MINNEAPOLIS (BP)—W. Seth Martin, founding pastor of The Brook Community Church of Minneapolis, has led his multiethnic congregation in peaceful protests since George Floyd’s death.
They’ve sat, chanted and prayed at the memorial which has grown at the location of the incident. They’ve protested on the front lawn of Minneapolis District Attorney Mike Freeman. A church member was shot in the hip with a rubber bullet as she protested outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct.
About 90 percent of protestors chant, sit and march peacefully, while only a handful loot, burn and destroy others’ property, Martin said.
“We’ve been down at the protests, and we were protesting peacefully, praying, engaging in conversations with one another and with some other pastors who joined us,” Martin said. “It was especially meaningful for us to get together and talk through some of these issues, together.”
‘Seek peace … protect my family’
Floyd’s death, which occurred during an arrest on Memorial Day, has prompted the protests, as well as rioting, over the issues of police brutality and racial disparities in criminal justice.
Derek Chauvin, one of four arresting officers in Floyd’s case who were fired, was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Floyd died after Chauvin used a knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground for several minutes, as Floyd complained repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe. Peaceful protests and violent riots have erupted in several other U.S. cities since Floyd’s death.
Martin sat on guard in his front room until 3 a.m. on May 29 in case rioters approached his home, located just a block from where Floyd was detained by police and died.
“I would, prayerfully, if it was outside, I would petition and seek the peace for my street,” said Martin, who also is a young husband and father. “I’m a black man who is grieving, and this is closer to me as a black man. I would seek peace in that way, but also, I would protect my family. If peace wasn’t possible, I would obviously make sure I protected my family and put them in the safest position possible.”
Gathering for a prayer vigil
The next day, Martin made plans to join an interdenominational group of pastors in a prayer vigil in Phelps Park, about a mile from the epicenter of riots. Chris Reinertson, director of missions for the Twin Cities Baptist Association in Bloomington, Minn., helped arrange the event.
“We’re praying that God answers our prayers, God brings us peace, God brings his love, God brings his justice,” said Reinertson.
The ministers planned to pray that “God brings his kingdom, God rescues people from their selfishness and sin, God brings people to the reality of who they are in their situation,” that God would bring “massive healing to the Floyd family,” and pray for “racial healing.”
The violence has not deterred pastors from gathering to pray, though socially distanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to be together. We’re not going to be alone,” Reinertson said.
Reinertson is pastor of Southtown Baptist Church in Bloomington, a congregation of about 125 worshipers comprised of more than 15 nationalities. Individuals from Sierra Leone, Kenya, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, China, Russia, Korea, Cambodia and other nations are among Southtown’s membership.
‘God is grieved by this’
Martin leads a multiethnic congregation of about 60 worshipers, which he estimated is about 47 percent white and 53 percent black. He believes the problems Minneapolis faces are gospel issues.
“I firmly believe Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. I believe that George Floyd is somebody who is made in the image of God, and that regardless, his life didn’t have to be taken,” Martin said. “I still believe, even in the midst of all of this, that Jesus is the answer, that the church still has the answer.
“I don’t want the culture to dictate or try to fix this thing. I want the culture to see a representative of Christ not just preaching about it, but also engaging in protests in a healthy way, in a way that’s peaceful, in a way that reflects loving my neighbor well, and in a way that still says that this is wrong, and that God is grieved by this.”
Martin said the protestors are hurting and want to be heard.
“I don’t agree with (the violence). I don’t condone it,” Martin said. “When people are hurting and want to be heard, people will go to extreme measures to try to get people’s attention. I think that that is what we are seeing.
“We’re seeing not just people doing things to take advantage of a moment, but I think we’re seeing people who are bubbling over with the hurt and the anger that they feel and that even, honestly, that I feel.
“The hardest thing for me has been how do I contain my raw emotions, and simultaneously not mismanage what God has called me to be and what Jesus has put me on the earth to do.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: On June 4, three former police officers were charged with aiding and abetting murder in the death of George Floyd, and the charge against Derek Chauvin, who pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck, was upgraded to second-degree murder.