FERGUSON – Six days after the St. Louis County grand jury announced it would not indict the white officer who shot and killed a black man in August, six days after protestors grabbed headlines anew and shutdown highways and six days after rioters burned down the Little Caesar’s pizza chain directly across the street from the church, blacks and whites filed into First Baptist Church here Nov. 30 to worship together, and ask God to heal the city’s all-too-visible wounds.
Stoney Shaw, the pastor of First Baptist, preached from John 14 and 16, saying Christ is the only hope and source of peace for Ferguson, St. Louis and the world.
“It was hurtful for all types of people when you see your community that you love, live in and work in. When you see the flames start to rise up, the anger starts to rise up in your heart. If Jesus doesn’t come forth, the anger persists and bad things happen.”
Shaw urged his church to think biblically as they left church that morning, though anger and distrust still swirl as shopping malls, football games and other events are being disrupted in the region amid cries of racism.
“It is the only thing that will guide us through this time,” he said. “Don’t listen just to CNN or all these other channels; find out what is really happening and then respond as Jesus would respond, trusting Him to guide you. There is a real dearth of people thinking, acting and feeling biblically. Without living this way, political correctness will divide us and be our death. Something is wrong with us if we can’t communicate if we’re Christ’s ones.”
Shaw said his phone has been ringing nonstop from churches and individuals from across the country asking what they can do help him and his church.
“They ask, ‘do you need our help?’” he said. “No, we need your prayers. We know what God is up to; God is drawing us all to Himself because we can’t handle it. The police chief can’t handle it and the mayor can’t handle it. Things happened years ago and we have the opportunity to change, but we cannot do it on our own.”
Though the aerial images of burning stores and sign-holding protestors dominate the nightly news, Shaw said there have been some positives emerging from the chaos. First Baptist, among other groups, banded together to feed students who might not have had a place to go when classes were dismissed in anticipation of the indictment announcement and potential unrest. The church also sent out teams to clean up after the riots, only to have them return within an hour saying there were so many people already working, there was nothing to clean up. Ferguson’s mayor, James Knowles, asked Shaw and other area pastors to pray for him and stand by his side as he gave press conferences.
Shaw, who was arrested four times in the 1960s after marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is no stranger to protests. However, he had harsh words for those that have burned down a dozen buildings, torched police cruisers and looted local shops.
“I believe in marching for change, but not to do evil, burn and slash,” he said. “Those people couldn’t care less about Michael Brown, his family or Officer Wilson.”
It was fitting then, that First Baptist’s worship service began with chimes and the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” based on the Civil War-era poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Its final verse reads:
“And in despair I bowed my head; ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said; ‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’ Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.’”