Christian leaders pray, call for unity in wake of police shootings

An unidentified Dallas police officer pauses during the late-night hours working in downtown Dallas after sniper fire disrupted what had been a peaceful protest. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

DALLAS—In the immediate aftermath of a peaceful protest that turned into an ambush claiming the lives of four Dallas police and a transportation system officer, pastors and other Christian leaders prayed together and urged a calm response in a potentially volatile environment.

Seven other officers and two civilians were wounded when a sniper opened fire on law enforcement personnel during what started as a tranquil demonstration against the shooting of African-American men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota.

Mayor Mike Rawlings convened an interfaith prayer at Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas and urged people in the area who could not attend to pause at noon to pray. Churches throughout the area responded by opening their sanctuaries for prayer.

‘Another stitch in the torn fabric of our community’

Jeff Warren, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, and other Dallas ministers also organized an interracial “Together We Stand” prayer service Friday evening at Concord Missionary Baptist Church.

George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, wrote in a Friday morning post on Facebook he planned to participate in both services, and Wilshire was opening its facility for prayer.

“We come together in moments like these not because we believe that doing so solves our problems by superficial shows of solidarity, but because every act of coming together is another stitch in the torn fabric of our community,” he wrote.

Wilshire is a New Baptist Covenant partner with Friendship-West Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation in South Dallas.

“I have been in contact with their pastor, Dr. Freddy Haynes, and we will be working together to determine how to practice the peace of Christ in this moment and beyond,” Mason wrote. “Having developed deepening relationships of trust over time, we have the spiritual and moral collateral to speak to and with each other in times like these. …

Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.

“We seek peace by seeking justice. If we seek peace without justice, we will never have peace. If we seek justice without peace, we will only perpetuate a cycle of violence. Let us always and only seek peace with justice.”

Still trying to process it all

Chris Simmons, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Dallas, a predominantly African-American inner-city congregation less than four miles southeast of where the shootings occurred, said he was still “trying to process” the events on Friday morning.

“I know I will address it congregationally this Sunday, but I honestly don’t know how, just yet,” he said.

After the officer-involved shootings of African-Americans in Baton Rouge, La., and suburban Minneapolis, Minn., Simmons noted he already had begun reworking his sermon for Sunday. In light of the events in downtown Dallas, he planned to make more changes.

“I do plan to speak prophetically to the situation, but I don’t know yet what I will say,” he acknowledged.

‘Find a way to come together’

Brent McDougal, pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas—about three miles southwest of the scene of the shootings, across the Trinity River—called for unity in a time of grief and shock.

“Our hearts are broken today,” he said the morning after the tragedy. “There is a time to lament, and then there is a time to act. We have to find a way to come together— otherwise the violence and chaos will only get worse.”

‘Issues simmering beneath the surface have erupted’

The week’s events—first the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, and then the ambush of police in downtown Dallas—did not happen in a vacuum, said Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Church-Baptist, an African-American congregation in Fort Worth.

“Some issues that already had been simmering beneath the surface have erupted,” said Bell, a past president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Bell expressed his sympathy both for the police officers wounded and killed in the line of duty, as well as for the victims of officer-involved shootings elsewhere in the country.

“But we have to do more than mourn the passing of those who have been shot. We have to do more than have prayer vigils for those who have been wounded and for the families of those who were killed,” he said, calling for meaningful interracial dialogue that leads to substantive action.

Otherwise, he compared the end result to the 1993 Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day,” in which the main character relived the same day over and over again until he got it right.

“If we don’t do something, we’ll eventually just settle into a new normal and find we still have not addressed the issues,” he said. “It’s been going on too long.”

‘Violence is not the answer’

By Friday afternoon, Bell already had in mind what he planned to tell his congregation on Sunday.

“First, no matter how frustrated anyone might be, we cannot resort to violence,” he said. “That’s a lose/lose situation. Violence is not the answer. … Any kind of killing cannot be the first or last resort.”

