What Our Church Did on Sunday after Last Week’s Shootings

Sam Rainer

July 10, 2016


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.


10 comments on “What Our Church Did on Sunday after Last Week’s Shootings”

  1. Shelley Ball says:

    I love that our Church is not afraid to talk about the hard stuff. The world is not all rainbows and sunshine. I am proud to belong to a congregation that understands that.

  2. John D. Cavendish says:

    Yeah what we needed to hear.

  3. Joyce says:

    I am not a member of your congregation. I am brown but I was not brought up in the USA. I have experienced racism from colored people of every shade of the spectrum as my Good, Good Father created us. At first, it confounded me. You see I was the only one in my primary school in London, UK who looked like me, but I didn’t know that I was different. In my entire life, I have never attended a church that was not integrated. I have lived on three continents and in 4 countries. I did not experience hate until I move to the southern US. No, it was not from people who didn’t look like me. It was from people who looked like me. Sunday School Superintendents, Deacons, Revenants (sp), and Bishops who could not comprehend why I had peached colored friends. Well, I didn’t know any better. One of my cousins looks like my peach colored friends. My Grandmama looked like my Greek friend, actually during the Summer Gina was darker than my Grandmama. The dichotomy of “church” in the south is an oxymoron to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I live in Rural SC. On the street that I live…it literally runs through our little town, there are close to 30 churches. There is a “black” church for every “white” denomination. I do not understand that. Within a five mile radius, there are multiple versions of each demonination for every racial group in the town. 5 Baptist churches – white. No Black Baptists, but there are Numerous Black AME churches.

    America is polarized, because, as the largest Christian nation on planet earth, the church is polarized. I refuse to attend any church where everyone looks like me. So, I will probably make some people uncomfortable until the Lord returns, but I remain 1 of 3 brown people in our congregation. All 3 of us have the same last name.

    I know that this is long, but I am speaking as a brown person who was NOT taught to fear people who don’t look like me, or people who serve and protect. I did not raise my children that way either, but as adults, they have experienced discrimination in more way than I can begin to imagine. We are teaching the grandchildren that the statement, “God does not see color” is not in keeping with Scripture. He created the color spectrum of humanity and He said it was, “good”. Why can’t we simply love each other?

    1. Wayne says:

      Love your response, I am a pastor in rural SC, and truly desire to see our church become more racially diverse. Thank you for being one of three “brown” people in your church. It takes people who are willing to be a little uncomfortable in order for change to take place.

      1. Joyce says:

        lol Pastor Wayne by His Grace. I am a little different 🙁

  4. Crying4US@Fightin4US says:

    Wow, Joyce – WELL SAID! God bless you! May He continue to protect & empower you as you speak out & stand for righteousness! ABIDE IN HIM (John 15:4,5). ~Crying4US@Fightin4US (on Twitter)

  5. William Mark says:

    What a wonderful statement Pastor Sam. I don’t know if you remember us, we met at Lakewood Ranch Sarasota Baptist Church and you spoke several times at our community group that I lead for the college age young adults. I believe you nailed it right in your comments. God bless you and your family. Jill and I are still planning to visit your church in the near future. Your church is very lucky to have you as their pastor. I also enjoy you postings on Facebook.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Wonderful! Good to hear from you and would love to catch up.

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