word of all meaning?
The professor says “Michael Brown's death...will not be my cause”, but is that his choice to make?
Such verses of Scripture like Isaiah 1:17 (“learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause”) and Micah 6:8 (“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”) don't have footnotes telling us which people are the proper recipients of such justice.
How then can we as Christians put people into categories like “just and honorable” or good enough or not good enough and then decide who deserves to be defended accordingly?
It seems to me that a natural, though difficult, part of loving your enemy means sticking up for him even if he's a crummy person.
Yes, Jon-Michael Brown, Mike Brown's death IS your cause, assuming he was the victim of injustice, because biblical justice doesn't doesn't discriminate based on who's sinned what sins.
Professor Brown's type of argumentation advances the thinking that acts of abuse and sin are okay or at least overlook-able as long as they are perpetrated against the right kind of people.
“Oh, it happened to *that* kid? NEXT!”.
Must we really wait until a "good" black kid is shot dead before we begin our marches?
I want to add, finally, that the facts of the case are not out and I don't know who is innocent or guilty.
However, I do know that Professor Jon-Michael Brown's reasoning for why he won't plead the cause of Mike Brown is unbiblical and harmful to the Christian witness.
I call on my dear brother to re-think his position with an open heart and Bible, and leave us all the oft-quoted words from Jesus in the Gospel of John:
"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her".
For if we're being honest, who among us is truly worthy?