November 26, 2014


Many years ago, my wife and I were called upon to counsel a married couple in our church. They were always fighting, never at peace, struggling to raise two small children in a troubled household. Week after week we met with them, trying to understand where all of the hostility came from. Surely there was something that led them to fall in love in the first place, right?

Finally one night as were enjoying dinner at their house, it happened: out of nowhere, she told us all about his extramarital affair from several years before. As if it was funny, as if it was normal conversation fodder for a casual meal. I looked at Ruth; she looked at me. We nodded; it was time for us to speak up.

“Betty, do you realize how much you insult your husband? It seems to come so naturally for you, and you do it all the time.”

Immediately her cheerful demeanor changed, and she began to recite a long litany of his sins. Mostly petty household stuff: the sock on the floor, the dish in the sink, the long nights at the office without a call. She probably could have gone on all night. What could I say? How could I rescue this conversation from careening out of control? Without thinking, I opened my mouth, and this is what came out:

“Excuse me? Betty? The issues are not the issue.” (Yes, I too had to pause for a moment to ponder what I had just said. Huh?)

She was incredulous. “How can you defend him?”

“Betty, all of those things might be true. But the problem here is not the sock or the dish or the call. The problem us that you’re selfish. The problem is that you can’t forgive. The problem is you don’t love each other. You’d rather hold the grudge, than to actually solve the problem.”

Dead silence for about a minute. Apparently, we hit a nerve. As it turned out, that night marked the beginning of a true reconciliation in their marriage.

Fast forward about fifteen years, and I’m watching the news coverage about the riots in Ferguson. Why are these people running in the streets and looting stores and torching police cars?

“The police don’t respect us.”
“Whitey got away with it again.”
“Not enough black people on the jury.”
“Michael’s parents lost their baby.”

I figure, all of those things might be true. But the issue of the moment is not the real issue. Say what you want about racism or injustice or whatever. These things are beyond dispute:

Michael robbed a store and roughed up the owner.
He taunted a cop.
He had no respect for authority, or for the property of others.
His friends didn’t love him enough to restrain him.
Forensic evidence proved that much of the testimony from witnesses was not true.
The cop didn’t go looking for trouble; the trouble came to him.

Al Sharpton is not your friend. He incited a riot, then feigned indignation when it happened. He gets more satisfaction from defending a thug, than from preventing a child from becoming one. He would rather hold the grudge, than to actually solve the problem.

Did the policeman do something wrong? Maybe. Did the grand jury make a mistake? Perhaps. Are there racists in Ferguson? Certainly. But they’re not the ones who burned down their city.

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