A Pastor’s Response to Baltimore

Thugs. Animals.

Trash. Disgusting.

These are words I have heard to describe the people involved in the Baltimore protests and riots over the last few days. I have heard “see this is why those people are killed by police in the first place, look at how they respond!”Baltimore

But, how many white people thought this:

The black mayor of Baltimore called the rioters thugs! Yes! I am validated!

A black mother was slapping her son around for participating in the riots! Yes! I am validated!

As a pastor of a completely white congregation in what is an effectively completely white community in rural Ohio I struggle with finding my voice in the midst of the struggle and chaos and pain and profound hurt built up through generations of my black brothers and sisters.

You see when white people blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City, when white people gun down the masses in a crowded theater, when white people shoot a congresswomen and bystanders in Arizona, when white people riot after their heroic coach is fired for covering up child abuse no one says “see look at how those people react” No one lumps all white people together. 

I am not condoning the violence, looting, and riots in Baltimore. Again, I agree with our president that those involved in criminal actions regarding these riots should be charged. But there is more to the issue than people who sit removed from the systematic racism that African Americans have faced throughout the existence of this nation are willing to see.

Those who are protesting in Baltimore and other places are not irrational people acting like animals for no reason. These are people acting out on the fear and anger they feel for the systematic injustice and outright racism against them. 

So I think how can I lead in this time? Because here are the two things that I see church leaders doing, and it is wrong:

1. Judging

Or condemning outright an entire race because of the actions of a few. You see this judging would take place no matter if there was violence and looting at all. Even in the midst of peaceful protest there would be no attempt to understand the people and the issues by many in leadership, and nothing could be more pathetic and sad.

2. Ignoring

I have seen this as well, “ignore it and it will go away“. No! There is more to what is going on in Ferguson, in Baltimore then what the news shows on television. There is systematic realities that make an entire race of people afraid in certain areas and afraid around law enforcement. This is not an issue we can ignore.

So what should church leaders in areas and cultures far removed from the people rioting in Baltimore, Ferguson, and across the nation do?

1. Love

This is paramount. Our first reaction when we see riots or chaos is not think “wow those people are at it again”. Instead let’s love, let’s say “how can I help, how can we help

2. Listen

A major problem I have seen throughout this whole issue is just the outright refusal of people to listen to those affected directly by this systematic injustice. It is this whole idea of, “I don’t see what you are talking about, I don’t feel what you feel, and I don’t experience what you are experience, so your hurt is invalid”

Instead let’s listen. “What can I do to help? What can I do differently?

3. Learn

People say there is nothing they can learn from this. But I will say this: if you deny there is systematic realities in place that oppress African Americans than you do have something to learn. And you can learn by loving and listening.

Now, this is not a condemnation of law enforcement. Many, if not most are great people with the best of intentions in mind for the people they encounter. Please pray for law enforcement engaged in Baltimore and throughout the nation as they attempt to maintain order.

But, the issue here is deeper than people in Baltimore rioting over the death of Freddie Gray in ways that are hard to understand by those of us on the outside. The issue here is a systematic oppression of a people group for far too long. Listen to someone when he tells you “when I see police I am afraid for my life

Because that is his experience even when it is not your experience and his experience is just as valid as yours is.

Please. Let us lead, love, listen, and learn in the face of these riots, not condemn and divide.

Written by Joe Hoagland

Joe Hoagland

Joe is a pastor at Grape Grove Church of Christ in Jamestown, Ohio. He is newly married to his awesome wife Jenna and together they have 2 spoiled dogs and a cat.

He loves to lead people to Jesus and preach God's word.

You can often times find Joe hiking, camping, writing, reading, or enjoying technology.