Honor the Outrage: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 6 and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul chastises the members of the Corinthian church for taking each other to court. Suing each other was one of the many ways that church expressed and experienced disunity.

We don't know why the members of the Corinthian church were taking each other to court. But scholars are relatively confident that the lawsuits were being brought by the wealthier members of the church against the poorer members.

Given the power structure at play in Corinthian society the legal system "worked" for the wealthy and disadvantaged the poor and less privileged. Thus, lawsuits could be used by the wealthy to get their way.

In his book Conflict & Community in Corinth Ben Witherington describes the situation and its relevance for the problems Paul calls out in 1 Corinthians 6:
From at least the time of Augustus certain people--fathers, patrons, magistrates, and men of standing--were basically immune from prosecution for fraud by some kinds of other people--children, freedmen, private citizens, and men of low rank. Only if the lower status person had a powerful patron was there a likelihood that he or she could bring suit against someone higher up the social ladder...

To the wealthy, well-born, and well-connected went the chief rewards of the legal system, along with many of the other benefits available in society. There was a strongly aristocratic bias to the whole culture. Justice during the empire was far from blind and was often looking over its shoulder.

The importance for this for 1 Corinthians 6 is that at the very least one or both of the Christians going to court were probably well-to-do and hoping to exploit the judicial system to their advantage.
I'm bringing attention to the situation in 1 Corinthian 6 as I think it is relevant to how the White and Black communities are and will be responding to the Ferguson grand jury decision to not indict officer Derran Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

Specifically, and eerily similar to the situation in Corinth, the church is being split by how it judges the fairness and integrity of the legal system.

Similar to how the wealthy and powerful members of the Corinthian church viewed their legal system, many Whites in the US view the American legal system as "working." This is, by and large, because legal systems tend to advantage privileged groups. Then and now.

By contrast, and similar to how the poor and less powerful members of the Corinthian church viewed their legal system, many Blacks in the US view the American legal system as "broken." This is, by and large, because legal systems tend to stack the deck against disadvantaged groups. Justice isn't blind but biased. To say nothing of how legal systems are often straightforwardly antagonistic and hostile toward disadvantaged group, tools of injustice and oppression.

Thus we have two groups of believers--the rich and the poor in Corinth and Whites and Blacks in America--with divergent views of the legal system resulting in disunity within the church.

For White America the justice system "works." Consequently, the grand jury decision not to indict Derran Wilson is trustworthy. The system did its job so we should abide by the decision. Justice has been done.

For Black America the justice system is and has been "broken." Consequently, there is no reason to trust the grand jury decision. The system is rigged. Always has been. No way justice was going to be done in this instance.

I want to be clear. From an evidential and legal standpoint I cannot say if the decision to not indict Derran Wilson was appropriate. I wasn't on the grand jury.

What I am talking about are the perceptions of trust Whites and Blacks have of the US legal system and how those perceptions affect the unity of the church in light of how we are responding to the news coming out of Ferguson. I especially want to draw attention to how many White Christians will harshly judge and condemn the outrage within the Black community regarding the grand jury decision. Many White Christians will ask, Why all the anger and outrage? The rule of law was followed, the grand jury did its job, the system worked.

But this easy confidence that the system "worked" is a luxury of the privileged. It is the same easy confidence that allowed the wealthy members of the Corinthian church to expect justice to break in their favor when they took their brothers and sisters to court.

The Corinthian church experienced division and disunity because its members had very different opinions about the degree to which the legal system was trustworthy versus broken, the degree to which the system was biased for or against them. The privileged and powerful trusted the system because it worked for them. And the same holds true for White America today. And you abide by decisions you trust.

But the less privileged and powerful in Corinth distrusted the system because it worked against them. And the same holds true for Black America today. And it is difficult to abide by decisions you deeply distrust.

And as these opinions divided the Corinthian church they divide the American church today.

So what's the solution?

