CINCINNATI (BP)–It was a cool spring day. Rays of sunlight filtered through the downtown skyscrapers and shone down on hundreds of people gathered at a plaza in the heart of Cincinnati to ask God to bring about racial reconciliation and to restore peace in this troubled city.
The multi-ethnic April 13 prayer gathering was in stark contrast to four stormy days of rioting, looting and burning that occurred after a white Cincinnati police officer gunned down a 19-year-old black man, Timothy Thomas, on April 8. Thomas had been wanted on 14 outstanding warrants, mostly for misdemeanor charges and traffic violations. Police contend that Thomas was attempting to flee from the officer when he was shot once in the chest.
In response to the violent outbursts in some of Cincinnati’s predominately minority neighborhoods, Cincinnati’s mayor declared a state of emergency on April 12 and ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew that was lifted on April 16. Nearly 1,000 people have been arrested since April 9 and many citizens are wondering how to prevent another outbreak of violence.
One minister, whose Southern Baptist flock resides deep in the heart of Cincinnati’s troubled Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, said he has a suggestion for ending the violence.
“People need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” said J.K. Blake, pastor of the 51-member Evangel Baptist Church. “And until that happens, there will never be true peace.
“I have had quite a bit of missionary experience, but the work here in Cincinnati has been — let me say that the dynamics have been a little different, in terms of the incidents of poverty, the sense of hopelessness we’ve seen and the prevalent use of drugs,” Blake said in his modest office on the second floor of the church’s cinderblock building that overlooks the Over-the-Rhine community.
And while Blake said he was grieved by the police shooting, he is equally grieved by the reaction of the city’s minority ministers.
“We deplore their actions,” Blake said. “In fact, we believe it is inflammatory. We [pastors] must be agents of reconciliation and we deplore the rhetoric that inflames the passions of the people.”
As a general rule, Blake said he does not allow the pulpit at Evangel Baptist Church to be used for political pronouncements. “And our congregation respects that,” he said.
“I believe that this violence was sparked not by race relations but by hopelessness and frustration, pent-up anger and bitterness,” Blake said.
Carissa McKenzie and Annette Purdue, both of Cincinnati, agreed. McKenzie, who is white, and Purdue, who is black, are co-workers in a downtown office building.
They attended the morning prayer service during their lunch break.
“I really believe this is a spiritual issue,” McKenzie said. “That’s why I decided to come out and pray for our city. People need to understand that God is the only way.”
Purdue, who attends the nondenominational Abba’s House, said that despite the violence, God remains in control. “This doesn’t surprise God,” she said. “The Bible says that all this stuff is going to happen. We’ve just got to trust him to know that he is the only way.”
Cincinnati resident Sara Flack said she was encouraged that people of all denominations had gathered to pray for the city.
“We’ve managed to set aside our differences to ask God to intercede on our behalf and we definitely need to,” Flack said. “This is a spiritual crisis and if you don’t have Christ in your life, then there is no hope.”
Blake stressed that personal responsibility is a must for all Christians during times of crisis.
“I see a real breakdown in law and order, even among children,” Blake said. “I find that appalling. The fundamental problem is not the environment, employment or opportunities in the inner city. The fundamental problem is man’s heart. He needs radical transformation.
“Yes, there is a need to redress problems in the inner city, but we believe the key issue is that man needs a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Blake said.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING DIVINE GUIDANCE.