COMMENTARY | Jarvis J. Williams
Editor’s note: Jarvis J. Williams is associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column appeared on BPNews.net, the website of Baptist Press.
On Aug. 9, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, was shot six times by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer. His family has called for justice in his shooting while urging residents of Ferguson to abstain from violence, but many African Americans and some whites have taken their anger to the city’s streets in protest.
As an African American Christian, my first reaction to this sad story of a young man’s life cut short consists of anger and sadness as yet another African American family grieves the death of a son. However, I am not surprised by this tragic event or the subsequent events in the aftermath of Brown’s shooting and death.
In Genesis 2:17, God warned of a universal curse of judgment if Adam disobeyed His command in the Garden of Eden. As soon as Adam disobeyed, the curse of sin and death fell upon all of creation (Genesis 3:14-19; Romans 5:12). Once sin’s lethal fangs sank its teeth into God’s good creation through Adam’s transgression, the entire creation became subject to sin’s tyrannical power. Sin first manifested its malevolent bent toward violence when Adam’s son Cain murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-8).
Creation’s futility stemming from Adam’s transgression is now being manifested in Ferguson, just as Adam’s transgression manifested itself in Cain’s murder of his brother. Unfortunately, creation will continue to be subject to the power of sin and death until God emancipates it from its current futility (Romans 8:19-25).
The problem in Ferguson, Mo., is not merely an African American problem, nor is it uniquely an American problem. Fundamentally it is a spiritual problem; that is, a sin problem. Adam’s transgression has created death within every human heart, and every human heart (regardless of race) rebels against God and against his fellow man (Genesis 3:8-9; Romans 3:9-18).
The Bible presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on humans and their relationships, including race relations (Galatians 2:11-21; Ephesians 2:11-22). God offered His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and to resurrect from the dead to reverse the universal curse of Adam’s transgression and to reconcile sinners both to Himself and to one another (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26, 5:6-21; Ephesians 2:11-22).
The Gospel teaches that the only way to defeat sin’s weapon of violence and to reconcile race relations in places like Ferguson is with the blood-bought, resurrection-empowered and reconciliatory Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It proclaims a message of hope to individuals of all races even during this dark time in American history.
In their quest for justice, many African American citizens in Ferguson have chosen another path, one that ignores the reconciling power of the Gospel. Various media outlets have shown their fierce protests in the streets as they press for justice. Some protests have erupted into violence, causing even more suffering for many African Americans in the community.
Unfortunately, because of the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression on race relations, Brown’s story will not be the last report of a policeman gunning down an unarmed African American under questionable circumstances.
No human or natural effort or device will be able to stop these enduring effects of Adam’s transgression — neither marches nor protests, neither laws nor policies, neither arrests nor police brutality, neither tear gas nor guns, neither programs nor propaganda, and neither campaigns nor inspiring speeches from famous leaders.
Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can cleanse the heart of racism; only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can create love where there is hate; and only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can once and for all end the transgression that continues to show its ugly face in violence facing African Americans in Ferguson and elsewhere.
Christians who want to see racial tensions subside must believe, proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they must allow it to move them to Gospel-action in the church and in society. Christ-followers must preach the biblical Gospel that centers on the death and resurrection of the Messiah who died on the cross to save sinners from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. And Christians must become engaged in the various racial problems that face their communities, acting out the Gospel in their churches and in society.
Though we cannot put to death the enduring effects of Adam’s transgression, we can create pockets of reconciliation and oases of hope for all who come to God through faith in Jesus Christ — until that Day when Jesus will make all things new.