Some Thoughts on the Michael Brown Decision and Reaction

Protester in Oakland, CA. (November 24, 20014)

Last night the Grand Jury determined not to indict Daren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American who was unarmed.

Following the decision not to prosecute Wilson, riots broke out in Ferguson, MI. as well as in other cities such as Oakland, CA.

The issue surrounding the protests is the belief that relations between police officers and black communities are inhospitable; it is believed that these citizens are frequently treated unfairly.

While I believe it is acceptable to protest the decision (and many of the protests were peaceful). I do not believe that looting stores, burning buildings and cars, and other such acts are justifiable.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Turning to violence when one does not perceive that justice was done does not help anyone’s cause.

I am saddened by all the violence that took place in our country last night. It is embarrassing that we in the civilized world cannot do better.

That being said, those rioting, celebrities taking to twitter, and others protesting the decision, did not have all of the evidence in the case.

When an officer shoots someone, he or she typically has a good reason for doing so.

In this case, Michael Brown yelled at the officer when he first asked him to get out of the street where he was blocking traffic. Brown then proceeded to taunt the officer. When the officer attempted to exit his vehicle, Brown pushed him back inside and slammed the car door. The window was rolled down and Brown proceeded to punch the officer through the open window.

During the scuffle in the police car, Brown even attempted to take the officers gun.

It is not surprising the Brown was shot, however, it is surprising that he was shot multiple times. While he was being shot, his hands were not raised in surrender according to Wilson. Brown was allegedly still trying to attack the officer.

I know there are some officers who are unethical and who make decisions based on racial prejudice. That is a problem with the system. I also know that there are many officers who are doing there jobs well and for the right reasons. They are giving their lives to serve our citizens. I believe that in most cases, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Wilson may not have known whether or not Brown had a weapon of any kind. Wilson stated that Brown put his hands in his waist, perhaps the officer believed he was about to pull out a weapon. Either way, when someone attacks an officer, the officer must in the heat of the battle decide how much force to use. If he truly believed his life was in danger, than he made the right call. If he did not believe his life was in danger than he did not make the right call. It is not for me to say, but the Grand Jury was given the task of determining whether or not he was justified in his actions.

The system of justice in our country is not perfect, but it is better than the alternatives. As President Obama wisely stated last night, “We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.”

The picture I posted above shows a person carrying a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter.” What is interesting is that on the truck behind him, the words read “Kill Cops.” I would argue that all lives matter. In fact, on this very blog I have argued that all human life is intrinsically valuable. I have also argued that we are to respect our government and submit to its authority.

Was the killing of Michael Brown racially charged? I do not know, if it was that is a tragedy. If it was not, the situation is still a tragedy. It is tragic anytime a life is taken, whether by an officer or by anyone else. Michael Brown’s family must now live with the results of last night’s decision. Officer Wilson must now live knowing that he took a life based on a decision made in the heat of a difficult situation, whether right or wrong.

Last week another young man was shot (this teenager was 12) he had an air-soft gun and was scaring people with it in a city park.  911 was called and officers arrived to the scene. He was told to put his hands in the air and instead reached for his gun. The officer’s shot him and he died. This is another tragedy. But again, the officer’s had to make a decision and they did not at the time know the gun was an air-soft. The boy had taken the orange indicator off of the barrel.

Too often, when officer’s do not react with enough force, they end up being badly hurt or killed in the line of duty.

I suggest that we pray for the family of Michael Brown. I suggest we pray for Officer Wilson. I also suggest we pray for those who do not believe justice was given last night. We need to pray for those involved in the violence and looting. We need to pray for our police officers. They have a difficult job and are regularly forced to make very difficult decisions. In addition to praying, we need to make sure that our own actions are not racially charged.

In the wake of last nights events. It would be easy for African Americans to wrongly suggest that white people do not care about them or their well-being. It would also be easy for white Americans after seeing the riots to think that African Americans had wrong motives for protesting the verdict.

The fact of the matter is that all life is valuable and we need to make sure we ourselves treat all people with dignity. We need to respect those who keep the peace. We need to show patience and love towards those we deal with everyday. We need to do our part to make this world a better place by caring for all those around us. “All Lives Matter!!!”

Death with Dignity?

Recently, debate has once again been sparked concerning the issue of assisted suicide. Christians for years have refused to support Euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. The debate has tended to focus on the distinction between active and passive termination of life.

In active termination, someone receives a medication that terminates life. In passive termination, life support is merely ceased and the person’s body ceases to live on his or her own.

Christians have argued that passive termination is morally acceptable because death is inevitable and one is merely allowing the body to do what it naturally is doing.

The Bible is clear that death itself is demonic in nature. It was introduced to the world by the devil in the garden, it was a result of the morally evil choice made by Adam, and it will be the last enemy of Christ to be destroyed when he physically returns to the earth.

But the new issue regarding physician assisted suicide is an argument that people should be allowed to die with dignity. That they should be allowed to leave this fallen world before their suffering becomes too unbearable. It is argued that just because one is alive, it does not mean that he or she is really living.

