In the days since black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed while in police custody, the small Missouri town of Ferguson has been embroiled in chaos. Protesters have been tear-gassed, two journalists were arrested (and then released) and the FBI has begun an investigation into the situation.
As politicians and newscasters discuss the breakdown in the community for a national audience, faith communities have been organizing cleanup efforts, offering prayers and reflecting on how best to bring peace back to Ferguson.
In its summary of the unfolding violence, Episcopal Café reported on a meeting and prayer service held Tuesday night by an interfaith clergy coalition. Church leaders and local officials gathered to address the protest and to reflect on how to offer comfort to the parents of young black men.
The Rev. Mike Angell wrote a blog for the Episcopal Young Adult and Campus Ministries website, reporting on his experience at the event. He noted that law enforcement and political leaders shared facts and figures about Ferguson's results on racial profiling surveys.
But Rev. Angell wrote that the most powerful part of the gathering was black families sharing their fear for their children. He asked his readers to imagine a brighter future for Ferguson and for America, to envision a country where racial tensions no longer erupt into violence.
"Christians believe that all of our stories are caught up in The Story. We believe in a Gospel of love and redemption that is the final story for all people. We can't afford to write out any characters. How can we be a part of writing a new story for our country, a story that sees the death of Michael Brown as a turning point for hope and trust?" he wrote.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch explored more informal responses, reporting on volunteer cleanup crews that worked on Wednesday to reverse the damage of the looting and protesting.
"Some (of the volunteers) were young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful. … Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades," the Post-Dispatch reported.
Around 20 members of the crew gathered in the parking lot of Ferguson's First Baptist Church to pray after cleaning, remembering the family of Michael Brown and the area businesses damaged by the riots, the article explained.
One volunteer told the Post-Dispatch that he turned to a popular Bible passage to find hope amidst the violence. "In an attempt to inspire compassion, he planned to return a sign to his truck's windshield that recites a line from the New Testament: 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ ”
Clergy and other faith leaders from outside the state of Missouri have also joined in peacemaking efforts, using the social media hashtags #Ferguson and #MichaelBrown to raise their voices in support of the town's black community, Religion News Service reported.
Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian blogger, tweeted about her distaste for the recent police actions in Ferguson, writing, "If they take away freedom of protest/press, it's not really America anymore. And if it's not America in #Ferguson, it's not America anywhere."
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, responded to the crisis on his website, writing about the role churches should play opposing violence.
"Ferguson reminds us that American society has a long way to go in healing old hatreds." he wrote. "Our churches are not outposts of American society. Our churches are to be colonies of the kingdom of God. Let's not just announce what unity and reconciliation ought to look like. Let's also show it."