Being the author of biographies on William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes it especially tough for me to witness what a nation of spectators America has become. You see, both of these men looked at the condition their societies were in, and did something. They didn’t simply curse the darkness, as the saying goes. They lit candles.
Of course, in most circumstances, lighting things on fire isn’t the right course of action. Following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a man who died in the custody of Baltimore police, rioters in Baltimore torched countless vehicles, businesses, and community assets. With police officers injured and some 200 rioters arrested, no wonder Maryland’s governor called in the National Guard. Destroying property and endangering lives isn’t a protest—it’s a crime.
And the steady stream of images and sound-bites from Baltimore quickly got wearisome—not because they weren’t true, but because they weren’t the whole truth.
As Trilla Newbell of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission asked in The Washington Post, “can we please start sharing the good news out of Baltimore?”
If you didn’t know there was good news, you’re not alone.
Newbell calls them “stories of quiet faithfulness”: photos of Baltimore residents forming human barricades to keep rioters from the police, children passing out bottled water to National Guardsmen, and a video of a Vietnam vet shooing hoodlums away all show a side of the city that many are not seeing.
But what really filled me with hope was the Christian response. Local pastors locking arms and marching into the riots, urging calm—impromptu church services held on the streets—a chorus of “Amazing Grace” breaking out—church volunteers sweeping up broken glass—moving images and stories that leaked out on Twitter while footage of burning police cars dominated TV coverage.
After schools closed, several area churches opened their doors to provide safe places for students. Some, like Metropolitan United Methodist handed out sack lunches to kids who otherwise would not have eaten.
Brad O’Brien, a Baptist minister and church planter, turned out with others early Tuesday morning to help with the cleanup. “We know that if the Gospel can resurrect our dead hearts then it can bring hope to this community,” he said, trash bag in hand. “Our hope is not in our police chief or the governor. Our hope is in Christ alone.”
Perhaps the most profound moment was CNN report on a three-alarm fire at a community center. Slated to open this year, the Mary Harvin Transformation Center was a joint project between churches looking to provide housing, recreation, and a family atmosphere in one of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods.
Looking on as flames engulfed years of work, Reverend Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist church had nothing to offer but forgiveness. “My heart is broken,” he said. “…somebody obviously didn’t understand that we were working on behalf of the community…we were seeking to restore people.”
“What do you see here?” asked the reporter.
“I see revival,” Hickman calmly replied. “I see the opportunity to rebuild from the ashes.”
Chuck Colson once said that “in the worst of times, Christians do the best of things.”
There’s no question that what happened in Baltimore was the worst of times—but the examples of Christian citizens who weren’t content to spectate or to curse the darkness—brought me hope. And you can be sure that for the residents of Baltimore, these peacemakers did what the rioters failed to do: they brought positive change—even if not all of them made the evening news.
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is currently the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.