Next, he planned to give church members a printed resource telling them how to respond when stopped by police—keep insurance cards tucked into a pocket of the car visor rather than the glovebox, keep hands in plain sight, turn on the dome light where officers can see inside the vehicle and follow instructions.

“If there is an argument to be made, take it up in court, not on the streets,” Bell said. “We teach compliance, not confrontation.”

After the worship service, he plans to invite any members who are anxious or fearful to stay and talk.

“The tension is so thick,” he said. “People are fearful of retaliation that could set in motion an unfortunate chain of events.”

‘Jesus is the answer’

David Hardage, executive director of the BGCT Executive Board, expressed sorrow for all those affected by the tragedies of the week.

“Our Texas Baptist family is grieved by the tragic events in Dallas, as well those in Minnesota and Louisiana,” Hardage said. “We are committed to working with all people of good will to bring justice and peace to our troubled world. It may sound trite to some, but truly, Jesus is the answer.”

Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, called on churches to pray for justice in their communities and to pursue racial reconciliation.

“As a people, we continue to struggle with the sin of racial injustice,” said Paynter, former director of Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission. “Out of love for God and neighbor, we are commanded to seek peace through justice.”

‘God has ordained police officers to be his instruments’

Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, was traveling and unavailable for an interview, his administrative assistant said. However, he posted a two-minute video online urging prayer for the families of the officers who had been killed and for those who were wounded. 

“We ought to remember that God has ordained police officers to be his instruments to keep order in our society, and it is important that we always respect police officers,” Jeffress said, citing Romans 13 in the New Testament.

“I believe that this tragedy tonight in Dallas, and what is happening across our country tonight, is symptomatic of what the Bible calls ‘lawlessness’—a complete disrespect for the law that is, ultimately, a complete disrespect for God himself.”

‘The protectors were not protected’

Other ministers likewise turned to the Internet to offer their perspective on the situation.

“We went to bed last night in Dallas wishing we would wake up to realize it was only a nightmare. It is all too real. Terror has hit our city now,” Mason of Wilshire Baptist wrote in a blog posted on social media

“The helpers were targeted, killed and wounded last night. Police officers were doing their job as peace officers. The protectors were not protected. No one is safe when anger leads to hatred and hatred to rage; we are all vulnerable.

“Yesterday, peaceful protestors rightly proclaimed that Black Lives Matter. Today, they—and all of us—proclaim that Blue Lives Matter, too. The only way that All Lives Matter is for each life to matter—black or white, and in this tragic case, blue.”

‘Bias against any group is wrong, evil and toxic’

Mason called on people of faith to reject divisive rhetoric and the biases behind the speech.

“God loves all of us by loving each of us—which is why all bias against any group is wrong, evil and toxic,” he wrote. “We get to our common humanity by loving particular human beings and never by pitting groups of human beings against each other.”

As a first step, Mason urged his church members and others in the community to “be careful” with their words.

“We will lead laments and mourning before we find fault or fix blame. We know enough now to do the former and not enough yet to do the latter,” he wrote.

‘Add to the sum of compassion and love’

Chaplain Mark Grace, chief mission and ministry officer for Baylor Scott & White Health, likewise called for restraint on social media, urging people of faith to “consider posting something humane and compassionate.” 

“Remember the black mother, a civilian, who was there as part of a peaceful protest to rally for BLM and was shot, thanking the police officers for their protection, saying prayers for the families of police who were wounded and killed,” Grace wrote on Facebook.

“Remember the black protester legally carrying a firearm who immediately surrendered it to police when sniper fire began. Remember trauma teams who are devastated because despite every effort, officers died. Remember the dozens of health caregivers up all night to give compassion and healing spirit to people at the darkest times of their lives.

“Most of all, remember the police officers who died to protect and serve people on every side of an ugly, painful war of words that was used by bloodthirsty people with evil intent to create more bloodshed. Try to use your post, your words, to add to the sum of compassion and love and not to more hatred, more small-minded thinking and more bloodthirsty rhetoric.”

We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

If we achieved our goal—or didn’t—we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to Eric Black, our editor. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.

More from Baptist Standard

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email