The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, have fluctuated between violence, calm and renewed violence following the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, in a confrontation on Saturday, Aug. 9.
After two failed attempts to restore order by police, as violence and looting erupted again over the weekend, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has set a curfew and called in the National Guard.
Destruction, violence, hatred, division, death.
“The only one sitting back and laughing at this all is Satan,” says Jack Hembree, pastor of Bethel Fellowship (AG) in Florissant, Missouri—located just a few minutes from where rioting has broken out. Hembree, who expressed his grief in a note to his congregation over the violence, urged his congregation not to “take sides” but instead bring Christ into the situation.
“The differences that divide us were not created by God but designed by the enemy. It is time to battle not with a gun, bottle, or badge, but with prayer and the Word of God,” Hembree wrote. “Lay down our economics, our political persuasion, our differences, or whatever is hindering the power of the words of God from working in us and pick up the cross of Jesus Christ that brings forgiveness, confession, repentance, acceptance, love, freedom and life.”
And his church has joined other churches as members of the Metro North Church Alliance to do just that.
“What you don’t see on the national media is the church,” Hembree says. “The churches got together and marched down that same street the rioters marched on, passing out bags of supplies, food and toiletries to people. Church members stood in front of buildings through the night to make sure they were not looted. Church members parked in people’s driveways to make sure they were safe all through the night. Church members went up and down the streets, cleaning up the mess. The national media doesn’t show any of that.
“The people of Ferguson are very good people,” Hembree says. “Yes, there needs to be some changes. We know that and it’s nothing new, but it’s a good community with good people.”
Brian Schmidgall, executive presbyter and pastor of MiddleTree Church, located on the dividing line between North and South St. Louis and about three miles from the rioting, agrees with Hembree’s evaluation of Christ being the answer.
“There will be people of profile flying in and getting their face in the spotlight because it’s trendy and in vogue … there will be social-justice programs and systemic structure changes, but there will be the same problems 10 years down the road,” Schmidgall says. “The one thing the church addresses is the heart. If you don’t address the heart, then healing and recovery don’t happen.”