A Message from our University Chaplain

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

The grand jury investigating the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has issued a controversial decision. How we respond will help determine whether or not Michael Brown’s death carries meaning.

We plan to hold a community forum at noon tomorrow (Tuesday, Nov. 25) in Old College Hall on the Forest Grove Campus to discuss the decision. All students, staff and faculty are welcome. Various faculty members and staff will be on hand to facilitate the discussion.

Because grand jury proceedings are secret, we do not know what evidence was considered; but through media leaks, we do know the evidence was conflicted. There is some wisdom in approaching the grand jury decision with a level of humility.

Still, step back from the particulars of this one case and it becomes easier to see why there is so much distrust of the justice system from African-Americans, other people of color and allies. African-Americans are arrested and incarcerated at rates grossly disproportional to their numbers or to crimes committed, according to studies conducted by the National Institute of Justice, a federal agency.

This is rightfully a cause for protest and anger. When Michael Brown was first killed, the National Council of Churches released a statement expressing the belief that, “A peaceful, healthy society requires trust and positive relationships between citizens and law enforcement. That can best occur in circumstances in which deep-seated social problems such as racism and inequality are being addressed.”

Local religious leaders in the St. Louis area, representing various faith traditions, said this week: "We do not seek to demonize police officers, but rather challenge and hold accountable a system of policing and criminal justice that stigmatizes black and brown people. We support and defend the rights of all, no matter their rhetoric or level of anger, to participate in non-violent protest. For this reason you will see us and hear from us in the days and weeks ahead… While we yearn for justice to be served in this case, we also believe that God's purposes transcend this moment, and call all of us to work for systemic justice and healing in our community."

In 2006, I helped lead the memorial service for James Chasse, a Portland man suffering from mental illness, who was brutally killed by members of the Portland Police Bureau. James was white but his death, plus a series of deaths that followed of African-Americans in Portland by Portland Police, led to a U.S. Department of Justice review of the Portland Police Bureau that has mandated reforms. A similar process is now underway in Ferguson that has the potential of bringing real change to Ferguson and the nation.

If you feel called to speak out, do so with a spirit of love in your heart even if you feel hurt and angry. We must be about the work of building a better world. There is an ongoing need for Oregonians to address racism just as much as there is a need for those in Missouri to address racism.

If you feel called to protest, act with non-violence because violence only perpetuates violence. We can break the cycle and create that “newer world” so long sought.

Offer your prayers, hopes and actions in the pursuit of justice that unites all people.

In Peace,
Rev. Chuck Currie
Director, Center for Peace and Spirituality
University Chaplain
Pacific University


Monday, Nov. 24, 2014