Recently, Brittany Maynard chose to end her life. It was noted after her passing that her pain had become unbearable. She had brain cancer and she wanted to end her life before it became unbearable to live.

Brittany Maynard

Some have argued that legislation allowing death with dignity could cause insurance companies to suggest death rather than treatment in patients with terminal illnesses, even if the patients would prefer to receive treatment.

Some argue that because we have a natural inclination towards life, it is wrong to do anything that might bring about death.

Some utilitarian thinkers argue that if euthanasia ends a person’s pain and suffering and violates no one’s rights, then it is justified.

Some argue that we would not wish for others to suffer pain in a terminal illness if they could be painlessly put to death, therefore it is justified.

As Christians, we do not desire for people to suffer, but this issue is a very tricky one, because we also believe that God created humans to live and that Christ came to give life.

We are left asking, what does the Bible say about death with dignity?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 reads, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.”

Psalm 139:16 reads, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

From these verses, we learn that there is a time to be born and a time to die. God numbers our days before we come into this world. We also know that the Bible states that we are not to murder, but that there is a difference between murder and killing legally.

The Christian Apologetics and Research Society (CARM) has argued that assisted suicide attempts to deny God his sovereign ability to appoint who dies when. Scripture is clear that God is to appoint our time of death. The question becomes whether or not God uses assisted suicide to appoint death?

I tend to agree with CARM. I argue that Christians should have reverence for life as it was created by God. I argue that just because it is legal to take a prescription that will end a life in some places in the world, that does not mean it is best. I believe we are to allow God to number our days and trust that our lives will end in his time, even if that involves pain and suffering. I do not think it is in the best interest of humanity to actively assist with the ending of life.

To read the full argument of CARM, visit this page: http://carm.org/bible-say-about-euthanasia

To see an interactive map of places where this is currently an issue, see this page: http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/27/world/euthanasia-interactive-map/#index

What are your thoughts on the issue? Does assisted suicide devalue humanity? Is it a humanitarian thing to do? Does it deny the sovereignty of God? Could it be a way God chooses to bring about death? If so, what implications does that have for our responsibility?

Gangs

Gangs of New York

In the United States today, there are approximately 33,000 gangs with 1.4 million members. 41% of these gangs are active in major cities, with 27% in smaller cities, and 25% in suburban counties. Only 5% are active in rural counties. From 2007 to 2012 homicides that were a result of gang related activity averaged 2,000 deaths per year. The number has been highest in the most recent years. Over half of the active gang members in the United States are over the age of 18. Over 90% of all gang members are male. The largest number of gang members by ethnicity are Latinos, then African Americans, followed by Caucasians, and then by other races.

Gang activity seems to be on the rise in the United States now after a short time in the late 90s when it was in decline. There is a need for our communities to work with gang members, to get them off the streets, and to teach them how to function in a more healthy environment. There is certainly room for Christian organizations to aid in this. I believe that God calls people to work with these types of individuals and gives them hearts for sharing with those in these kinds of environments.

What does the Bible say about Gangs?

Romans 13:1 reads, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Most often, gangs do not subject themselves to the Laws of the United States or its governing authorities.

1 Corinthians 15:33 states, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'” Here we are reminded that we are not to spend all our time associating with those who have poor values.

This week think about how you can be a part of the solution to gang violence and deception. Think about how God would have you work to show the love of Christ and a better way to those who may be lost or confused, following a path that will not lead them to fulfillment or belonging.

Resources:

http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/gangs

http://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/survey-analysis/measuring-the-extent-of-gang-problems

http://www.nationalgangcenter.gov/survey-analysis/demographics

The Death Penalty

What does the Bible say about the death penalty?

Exodus 21:12 reads, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.”

and

Romans 13:1-4 reads, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

The verse from Exodus deals with the laws of the people coming out of Egypt. The material in Romans comes from Paul as he was explaining to the church in Rome his beliefs about God.

It is clear from these passages that government has authority from God to determine whether or not someone should lose his or her life based on crimes they have committed (especially crimes that involve killing someone). At the same time, individuals are not justified in taking the life of another person in the name of justice.

Romans 12:19 reads, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

Should our government institute the death penalty?

When someone takes a life, they should be tried and convicted.  Scripture has given the government power to determine if someone should die for their crimes, but how often has the government falsely convicted the wrong person?

What does taking a life say about the value of life? Some may argue that putting someone to death shows how much we value the life of the innocent person who was harmed by the convicted felon. Others argue that even though the felon took the life of another, we should spare his or her life out of reverence for all life.

While I agree that the government certainly has the right to institute the death penalty, I caution its use. It must be clearly shown that the convicted felon was the real felon. Too often people have been put to death only to be exonerated later. Additionally, we must ensure that by taking the life of the felon we do not lose sight of the value of life itself. All humans are created in God’s image and all humans have value (even those who make morally evil choices).

Personally, I am a proponent of life without parole. In the event that a convicted felon is exonerated, the felon may be freed. Though I will concede that with new technology and the accuracy of DNA studies, fewer people receive wrongful convictions now than 30 or even 20 years ago.

What are your thoughts? Even if the government has the right, should they use it?