I think one answer in moving toward greater unity is the same one Paul gives later in the book in 1 Corinthians 12. In that chapter Paul succinctly says, "But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body."

Unity is achieved by giving greater honor to the members of the church that lack it.

Unity is achieved in the church by rehabilitative honoring, caring and respecting, with the privileged and powerful giving greater honor and care--not balanced or equal honor and care but greater honor and care--to those who have lacked privilege, prestige, power or status.

And whatever that might mean for White Christians today I think it means at least this much, that we honor the outrage.

Agree or disagree, you honor and show care for the outrage.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

25 thoughts on “Honor the Outrage: A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 6 and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision”

  1. "Who did what?" is a good question, but it's not one that I have enough information to answer well.

    As a Christian and as a white male, I think there are more important questions I need to answer, such as "Why are my black brothers and sisters in such agony and fury about this decision?" or "What does their reaction say about their experience of living in our country that I may not fully understand yet?"

    I do not need to adjudicate all the facts before I decide whether to be compassionate or honor others' experiences.

  2. "Unity is achieved by giving greater honor to the members of the church that lack it."

    So true and so powerful. However, to be honest, these statements of Paul, that I had read and heard quoted through the years, never resonated until the Jesus of the gospels became my focus. During my childhood and teen years I heard often from church members the complaint against such groups as the NAACP, and other organizations that sought to empower the black community, "We don't have a National Association for White People"; and having the desire to be like those I loved, I took that statement as the "greatest of all wisdom"...until I read and reread the gospels.

    The Jesus I see in the gospels would have never resented any form or means of empowerment attempted by those who had never known power; this Jesus would have never asked, or thought, "Why do you need and insist on having this?" So, as I walk though the day, any anger that I may confront, any mistrust that I may sense, from people who have been set off to the side, and told that those of us who have power know what is best for them, I must keep in mind that I have laid on me a demand as a child of God to look past that anger and mistrust into the soul that has been wounded and perhaps forgotten. No, that does not mean I am able to walk away feeling "sweet & holy" while singing Kumbaya to myself. But I can walk from it knowing that this person's anger takes nothing, absolutely nothing away from me, and that this may be the first time in this individual's life that someone like myself actually listened.

  3. "I do not need to adjudicate all the facts before I decide whether to be compassionate or honor others' experiences." Amen, Ben.

  4. It seems apparent that when an action or crime gets media attention. The decision gets altered more to the left of honesty as understood by the less privilege individual Black or White especially when it involves people of authority waiver against society. Keep in mind we don't know all the facts or better yet what was gather to achieve suspected results.
    Just a reminder FACTS is not all ways the truth.

  5. Then by all means ANSWER those questions, instead of just posing them. And answer them in full, with due attention to all of the plausible possibilities.

  6. Mr. Auvermann,

    There are times when good posers, all by themselves, penetrate the heart, stir the conscience, and make us go mining for the answers ourselves. I believe Ben's did exactly that.

  7. Compassion, yes absolutely. It may be semantics, but "honor the outrage" I can't use. To honor, to regard in high esteem, to hold with great respect, the rage, and accompanying behavior that go hand-in-hand with that much anger? It sounds as though white brothers and sisters should accommodate anger, bitterness, and hostility because there is good cause for it.

  8. Kevin, there is nothing wrong with outrage. As a person who watched his sister in law go to prison for something she did not do, I was outraged. Christians that took your stance, did not know how to react, how to minister to our family, and did not know how to be empathetic to how outraged we were that an innocent mother of three was sent to prison for something her rich white stepfather did. You do not have to agree with it, you do not have to feel it but if you were to see how someone could be so hurt that caused bitterness and hostility, then yes you could honor it. It is more than semantics when the semantics drives your response to a brother or sister or most likely, doesn't.

  9. Ben I appreciate your response. I work in several communities where I have to understand that I don't truly understand from my own viewpoint but have to work on sympathy and empathy for the plight of others with whom I work. I am not responsible for causing white privilege but I am responsible for what I do with it. Also, I am amused by such a post by a guy who calls himself Y-D. Thanks for that as well.

