Should We March?
Written by - Bruce Fischer
MDIV - The Kings University
2020, Living Water Church
“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
Should we march?
I have been asked, and ask myself, the question of whether we should join in on the “Finishing the Work: Solidarity March” scheduled for this evening, June 7th in Madison. In his invitation to join in the march, Pastor Tom Flaherty of City Church says in part: “this Sunday night I’m calling us to mourn over another evil in our land that has led to injustices done to black American brothers and sisters; the sin of racism.” With an invitation like that, why would I even consider not marching? What Christian who is able to walk would not participate? Why am I even suggesting that this is not the march to participate in?!? I will return to that point later, for now let me say that if this were simply a march against racism, if this were indeed an opportunity for the broader church to gather with our Christian brothers and sisters of all races and denominations, I wouldn’t be writing this – I would be putting on my shoes to march!
Much effort has gone into pointing out that we as individuals and specifically as Christian individuals can engage with groups, can participate with groups, whose views we disagree with. Absolutely. No question. Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners” and He was criticized for it; He responded: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:10-12). We are most definitely called to go out into the world and be among people who hold different views than we do – if we did not, we could not be God’s ambassadors to the world!
Can I go to a political rally without agreeing with the political candidate on every point? Of course. Can I vote for a political party without agreeing with every plank in their party platform? Again, of course! I don’t believe any thinking person will ever agree on every single issue with the candidates or party they vote for. Can I pray and worship with Christians with whom I hold doctrinal differences? A third time, yes, of course! As Pastor Isaac is fond of quoting, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” a saying which in part sums up Paul’s admonishment in Romans 14 to not “quarrel over opinions”.
In fact, I have long been a proponent of trying to understand points of view that I do not hold! I have on my bookshelf such books as Smith’s Atheism, the Case Against God, Dawkins’ The Blind Watchmaker, Marx’ The Communist Manifesto and many others. I intentionally listen to talk radio from the opposing political viewpoint that I hold. And I have many friends who disagree with me on politics, religion, and economics who I nonetheless love and respect. I encourage everyone to seek to understand people who in whatever way are different from you, whether they be racial, political, religious or otherwise!
So if it’s not a question of gathering with people with whom we may have doctrinal issues, if it’s not a question of whether Christians should stand together in unity against racism, and if it’s not the point that we can show solidarity without agreeing on specifics, then what precisely is my issue with this march?!?
Before I answer that question, let me first ask the question of what is the purpose of a political protest? The group “Right to Protest” says this
Protests play an important part in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of all societies.
Historically, protests have often inspired positive social change and the advancement of human rights, and they continue to help define and protect civic space in all parts of the world. Protests encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry. They strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs. They enable individuals and groups to express dissent and grievances, to share views and opinions, to expose flaws in governance and to publicly demand that the authorities and other powerful entities rectify problems and are accountable for their actions. This is especially important for those whose interests are otherwise poorly represented or marginalised.
The right to protest is a fundamental aspect of freedom of speech, a basic freedom all citizens of the USA have, and something I wholeheartedly support! A large protest shows the community and specifically the elected officials of that community that a large portion of their constituents is demanding change. This is why news agencies provide the numbers of individuals involved in a political protest when they report on it: a protest with, say, ten individuals doesn’t show much public support for an issue; a protest with one thousand people, ten thousand people, one hundred thousand people will be taken much more seriously! The point is, organizers want large numbers to attend their protests because they want to demonstrate that large numbers of people support the changes that they are advocating. A basic understanding of a protest is that the participants are in agreement on the essentials of the protest! The protestors may not agree on all of the specific details, but by standing together in protest they are announcing that they agree with the essentials.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably wondering where this is leading, why I would be opposed to participation in this march, didn’t Pastor Tom Flaherty say this is a march against racism? Certainly we are in agreement on that essential point, that racism in any form is evil, even if we disagree with the specifics of how to deal with it. Let me be perfectly clear: I am one hundred percent opposed to racism. I am one hundred percent opposed to police brutality. I am one hundred percent in favor of the Christian community coming together to support one another against these evils.
