Freddie Gray died the other day. He was not a victim of gang violence. He was not a victim of cancer. He was not a victim of a car accident.
Freddie Gray died because of injuries he suffered in police custody. And when his family went to memorialize him on April 27, their funeral candles lit a forest fire. Riots and violence terrorized Baltimore afterward - “the language of the unheard” as Martin Luther King Jr. once said. Desperate, angry violence, cries against a system of police brutality that has scarred the city.
Yet not all have responded this way. CNN reported on “hundreds” of pastors, parents and other residents who walked the streets of burning Baltimore Monday night, singing and praying for peace. They are doing what the Lord commands in Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile.” They are leading peaceful protest, advocating for change in a world where men with black skin have to fear the police regardless of their innocence. As pastors, they are preaching peace as the church of God in this world. They are leading the charge and showing another way besides the rioting, as God’s people are called to do.
But, as a witness told ABC News, “The city only respects violence. The peaceful stuff is not working.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates picked up on this same theme in an article in The Atlantic, arguing that “when nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con.”
Pastors, parents and other residents walked the streets of burning Baltimore Monday night, singing and praying for peace.
Coates is angry. A native of Baltimore, he is angry with the city’s history of police brutality and its past record of a justice system that does not protect, but oppresses. And he is right to be angry. In Romans 13:3-4, Paul tells us that it is the role of God-ordained authorities to punish wrong. Rulers should put fear into those who do evil. In Baltimore, the police do not put fear into those who do evil. They put fear into those who are black. That is an abomination, an abuse of God-given power that demands recompense. It demands a response.
So what shall our response be? To riot, speaking the language of the unheard with a guttural cry over a burnt city? Or, as those marching pastors suggest, are we called to something greater, and harder? Rather than a route of violence, expressing our horror through chaos, we are called to love. A little later in Romans 13, Paul says “love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Last night, we saw exactly this sort of love in Baltimore, along with resulting peace. We saw women and men standing up, forming a human barricade between angry demonstrators and police, calling for calm. They stood in the middle and claimed that violence was not the way. There was peace in Baltimore last night.
So while we ache and lament this injustice, we cannot leave our homes with Molotovs. We must leave them with open hands, ready to embrace a hurting sister or brother. We leave, knowing that this is not the end of our struggle, knowing that it is Christ who holds us. It is Christ who holds Baltimore. So we can trust in His work, and protest wrong with boldness, and with peace.