  10. Nice dodge, John. Still, I think we already know what answers Ben Y-D would give to his own preferred questions - the standard "white-guilt" answers, bereft of correspondence with either forensic evidence, credible eyewitness testimony, or even moral reasoning - which means "good posers" is more precisely correct than perhaps you imagined. Good call!

  11. By all means, honor the outrage. Especially when data on the street suggest that the primary victims of the outrage (aka rank lawlessness) are other African-Americans. http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/11/25/Most-Businesses-Destroyed-in-Ferguson-Minority-Owned #irony #shame

  12. I don't know all the answers to those questions - but I think that seeking those answers honors God. It wasn't until I met African-American people and heard about their experience of being American that I realized how often I had been operating from a posture of judgment, rather than a posture of compassion. I'm thankful for their willingness to hold my feet to the fire as I've continued to work through what this all means for me.

    Hopefully, we all can find communities who help us do that, in whatever way best works for us.

  13. I have also worked in communities like that. They stretched me in uncomfortable ways that also forced me to grow. I'm glad to hear that there are other people who have been on that same journey: it is a difficult and beautiful blessing!

    (And - while I'd like to claim that Y-D is a clever acronym for something, it is merely the abbreviation of my otherwise unpronounceable hyphenated last name. Glad it amused you anyway! :) )

  14. I get where I think your going with the critique of rhetorical questions that are designed to make feel feel clever and wise Brent but at the same time I think we have to accept that in the heat of the moment we never have all the information. So sometimes these kind of statements can be useful as a way to help change our default programming to something kinder and more compassionate then normal.

  15. The fear and agony felt by the black community isn't, I think, despair at the idea that the system is broken. It's that the system may be working exactly as intended, that this is what it is meant to do. And that would suggest that the concept of justice is fiction, that it's nothing more than a glove in which the hand of force rests.

    All in addition to the personal tragedies it compounds - there's a pattern here, suggestive of systemic injustice and something that calls for a response.

    In the sidebar of this blog, there are very moving posts about the slavery of death, in- and outgroup dynamics, the principalities and powers, the civil rights movement, spiritual wickedness.

    While I appreciate the conciliatory tone taken here, I worry that it's less relevant as a response to human suffering, and that every black teenager in the nation hears what is not being said.

  16. Your speculative comment that "every black teenager in the nation hears what is not being said" (presumably, that white people remain indifferent to the "systematic injustice in the black community) may or may not be true. What is more certain is that every black teenager in the nation has heard what is being said by prominent African Americans and white "progessives" --

    *That the shooting deaths of Michael Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, are demonstrable proof that white cops/white people in general (later broadened to include White Hispanics) are free to kill innocent black youths without impunity.

    *That these shooting deaths are the modern equivalent of the Emmett Till lynching and show that nothing has really changed.

    *That anything other than a conviction/indictment offer further evidence of systematic injustice.

    *That rioting, looting and pillaging, while unfortunate, are understandable given the justifiable black rage experienced at the hands of white oppressors. Violence is necessary means to fight the power and get the attention of the white man (Nothing will change until white people are afraid in their own homes).

    *That persistent poverty, a dysfunctional education system and the high incarceration rate for black males evidence systematic injustice (implicit in this message is that there is no personal responsibility).

    If whites in general are guilty of seeming indifference, key influentials in the black community, aided by those burdened with white guilt, are also to blame for promoting an exaggerated and one sided (note that I did not say totally unfounded) message of blacks as hapless victims.

    I can and will pray for peace and healing in Fegusun and the nation. I can and do mourn with those who mourn, particularly Michael Brown's parents.

    I find it more difficult to further "honor the rage" without appearing to endorse a narrative that in my opinion fuels rage and moves us away from rather than toward the post-racial society many,myself included, hoped for when President Obama was first elected.

