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Chris Shelton column: An apology, a response and a challenge

An Apology, a Response and a Challenge

 

By Chris Shelton

Special to the Salisbury PostW

e live in a culture where apologies seem rare, where confessing mistakes and saying “I’m sorry” can be perceived as weakness or lack of competence. Yet there is a mysterious freedom, a paradoxical strength to be found when we’re willing to get over ourselves enough to do so.

I am writing this piece for three reasons: (1) to make an apology (yes, pastors make mistakes and are capable of saying I’m sorry), (2) to offer an explanation and (3) to share a bit of my perspective concerning a situation that I have been intimately involved with that has imminent implications on our community.

In January I composed an email to several local clergy in response to concerns being raised in light of an autopsy report of Ferguson Laurent — a 23-year-old black man who was shot and killed while police were serving a no-knock warrant at his residence. Like many, I was troubled to see the autopsy revealed 10 bullet wounds to Laurent — which seemed to conflict with initial reports of “two to three shots” that were returned on Laurent after he fired at officers. My email was read at a press conference initiated by several local clergy and community advocates to express concerns over the report and (quite understandably) press for explanations.

A bit of an aside here: It has been mentioned on multiple occasions that we need to be careful to suspend judgement until we have all the facts. While I agree that in an ideal world this would certainly be the most wise approach — a world where there is complete harmony among government, police and citizens of various ethnicities, backgrounds and classes in a community — the world we live in is far from ideal and has a history. And that history includes racial injustice, prejudice, abuse of power and subsequently criticism of authority. These realities shape our present. So, we have to understand that any time there is a delay in the disclosure of information, people will naturally fill the voids with their own assumptions and version of the truth. (As I write this, we are still awaiting the results of the SBI investigation.) Agree or disagree, this is reality, and something we would do well to understand and consider.

In my email, I shared how it seemed an excessive amount of force had been returned on Laurent based on the autopsy. Furthermore, the discrepancy between the “two to three shots” returned and the 10 bullet wounds led me (and others) to conclude that police had failed to disclose certain details and that other officers must have been involved in returning fire. Here I want to apologize for drawing a premature, ungrounded conclusion that I have since come to understand was interpreted as spreading “false information.” While I consider “false” as spreading lies while knowing the truth, I apologize for my impulsive choice of words.

I apologize to Chief Stokes and our local law enforcement officers for any impression I have given of a lack of support and appreciation. I apologize for how this has in any way reflected on Life Church — a church that is unquestionably for this community. While I will continue to work to be a voice for justice, reason, healing and reconciliation in our community, I apologize where I have contributed to any further division at a time when we desperately need sound leadership, reason, understanding, accountability and solutions.

Unfortunately, I have found the deeper we wade into these issues, the greater the opportunity for criticism, missteps and misunderstandings along the way. That is a price we must anticipate and be willing to accept sometimes. But I’m convinced change won’t happen by sitting back, remaining silent, playing it safe and keeping our hands clean. As I often share with our church, I would rather fail trying than fail by not trying at all.

So who’s side am I on? Human nature leads us to conclude that in the midst of conflict, we must choose sides. If you’re for one side, you must be against the other. I disagree.

So let me make this perfectly clear:

I am for justice, the continued work for racial reconciliation and the need for understanding and acknowledgement around the ethnic and socioeconomic factors that continue to contribute to the divisions, distrust and challenges we face today. I am for dialogue that brings all perspectives to the table. I am for listening, not merely for the purpose of agreement, but for the purpose of understanding, because listening to understand leads to compassion. I am for accountability among our community leaders and law enforcement. Simultaneously, I am for supporting, honoring and praying for those who bear such responsibilities, and when possible, holding up their arms so that they can carry out their duties for the good of all citizens. I am for those struggling, yet trying to set a table for people to gather around, and I am for those who are skeptical of being at the table due to hurt, anger and distrust.

I’m not for every issue, but I am for people on all sides of the issues. This is not some diplomatic statement, but something that is fundamentally shaped out of my belief in a God who is for, not against us, even when we are hostile towards him. I believe in a God who came to save, not condemn. I believe the cross of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of this truth, thus revealing how we can be for one another and the greater good even in the midst of our disagreements and hostilities. I believe in a grace that makes possible what would otherwise be impossible.

I served as an officiant at Ferguson Laurent’s funeral. I am part of a church that has ministered to the officer who shot Laurent. I have been on both sides. I have been criticized, misunderstood, given the cold shoulder. I have waded into the tension, and I choose to stay there, because I am for our community, its God-given potential and our future.

Chris Shelton serves as Lead Pastor of Life Church of Salisbury. A longer version of this article is available at www.lifechurchnc.com.

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