DALLAS (BP) — Holding interracial prayer gatherings, ministering to grieving police officers in the emergency room and hosting a question-and-answer session with police are among the ways Dallas-area Southern Baptists have responded to the violent killings of five police officers last week.
The July 7 assassinations, apparently committed by a suspect who reportedly told police he wanted to kill white people, occurred within days of police killing two black civilians under questionable circumstances — Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile of the Minneapolis area.
President Obama and former President George W. Bush spoke at a memorial service for the slain officers in Dallas today (July 12).
‘All lives matter’
Heightened racial tension precipitated by the string of violence prompted Mesquite (Texas) Friendship Baptist Church to host a community “All Lives Matter Prayer Gathering” July 11, at which approximately 700 black, white and Hispanic believers prayed for the families of Sterling and Castile, the families of the murdered police officers and the family of Dallas shooting suspect Micah Johnson, who was killed by police.
“Black lives matter because black lives are being traumatized in America today,” Mesquite Friendship pastor Terry Turner, an African American, told Baptist Press. “We’re concerned, however, with all lives. So in order to recognize the fact that the white police officers were killed, we needed to change it from ‘black lives matter’ to ‘all lives matter.'”
Turner, a former Southern Baptists of Texas Convention president, said the prayer gathering “was the beginning of revival in our city and in our church,” with reconciliation, tears and people hugging the police officers present.
“We had a period of repentance,” Turner said. “We had a period of forgiveness. We had a period of love and then a period of reconciliation. Last night was an outstanding night.”
SBTC executive director Jim Richards wrote in a July 8 column, “Perhaps God can use the tragic deaths of policemen and civilians this week to drive us to our knees in unity around the cross of Christ and dependence on our merciful God.”
Richards commended Turner for leading the convention during his presidency to adopt its “Look Like Heaven” emphasis on racial unity and reconciliation. The emphasis encourages churches each July to participate in intercultural exchanges, including pastor swaps and combined revival meetings.
Turner “saw in his heart, and we join him in praying, that God’s people will be one in purpose and one in love without regard for the external things that try to divide us,” Richards wrote in the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal.
In Farmersville, Texas, predominantly white First Baptist Church hosted an interracial prayer gathering July 10. First Baptist pastor Bart Barber told BP the gathering “was really powerful and healing in a lot of ways. We brought together people who react to these situations differently.”
‘Back the blue’
At First Baptist Church in Dallas, located just blocks from the site of the shooting, an emphasis on honoring police three months ago opened doors to minister amid last week’s tragedy. “Back the Blue” Sunday April 17 featured appearances by Dallas police chief David Brown and Dallas mayor Mike Rawlings along with the launch of a support network for the Dallas Police Department (DPD) and other law enforcement agencies.
In conjunction with “Back the Blue” Sunday, First Baptist “began an informal relationship … with the DPD, offering free counseling services for DPD officers and families along with scholarships to our children’s and youth camps,” said pastor Robert Jeffress in written comments to BP. “Because of this special relationship, we have been able to minister in a unique way during the crisis.
“As the tragedy unfolded last Thursday night,” Jeffress continued, “our ministers were able to go both to the hospital and to Dallas Police headquarters to minister to grieving officers and DPD staff. We are currently ministering to a number of officers through our counseling center, as well as providing media/tech support for the funeral services of fallen officers.”
This past Sunday, Jeffress spoke about the shootings in morning worship services, and attendees prayed for the police as well as other local, state and national leaders.
Common ground, not ‘battle ground’
At predominantly African American Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, Arlington police chief Will Johnson addressed youth and their parents during a July 10 worship service about the proper way to interact with police. A 10-minute presentation by the chief was followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.
Pastor Dwight McKissic told BP that Johnson, who attends a sister Southern Baptist church, urged citizens to “go overboard” when stopped by a police officer “to make sure everything is visible [and] your hands are clear” because a police officer may mistake reaching for a wallet or paperwork in the glove compartment as reaching for a weapon.
McKissic preached on Luke 13:1-5, addressing the shootings in Dallas, Louisiana and Minneapolis. During the sermon, he expressed appreciation for a July 7 tweet by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in which he encouraged Christians to “ask if #AltonSterling & #PhilandoCastile would be alive today if they were white.”
When considering tragic deaths of any kind, McKissic told worshipers, “ultimately the issue is one of repentance and faith. We’re asking why these people are dead when we ought to be asking why we are alive” and whether we are spiritually prepared to stand before God.
“Why you die is not the issue,” McKissic said. “How you die becomes more important than why you die. Will you die in the faith? Will you die having repented?”
Cornerstone took up an offering to be divided among the families of the five slain officers, the families of Sterling and Castile and the family of Johnson.
“We try not to approach these matters from a racial point of view,” McKissic said, “but from a community point of view because we don’t believe the white community can solve these problems alone. We don’t believe the black community can solve these problems alone. We can only solve these problems when we come together and seek common ground rather than battle ground.”