  17. This is such crap. I married a black man and am a step mother to two black young men. They do NOT take their cues from activists or celebrities. They aren't dumb sycophants. They know what their own experiences are. They see the difference between their lives and how they are treated and how things work for their white peers. To the extent that they care what some activist or celebrity says, it is because that person is saying things they already agree with. The idea that African-Americans are such dumb, unthinking sheep that they can be lead to believe things about their own lives that aren't even true by activists and leaders is really idiotic.

    When I married my husband, I had no idea that his race would determine where we could live, what sort of financing we could get on a car or house, what his work conditions would be and even if he'd come home in a foul mood after a run in with someone who felt compelled to show open disdain for his skin tone and facial features. And there's no recourse for any of it. Even a mild protest has cost employment and gets him labelled a scary black man who's difficult to work with. The reason people are protesting is because, yes, it really is that bad.

  18. I believe the only fact that I should need to move me to compassion is that my brothers and sisters in Christ (and my future brothers and sisters in Christ) are feeling disenfranchised from the opportunities and rewards that so many of us take for granted. The fact that Jesus died for all of us should be enough to remind us that we are all in this together.

    When my brother or sister (in the earthly sense) is in distress or anguish what do I do? I go to them and stand alongside them, comfort them and help them if I can. I need to do the same for my family that, like me, has been grafted into the family of God.

  19. Answering those questions takes a lot more space than a comment on a blog allows, but should you be interested in learning about some of the forces and history that have worked to create this sort of outrage:

    http://www.epi.org/publication/making-ferguson/ - really long with lots of footnotes and probably a little boring if you're not a social policy nerd like me.



    That should get you started. There is no shortage of answers to the question.

  20. it's pretty obvious that one can find reasons to dismiss any "forensic evidence" or qualify the "credible eyewitness testimony" into an "uncredible," (the entire point of a trial is built around doing this) so i don't know why you're invoking those things as some sort of neutral transcendent anchor of factual reality when they're still infinitely open to selection, arrangement, interpretation, etc.

    haha just kidding, i know why.

  21. i would like to hear it from them. i want what they want for myself as a psychiatric survivor formerly homeless, addict in recovery. i think the road to liberation from oppression is the way the truth and the life of love i've waited 63 years to find!

  22. did you ever try plowing w/ the athiests? i spent a cuppla days last week being a bit passive agressive, i admit, gathering some good info, getting the shyt kicked out of me, trying to not take things personally, being challenged in a new way to see another p.o.v., ridding myself of some assumptions, observing bad behavior, enduring personal insults & generally feeling o.k. about my integrity after an ordeal. i still have my shor hairs!

  23. Issues with housing and employment discrimination are certainly cause of indignation. Being profiled by police for "driving while Black" are cause for anger. That these cumulative experiences lead to suspicion of the justice system is understandable. That's a rage I can "honor."

    What troubles me is the leap from these all-too-common forms of on-going discrimination to the conclusion that Michael Brown was an innocent young African American shot down by another racist cop, that justice is not served in this and other cases unless the white shooter is convicted, that the failure to receive "justice" makes looting and pillaging understandable, necessary even, or that these cases show we have made no progress toward racial equality.

    No, it really isn't that bad.

  24. Outrage - Merriam Webster:
    1: an act of violence or brutality
    a: injury, insult
    b: an act that violates accepted standards of behavior or taste

    As I said, it may be semantics or wording, but "outrage" communicates something different to me. Anger is acceptable and should be validated. Acts of violence, injury, insult, brutality, and acts that violate acceptable standards of behavior deserve no honor at all. I'm not diminishing your feelings, it's just that your anger doesn't have any right to spill out with violence and such all over others. The black community has every right to be "angry". It has no right to be "outraged" to the point of burning, looting, and or harming other citizens. That is why I say wording matters to me. Outrage deserves no honor.

Leave a Reply