Unfortunately, the organizers of this march do not say that its purpose is to march against racism, or even police brutality…
The African American Council of Churches Madison, WI (AACCM) provided a video on their Facebook page, linked here: https://www.facebook.com/AACCMadison/videos/280355313097684/
The video is a conversation between the organizers, Pastor Marcus Allen and Judge (Pastor) Everett D. Mitchell, and is titled “Purpose of the March”. It is a 46-minute long video, and includes some very excellent suggestions for improving law enforcement and treatment especially of black and minority members of our communities. Unfortunately, it also includes ideas which I consider troubling. Ideas which would, I believe, cause unbelievable suffering and misery in the very communities Pastor Allen and Judge Mitchell are trying to help!
I encourage you to watch the entire video, but if you don’t, at least listen to two sections. First, go to the 13 minute point of the video. Here, Pastor Allen says “you came up with a theme of Finishing the Work” and asks Judge Mitchell to explain that theme. Judge Mitchell enumerates the “Work” which this march is intended to finish. It includes:
Justice for Tony Robinson
Community control of the police department
Defund police departments
Support for “Free the 350 Bail Fund”
Please note: following these demands, Judge Mitchell does offer some very constructive ideas, such as police meeting with congregations and simplifying the process to fire police officers who violate standards.
The second section of the video I would ask you to watch if you are unable to view the entire program comes at the 24 minute 40 second point. Here Judge Mitchell says: “we don’t have to have the same ideas about how to get there, but we have to be in solidarity. “ I can agree with that. However, he then goes on to say “We’re going to be calling people to commit to the demands of Freedom Inc., the Young Gifted and Black, Urban Triage” (emphasis added). I looked online at these organizations, both Freedom Inc and Urban Triage seem to be good organizations doing good work, but what are their demands? That’s Judge Mitchell’s word, “demands”. Urban Triage and Freedom Inc., list the following demands:
We demanded, and will continue to demand: defund the police, reparations for all Black people, release all incarcerated Black people from jail, get cops out of schools, and community control over the police.
Are you willing to commit to these demands? Is this an essential that you agree with? Do these demands represent justice?
Looking a little closer at the stated purposes of today’s march, and starting with the second purpose, what does “community control of the police department” look like? Of the four stated purposes, in addition to committing to the demands of the organizations listed, this one I may agree with, depending upon how the proposed community control is to operate in practice. Perhaps this could be explored further, as Judge Mitchell says it means “more involvement in the oversight of the police, what do the people want to see, how do the people want to be policed.” Again, please understand, I do not disagree with everything these leaders propose!
Their third purpose for the march is to “defund police departments”. Is this what we as Christians believe? That less police will mean an increase in justice? Local news outlet WMTV NBC15 news ran an article about State Street in Madison that reports “42 businesses responded by saying they don’t think they will be reopening at all” after the vandalism and looting of the past week (https://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Over-40-State-St-businesses-say-they-wont-reopen--571054801.html ). This is what happens when the police don’t show up. Who will an abused spouse or child call, who will show up for domestic violence, who will stop the car speeding down the beltline at 100 miles per hour, who will investigate the murders, theft, and violence if the police are defunded? Is this justice?
The fourth stated demand is support for “Free the 350 Bail Fund”. Thankfully, this organization is very clear on their website about what they are advocating:
The Free The 350 Bailfund seeks to prioritize bailing out Black people incarcerated in the Dane County jail system, and also seeks to end the unjust and antiquated prison and jail system in general. Prison abolition is the ultimate goal, free them all!
Is this justice? Are there people who are incarcerated unjustly? Certainly. But to abolish the entire prison system because it is imperfect in no way, shape or form is justice! Is it justice for the victims of rape to have their rapists free to roam? For the families of murderers to have the convicted murderer run free? Is this what God would call us to do? “Free them all!”? Without prisons and jails there is no possibility of justice. Can there be prison reform? Certainly. Can the 72 hour holding period in jail without charges filed be addressed? Absolutely. But does that mean that the prison and jail system is “unjust and antiquated”? I would suggest that the rape victim whose attacker is safely behind bars would say otherwise.
