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September 19, 2017

As the Executive Director of a ministry dedicated to serving children and families, particularly those who are poor or marginalized, I would be remiss if I did not address concretely the ongoing protests taking place in our city.

First, to use the words of Mark Young, author of Learning the Art of Helping, I would argue that we should all adopt a “tutorial stance,” in our attempts to make sense of what is happening in our community. For me, what this means is that we must recognize that we cannot confidently conclude that we understand other people’s motives, actions, or experience unless we open our hearts and minds and allow them to teach us about what it’s like to walk in their shoes. To do otherwise is disrespectful, self-absorbed, and prideful. We must work actively to see the world through the eyes of “the other” and to feel the world with their heart. If, like me, you are not a person of color—if you have not experienced directly what it means to live in this country and in this community as a person of color, then I encourage you in all humility to work to understand that experience better. Allow yourself to “be taught” about that journey by someone who’s lived it. Likewise, if you don’t know what it’s like to serve as a police officer or to be the parent, child, spouse, friend or loved one of a police officer, then by all means allow someone to teach you. To use one of my favorite phrases, if you have not experienced directly what lies at the heart of these protests, you should work to have “big ears and a small mouth.”

Second, and this is only my opinion, if we get bogged down in the details of this particular court case, or if we become distracted by the violent and unacceptable actions of relatively few agitators and criminals, we will miss the point of what is happening, and we will miss a critically important opportunity to begin healing the wounds that still divide us. Yes, these protests are about the verdict of the Jason Stockley murder trial, but I would argue more importantly that they are about a long and well-documented history of racist and discriminatory policies and practices in St. Louis that haunt us to this very day. The protests are about things like segregation, redlining, restrictive covenants, disparate policing, educational and financial inequities, and decades of unequal opportunity to mention only a few. The protests are also about a demonstrated failure of our community, including most prominently the white majority, to acknowledge fully this legacy of racism and to work with conviction to eliminate resultant inequities.

Finally, I believe our agency values have much to say about how we can and should respond to the crisis in our community. In particular, Good Shepherd is committed to the notion that every life has infinite worth—every life. In that same light, we recognize that we are all children of God. We are in this together, and in fact, it’s the only way we can fix what is broken—together. We are committed to the belief that everyone has a right to opportunity, fair treatment, and full participation in society. We are also committed to protecting the vulnerable and advocating for the powerless, the poor, and the marginalized. Clearly we can do better in every sphere, and each of us is called to do what we can. My faith tells me that a good beginning would be to work much harder at seeing Jesus in others and allowing others to see Jesus in us.

Yours in Christ,

Michael