Two black men from Louisiana and Minnesota were shot to death by police officers in early July, followed immediately by retaliatory attacks in Texas and Louisiana on law enforcement officers that killed eight and wounded many more. The series of back-to-back tragedies left the nation in shock, wondering if racial healing is possible.
The Biblical Recorder reached out to a number of North Carolina churches to discover what practical steps they have taken to help reconcile racial differences in their congregations and communities. Here are their responses:
Byron Greene, senior pastor, Highland Baptist Church, Raleigh
Highland responded to the recent shootings by immediately posting passages of scripture (Matthew 5:9, 38) on social media that convey reconciliation and peace.
My message on Sunday first acknowledged the loss of all innocent life due to the shootings and the growing grief caused by the violence. I intentionally recognized our having several members of the law enforcement community, along with their families, that serve the public. I revealed their personal fear and confusion.
The heart of the morning message acknowledged the decline of society being partly due to our treatment of the church and our not being the church as instructed. We left with a call to commitment. Galatians 5:22-26 was our lead passage.
In recent days I have reached out to one of our area African-American congregations and area law enforcement officials desiring to come together for prayer and fellowship.
Gerald Hodges, lead pastor, Westwood Baptist Church, Roxboro
Like most Southern Baptist churches in our community, Westwood is primarily a Caucasian congregation, although we do have some members who are African-American. We also have several law enforcement officers who are active members of our congregation, including our city’s Chief of Police. And the neighborhood adjacent to Westwood is a mobile home community made up predominantly of African-American families. So the events in Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas hit close to home for many in our church family.
We did not have to scramble to plan a response to that difficult week. God had already planned it for us. I did not need to pick out a special passage for the sermon. We are currently working our way through the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 32, the text that Sunday, we saw that before a society can be fundamentally transformed, the people living in that society must be inwardly transformed. No human government or special interest group can bring about this change. One of our elders led in a special time of prayer for the families of all those who had lost their lives in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas, and for those communities.
For many years our church has worked to improve our relationship with our neighbors, believing that our call to make disciples begins right at our back door by building personal relationships and sharing the gospel with the individuals and families who live closest to us.
In addition to our church’s efforts, officers from the Person County Sheriff’s Department organized a special community-wide prayer service. It was held at the county office building and was well attended by many local law enforcement officers, Highway Patrol, emergency responders and local citizens. Next week our Police Department will partner with a local African-American congregation to host a “Community Cookout & Conversation.” We look forward to participating in that event and pray for God to use it to bring reconciliation and healing to our community. We are praying that “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever” (Isaiah 32:17).
Kelly Bullard, senior pastor, Temple Baptist Church, Fayetteville
On the Sunday morning following the events in Louisiana and Minnesota we joined together with several churches in our community for a morning prayer gathering, prior to our individual worship services. This was a sweet and emotional time of prayer and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, across ethnic and denominational lines. During our Sunday morning worship service we were privileged to have Fayetteville City Police Chief Harold Medlock worship with us. He shared briefly about the work he and his officers are doing in our city, and how our congregation can pray for and support them. We also recognized officers, fire fighters and other first responders that were present in our service. We had a time of focused prayer for these men and women, as well as their families.
In addition, I am always amazed of God’s timing as it relates to human affairs and my sermon series. I have been preaching through Ephesians this summer and I found myself on July 10 in Ephesians 3:1-12, dealing with the Paul’s explanation of the mystery of the gospel and its accessibility to both Jew and Gentile. Paul’s words in Ephesians 2-3 remind us that all barriers of division between God and man, as well as man and man, have been brought down through Jesus Christ. I challenged our congregation to live missional lives for Jesus, building bridges to all peoples, regardless of race or socio-economic status.
Ed Tablazon, pastor, Triad Journey Church, Winston-Salem
As a pastor of an Asian church, I am beginning to realize that when there are issues like these, we tend to do nothing. To some degree we think that this is not our issue. But the presence of second-generation immigrants both in our homes and in our church lets us see these issues in new ways. Honestly, this was the first Sunday ever that I addressed this issue from the pulpit. When things like this happen, I usually say a couple of words and pray for it, but last Sunday was a bit different. The following were thoughts I said last Sunday:
How should we respond to the painful events of the past week?
1. Pray! Pray for healing, healing for our nation; healing for those that have been wounded in the shooting; emotional healing for those who lost loved ones and friends and others who are hurting; these events affect hundreds if not thousands of people in many ways.
2. Know! Many of us Asians have no idea how deep and complex this issue is. From a biblical perspective, this is the impact of sin: prejudice. Sin causes us to see what is visible while the Lord sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and we are all guilty of this sin. Every human being is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) regardless of the color of his skin, economic background or race. We, the first generation Asian immigrants, have little idea about the roots of racial discrimination. We need to know, or our silence and indifference make us guilty as well!
3. Engage! Rather than quickly giving our opinion on the matter, let us begin to engage others in conversation to broaden our horizon, begin to understand the issues involved, and biblically address effective solutions for God’s glory and our good.