Around the world, religious leaders show their support for Ferguson protests police in riot after a police officer shot and killed unarmed black man.
What began as a peaceful demonstration over a week ago in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old African-American man, quickly descended into violence and vandalism when protests turned into riots. On Saturday, August 9, Police Officer Darren Wilson confronted Michael Brown. The incident led to the shooting death of Brown, which sparked protests calling for an investigation of the confrontation. On Sunday August 10, however, the demonstrations turned to chaos as crowds began looting and vandalizing parts of the town, drawing national attention.
Leaders of Ferguson’s many religious congregations have called for unity and an end to the violence, and citizens have stepped in as well to give assistance and support to the troubled town. Ferguson, Missouri is historically a very faith-based suburban community, with 57 percent of its 21,000 denizens belonging to an active church – seven percent higher than the national average. In the face of the chaos and upheaval, these congregations and church-leaders have risen to the challenge of bringing peace and calm to the town in the wake of recent trauma.
The events in Ferguson have drawn famous figures such as the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to the town, which is almost 70 percent black. In fact, religious authorities from around the world have joined the protestors in Ferguson, and not just Christians. Exiled Tibetan monks have flown in from India to show their support and bring a message of peace.
However, as the backbone of the religious community, local leaders such as Pastor Karen Knodt of the Immanuel United Church of Christ and Reverend Steve Lawler of St. Stephen’s Episcopalian church will be the people who local residents look to for leadership on the ground. In the weeks and months to come, the people of Ferguson will be left to deal with the fallout of the recent unrest as the news cameras and popular figureheads move on.
In light of this, Pastor Knodt stressed the need for the religious community to be courageous, open, and engaged in the healing process. She stated, “Spiritual needs are mostly how not to live in fear, but to be present to the tragedy and the frustrations, to have compassion for all our neighbors and courage to face our divisions and find ways to live and unify the community across racial, geographic, and class lines.”
Many congregations have already sprung into action, patronizing local businesses which have remained open through the crisis, as well as offering assistance such as food and supplies to those in need. As the city enters its tenth day of rioting – one of the longest riots in American history – the future of the situation remains uncertain. However, with Ferguson’s religious leaders calling upon their congregations for courage and unity, and an engaged community offering support and solace in a time of upheaval, the small Missouri suburb may soon see light at the end of this dark period.