You may have noticed that I skipped over the first purpose of the march, justice for Tony Robinson. Near the beginning of the video (approximately 8 minutes in) Pastor Allen implies that the death of Tony Robinson is the same as the killing of George Floyd. Judge Mitchell says that Tony Robinson was a “gentle giant” and that “he was high, but he didn’t have to die”. The facts are that Tony Robinson was high on Xanax, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and marijuana, and “911 calls reported that he was acting “insane” and attacking people.” (https://www.cnn.com/2015/05/12/us/tony-robinson-madison-killing-investigation/index.html ) Officer Matt Kenny was called to the scene, and CNN goes on to say:
Kenny was called to an apartment over reports that Robinson had been jumping in front of cars and assaulting people.
After hearing some commotion, Kenny entered the apartment.
Kenny reported that Robinson hit him and knocked him into the wall inside the apartment, an account that the prosecutor said was supported by damage to drywall.
After that, Kenny said he was afraid Robinson would hit him again or take his gun, and opened fire as the 19-year-old continued to come at him.
In three seconds, seven shots were fired.
So an officer, responding to calls about a man assaulting people, enters an apartment after hearing commotion, and being told by the police dispatcher “the suspect had left the gas station and gone inside 1125 Williamson Street, and had reportedly tried to strangle another person.” (https://www.doj.state.wi.us/sites/default/files/MADISON%20-%20TONY%20T.%20ROBINSON%20JR.%20INVESTIGATION%2C%20MARCH%202015.pdf ) The suspect, Tony Robinson, then struck Officer Kenny, knocking him into a wall. Fearing that Robinson would grab his weapon, Officer Kenny fired upon him, and since Tony Robinson was still striking at him (remember he was high on three different drugs) Officer Kenny fired another string of shots. While we can debate whether or not Officer Kenny used justifiable force or not, I hope we can agree that this case in no way resembles the images we’ve all seen of George Floyd being killed with a knee to his neck. I cannot support a march that declares “justice for Tony Robinson” as an example of systemic police brutality and racism.
So where does this leave me, as a Christian who seeks to further God’s Kingdom, desires an end to racism, and desires justice for all Americans?
Sadly, there are too many cases of racism, even in the past few months, to dismiss the problem: the horrifying case of Ahmaud Arbery and even the racist Amy Cooper in Central Park, New York are reminders that racism is all too alive and well in the United States in 2020.
However, if I am participating in a protest march, I am telling the world that I agree with the essentials of the march. The organizers, Pastor Allen and Judge Mitchell are calling on participants to agree with the essentials of the march. On their Facebook page, the AACC Madison states: “The purpose of this March is to bring the faith community (All others are welcomed to march as well) together to stand up and speak out against racism, injustice and declare "Black Lives Matter." “ Had they left the purpose at that, I would be marching! Regrettably in their video they state otherwise, that the purpose is justice for Tony Robinson, community control of the police department, defunding of police departments, and support of Free the 350 Bail Fund which desires abolishing the jail and prison system. In addition, they call for a commitment to the demands of organizations which include things I cannot support: “defund the police, reparations for all Black people, release all incarcerated Black people from jail, get cops out of schools, and community control over the police.”
It gives me no joy in writing this paper. I suspect I will be misunderstood. I suspect some will label me a racist. I would like nothing less than a march in solidarity with all Christians, against racism and police brutality. Regrettably, while the AACC Madison states “This is not a political March but it is one that will cry out for justice” I feel they have made it just that: a political march in support of an agenda that I cannot support.
Final thoughts: I will happily converse with people with whom I disagree, even vehemently disagree. I will pray for all people, and most certainly black lives do matter. I would attend a talk given by Judge Mitchell, as my wife did. I would march against racism and police brutality. But I cannot march in support of things that I believe strongly would do irreparable damage to the very communities which Pastor Allen and Judge Mitchell wish to help, such as defunding the police departments and abolishing prisons. These things would result in untold suffering and even more violence in our already too violent streets. They are not justice.
For further study:
Free the 350 Bail Fund
Freedom Inc. (at the time of this writing has a large banner stating “FREE THE 350” as their cover photo)
Statistics on Fatal Police Shootings from Michigan State University and the University of Maryland, published in July of 2019