By: Melissa Ramirez Cooper, ELCA News

CHICAGO (ELCA) – In response to the St. Louis County grand jury decision Nov. 24 not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), offered a word of prayer and hope.

“As a nation, we are struggling with and divided by the decision. It has affected so many of us in so many different ways. We want the assurance that all of this means something. We want to know that someone cares. Has not God created all of us to have inherent dignity, value and worth?” she wrote in a pastoral statement to the 3.8 million-member ELCA.

“Despite the anger, violence and injustice connected with this sad and horrible tragedy, we should not abandon our hope or our neighbors. Let’s join Michael Brown’s father and call for peace. The reconciliation we have with God in Christ leads us to our neighbors with the hope that we can engage one another in a common cause.

“We come together at the cross. It is our only hope. And, resting in the conviction that we are redeemed, we can begin the hard work of confronting the reality of systemic racism in our country. Because of the cross, we have peace; we have hope; we are loved. I join with you in prayer for the Brown family, Officer Wilson and his family, the prosecutor and his family, the grand jurors and their families, the community of Ferguson and all who work for justice and peace,” Eaton said.

According to Judith Roberts, ELCA director for racial justice ministries, “pursuing racial justice must be on-going deliberate work that changes policies and practices across all sectors of society. If we truly desire a just society, we must ensure every community has access to quality education, affordable homes, safe jobs, fair living wages and accountability within the criminal justice system.”

“When attitudes persist that some communities are less desirable, when the practice of racial profiling is the norm, implicit bias prevalent, a pervasive community distrust of law enforcement exist – there exists only frustration for the many voices that still feel unheard. There are actions we can take today to call for reform both at the state and federal level,” said Roberts.

“ELCA members are encouraged to support long-standing civil rights organizations that fight to end racism and ensure justice for all and advocate for and support legislation that would end racial profiling,” said Roberts. “As a church of moral discernment, I would also lift up what we have said as a church, particularly in the ELCA social statement, ‘The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries,’” she said.

The Rev. Roger Gustafson, bishop of the ELCA Central States Synod, based in Kansas City, Mo., said that the announcement of the grand jury “has angered some and pleased others, assured some of ‘the system’s’ validity, and convinced others of ‘the system’s’ corruption. People have taken to the streets – some to express frustration at this particular decision, others to pursue their own agendas – but none of those who have engaged in violence has honored Michael Brown or respected the wishes of his parents, who have called for calm and the peaceful pursuit of justice.”

“During the three months of deliberation by the grand jury as to whether white police officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the death of black citizen Michael Brown, the emotions and reactions have flowed. Underneath the surface responses, however, people who are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ might suspect that deeper rhythms are at work,” Gustafson wrote.

In a reflection, the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director of ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, expressed his sadness, particularly in the death of Michael Brown. “His family is grieving. The death of young Black males by police still happens too often in our communities. I am sad that a rite of passage in young Black lives is to learn survival skills as they learn how to negotiate being out and about in the world and encounters with law enforcement,” he said. “My deepest sadness is for Michael’s parents and family. May their child rest in the arms of our Good Shepherd.”

The full text of the presiding bishop’s message is available at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Pastoral_Word_on_Ferguson.pdf; the ELCA’s social statement, “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture and the social statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” at http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Criminal-Justice#sthash.TyDhiqLD.dpuf. The National Council of Churches of Christ statement regarding the grand jury’s decision is available at http://www.nationalcouncilofchurches.us/news/2014-11fergusonnoindictment.php.