Indictment or no indictment tonight (we'll know soon enough), we must pray that what is happening in Ferguson is the awakening of a movement that will change the entire country. We must pray that it will change not merely a set of policing practices. That is as good a place as any to start, and we must start somewhere, but what is needed goes much deeper. Movement activists understand it even if the great mass of morally slumbering White Americans do not. What is needed is what has always been needed: a society that is for Blacks and everyone else every bit as much as it is for Whites. What is needed is comprehensive reformation of laws and hearts so that America works for all of us. If you're not a believer, what is needed is some basic human decency. If you are a believer, repentance is needed in the hope that somehow we Christians will begin to pray and live "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" instead of throwing stones at "radicals" who dare to do what Jesus told us to do.
The United States is a dramatically better place for Black Americans than it used to be. The United States is also a White state that has yet to fully reckon with what it would require to do justice for all its citizens. In spite of everything that has changed, we can still quote the words of Black intellectuals over half a century ago, and their words ring true with a vital and terrible ferocity. Richard Wright believed that the exclusion of African Americans was so central to American life that if the United States ever attempted
to eradicate White supremacy “it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed
by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion.”
James Baldwin agreed. Baldwin wrote, “there is simply no possibility of a real
change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching
changes in the American political and social structure.” Yet such changes were
so unsettling to white Americans that they were “unable even to envision them.”
Wright and Baldwin offered a sense of America’s history and meaning in which
the destruction of white supremacy might produce a national identity crisis
rather than ushering in the inevitable culmination of American ideals. In an
age of inequality and mass incarceration, in a time of protest and
disillusionment, when thousands feel compelled to take to the streets and signs
assert what should not need to be asserted, that “Black Lives Matter,” the
promise and tragedy of American history haunts us still. And still, millions of Whites stand to the side, choosing whiteness over justice, whiteness over God, whiteness over their very souls.
Dr. King was right. If we're wrong now, then God almighty is wrong.