I recently moved to St. Louis (wonderful sports, food and Jazz in this city!) to become the Head of School for Westminster Christian Academy. As most of my readers are aware, three years ago, smoke and flames filled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. The riots started after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. What fewer of my readers may know is that in 2011 former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in December 2011. Yesterday the judge issued his verdict acquiting Jason Stockley of murder.
Given the tensions around police shootings in St. Louis and around the nation, we anticipated reaction in our community if the former officer was found not guilty. With that in mind I wrote a letter to our staff and parents suggesting a biblical perspective on how to respond to events like this.
Although this case may not affect you directly, there are many controversial issues that do or will. Perhaps what I shared with our school community will be helpful to you or others you know.
I am writing to offer a perspective on the verdict of the officer Jason Stockley trial. While I am new to the area, I am aware that this case and its final disposition elicits strong emotions for many. Because we come from many different life experiences and personal circumstances, our responses to events like this can vary widely.
Because God’s Word is instructive to all regardless of background, it provides guidance for such times as these. As believers, we are to be in the world—engaged and caring—while not being of the world—i.e., molded into its worldview, value system, and behaviors. We are called to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) As we consider how the Lord would have us respond, perhaps the following will be helpful.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
God has a profound concern for justice and so should we. Justice is to be “blind” without prejudice, bias, or favoritism of any sort. We should grieve at any injustice and lovingly and actively work to promote justice.
It is interesting that kindness and humility are included with justice. This focus on humility and kindness balances and softens the potential harshness of a focus on justice. This is similar to the biblical command to speak the truth in love. Truth spoken without love is harsh; love without truth is dishonest and, ultimately, harmful and unloving. Likewise, justice without humility and kindness is harsh, often leading to conflict. Humility and kindness without justice can allow evil to grow.
Seeking the Welfare of the City
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7)
This idea is closely related to seeking justice. Our neighbors and our community are harmed if justice is not promoted and prevailing. Likewise, our neighbors and community are harmed if we don’t promote peace and understanding. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
Loving Our Neighbor and Weeping with Those Who Weep
Regardless of our personal perspectives on this or any other issue, we are always to love our neighbor. (Mark 12:31) If our neighbors are hurting over the outcome of this case, we should be sensitive to that hurt and hurt along with them. Paul instructs us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:15–16) Notice that whether we are rejoicing or weeping, we do so in harmony, not in conflict, with each other.
As our community grapples with this issue I invite you to discuss the situation with your children, reminding them of the biblical truth that is to guide our thoughts, words, and actions, remembering that what they see and overhear from us has more impact than what we tell them.
Each of us is a member of the Westminster community and the body of Christ. As such, we have an opportunity and responsibility to love one another by working to understand others’ perspectives and feelings. Let’s commit ourselves and encourage our children to avoid harsh judgments, unkind words, and celebrations that could wound our neighbors or provoke them to become angry.
Our Faculty and Staff are Here to Help
We love your children. As an expression of that love, we will provide them opportunities to deal honestly with their feelings, and we will do all that we can to help them respond in a way that is healthy, that maintains peace, and that promotes unity. For example, we will begin to help each other and our students use the We CARE model in dealing with complex and often controversial issues.*
In appropriate classes (Bible, History, Race and Culture) we will help our students learn to set boundaries by listening and seeking to understand the perspectives and feelings of others. (James 1:19-21) Teachers in the appropriate classes, if, and as it seems appropriate and timely, will help our students wrestle with honest questions to promote deeper understanding:
- WHY do you think the judge made this decision? (Rationale)
- WHY is there anger? What’s behind this? (Empathy)
- WHAT is my responsibility as a Christian during times like these? (Loving my neighbor, promoting justice and peace)
We value your prayers for our school community, our city, and our nation. Please talk with your child(ren) about the outcome of this trial and encourage them to speak to their teachers and guidance counselors. Our Director of Diversity, the entire counseling department, and other members of our staff will seek to help equip our students and faculty to be instruments of peace and unity throughout this challenge.
Your servant in Christ,
Barrett Mosbacker, Head of school
* The We CARE model was developed by the Westminster Community Engagement Task Force.