By Russell Moore, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Our television screens glow with images of criminal rioting and assault on police officers in the streets of Baltimore. This is in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, despite the pleas from Gray’s family for calm. The horrific scene seems to bring out the worst ideological responses from divergent corners. Some, wrongly, excuse the rioting, pointing out the issues leading up to it as justifying such criminality. On the other side, some suggest, wrongly, that such rioting is part and parcel of what peaceful protesters are about, distracting from the very real systemic issues that must be addressed. But behind all of this is a question the church must ask: what does Baltimore need in a time such as this?
There’s no question that Baltimore needs order and restraint of violence. There’s no question that Baltimore needs investigation and justice in the untimely death of Freddie Gray. There’s no question that Baltimore suffers from poverty, racial injustice, family breakdown, illegal drugs, gang activity, and a thousand other ailments. Government, civil society, law enforcement, and community organizations must confront all of these. But I would argue that the primary need Baltimore has is for the church.
By saying this, I am not suggesting that systemic problems can be wiped out simply by more and more people becoming Christians and leading transformed lives. We needed, after all, a Civil War and some constitutional amendments to end the scourge of human slavery in this country. We need governing authorities to do their God-assigned responsibilities, and as citizens we should see to it that systems are reformed in ways conducive to justice and the common good. But, as a Christian, I believe the primary vehicle for shaping consciences to prioritize life and justice and peace and order is the community of the church, under the reign of Christ.