Ferguson and the Need for Healing of Corporate Memory

Many people have been asking what the role of the church is in what is going on in Ferguson, MO. Clearly this is a very broken community which has been divided along racial lines and two divergent stories of what went on and why it happened.

One of the most important roles the church has to play in this situation is what is called “Healing the Corporate Memory”.

Social memory is that which attaches to membership of certain groups, and manifests itself as collectively held ideas and experiences.
Most churches and local communities face needs for the healing of corporate memory and for increased awareness of corporate responsibility.
The intention is not to recollect the past for the sake of preservation, but to awaken a sense of responsibility for being the body of Christ in that place.
– Esther Reed: The Genesis of Ethics

Examples of what this looks like can be found in the mid-1990’s in South Africa and in the war crimes tribunals for the Balkan Wars. It consists of telling and hearing both sides’ stories and understanding (but not necessarily affirming) both sides’ narratives – and then condemning ALL of the wrong actions that took place and all of the SYSTEMIC wrong that contributed to the situation in the first place.

However, restitution is also a key issue when it comes to healing. If the white community can make efforts towards restitution for prejudice, disdain and lost lives – whether they feel it necessary or not – and if the black community can make efforts towards restitution for the destruction caused by the rioting – it will make major headway towards forgiveness, healing the corporate memory and creating a new narrative for the whole community – both black and white – to share.

I believe it is the place of the church to step across racial lines, link arms and lead the way in this.


We do not know what to do…

I was inspired this morning reading the story of King Jehoshaphat – he’s one of the bright spots in the chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read how Jehoshaphat was faced with a difficult situation: the Moabites and the Ammonites, people groups who Israel had respected and lived beside peaceably as good neighbors, teamed up to attack and conquer Israel.

When Jehoshaphat received the news that these attacking armies were already in the land of Israel, on his doorstep, “he was afraid” – understandably – but look how he reacted: “[Jehoshaphat] set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4)

There are so many ways that people respond to bad news. I love the response of Jehoshaphat! Would to God that I would respond that way myself!

I once heard the statement that the key to leadership is that when you get bad news, you respond in great ways. That’s what Jehoshaphat did.

Key to leadership: When you get bad news, you respond in great ways

After calling the people together, Jehoshaphat led them in prayer – and he prayed fervently, from his heart, with faith. He says: “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you – for your name is in this house – and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” (2 Chronicles 20:9)

But most of all, I love the heart with which he ends the prayer: For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

There is something about that sentiment which resonates with me. There are so many situations about which I feel the same way: I don’t know what to do. Riots in Ferguson, war in Ukraine, strife and conflict in families in our own community. The list could go on. I sympathize with the heart of Jehoshaphat: I don’t know what to do, Lord!  But his conclusion couldn’t be more right on: But our eyes are on you. Lord, we are looking to you to save and deliver and change and redeem. We can’t do it – so we look to you, Lord!

If you read the end of the story, what you find out is that Jehoshaphat and Judah win the battle; the tide turns when Jehoshaphat organizes the people to both fight and to worship. May that be true of us as well in the situations that we face – that we would have the heart of Jehoshaphat in those times.