What Our Church Did on Sunday after Last Week’s Shootings
We have police officers in our church. We have African Americans in our church. One of our members recently lost a son, who was a police officer shot and killed in the line of duty. Other members can give first-hand accounts of the civil rights movement. The stories of heroism in my church are plentiful. Why God blessed me to pastor such a flock, I’ll never know. I guess He knows I need them more than they need me.
On Sunday, something needed to be said. Something needed to be done. Ignoring tragedy is certainly an option, but it’s selfish and spineless. It’s difficult to take a stand because everyone is so polarized. The police officers in our church need to know we have their backs. The African Americans in our church need to know we will fight against racial injustice.
Last Friday I read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” over and over for a couple of hours. I just sat in my office praying. I sat without words. I sat and wept. King wrote his letter to white clergy. He wrote to those who agreed with him about injustice but were asking him to pull back, wait, fight the battle in the courts, not the streets.
I sat in my office and watched the suffering in our streets, through CNN and through Twitter. Proper conviction feels like a body slam, and my back hurt like a trash fire outside Jerusalem. I sat alone. Safe. I felt King’s letter was addressed “My Dear Fellow Sam:”
I’m a white preacher. I don’t know the black experience. I don’t know what it’s like to put on a police uniform every day. I don’t have the right to speak to these issues, but I do bear the responsibility to speak. There was no way the pulpit would be silent. I’m the guy called to stand there. God’s providence doesn’t pass by the inadequate.
So we did something, as a church, together. Here’s what we did.
Our children wrote letters to police officers and African American churches in our community. We wanted them to know we stand with them. Little black children joined together with little white and Hispanic children as sisters and brothers. Innocence wrote with crayons and power. There’s a cop in our town who will read a thank you letter from a black child. There’s an African American pastor in our town who will read a thank you letter from a white child. The Holy Spirit can use scribble. I just know it.
We changed the worship experience to reflect the somberness of the moment. It was not the time for bouncy songs and a rah-rah sermon on how to be the best whatever. In order to “weep with those who weep” you must exhibit a certain empathy in worship that comes only with composed reflection. There’s a reason Jesus threw out the “mourners” who laughed in Mark 5:40.
We prayed. There is nothing fancy about prayer, which is just fine with us, because there is nothing fancy about our church. One look at our carpet and you would agree. We’re just a diverse group of people gathering together because of Jesus. So we prayed together. Those prayers did not go unheard.
Then I preached on suffering from James 1. Quite frankly, I don’t fear sharing about my experiences. My family has experienced horrific things, but I didn’t talk about my suffering. I also don’t fear sharing my opinions. I have a lot of them, and I’m glad to share them loudly. But I do have a great fear of standing in the pulpit and saying, “God’s Word says this . . .” If I’m going to stand in front of people and preach, “Thus saith the Lord,” I’d better be right. I fearfully preached on what God’s Truth means for racial justice and for supporting police officers.
Perhaps you might critique us, believing we should have done more. You’re probably right. We’ll keep at it. Rest assured, West Bradenton Baptist will be part of the solution, not part of the problem. We will stand for Jesus and against evil. I’m thankful cop killers will be defeated. I’m thankful racial injustice will be defeated. Jesus is coming back. Maranatha.