In the wake of last week's killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, the Observer asked some Charlotte clergy to offer their thoughts on what people can do in response.
Here’s some of what they said, edited for space and clarity.
The Rev. Dennis Foust, St. John’s Baptist Church:
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Prayer to God matters. But it is most important for us to be willing to participate in answering our own prayers. In so doing, we will also help answer the prayers of others who join us in praying for peace, social justice, understanding and healing.
St. John’s is establishing inter-racial relationship groups in Charlotte. These “Hope Circles” provide opportunities for new approaches of collaboration and friendships.
We must not allow fear to procreate. The hatred, violence and injustices that cause suffering must motivate us to be vigilant in paying attention to our perspectives, our words, our actions and our habits.
‘Sin of omission’
The Rev. Ollie Rencher, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church:
Now is the time for those with racial, ethnic, and economic privilege to employ individual and collective power to assist in righting the historical wrongs of our nation and current culture. People of color will be there along the way, fighting the good fight, but can no longer carry the load until they are seen and heard as equal to those with power and privilege. Our baptismal covenant reminds us that, with God’s help, we will respect the dignity of every human being. To respect is to love; this is a non-negotiable aspect of our covenant with God and our neighbor.
Whether one has inherited, learned, or chosen to feel and or treat “the other” as unequal to oneself, this world now requires courageous individuals who will ensure that hatred, bigotry, and violence will no longer be acceptable as a cultural norm. People must fight their participation in the sin of omission, which is to say nothing or do nothing in the face of wrong and injustice. Silence in such cases means agreement.
The Rev. Valerie Rosenquist, First United Methodist Church:
We need more than ever to not hurry past those who are hurting and broken, but to notice, come close, give what help is needed now, and remain engaged for the duration of the healing, which may take a long time and be costly for us as neighbors.
We know that violence begets violence, and our culture seems both to express and condone more violence in the way we communicate around so many of the normal problems of our time. We need to find ways to talk respectfully and listen deeply to one another, and to stop the escalation of the rhetoric of intolerance.
‘Love one another’
The Rev. David Chadwick, Forest Hill Church:
The primary emotion that drives a community of Jesus followers should be love. “By this the world will know that you are mine, by the way that you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
If love overcomes racism in God’s family, Christians need to have personal, face-to-face life encounters with people of different ethnicities and skin hues. We learn from their life experiences. We empathize with the prejudices they have experienced. We stand with them in their pain of feeling marginalized. We want to be a voice for their feelings of powerlessness.
‘Healing of wounds’
Bishop Claude Alexander, The Park Church:
The shedding of innocent blood cries out to those of us who yet live. It cries for the recognition of loss, for the expression of grief, for the confession of sin, for the proper redress of wrong, for the doing of justice, for the healing of wounds, and for the reconciling of the estranged. As individuals and as a community, we are challenged to give ourselves to the fulfillment of each one of them.
There are a variety of things that people can do. We can take the time to listen to each other, affirm the common humanity of one another, and recognize the shared desires that we all have for safety, courtesy, respect, fairness, and justice. We can be diligent in both prosecuting the bad police officers and celebrating the good police officers wherever they are. We can commit to dedicate time, talent, and treasure to build hope and to provide positive options for people who live in fragile communities.
‘Community of faith’
The Rev. John Cleghorn, Caldwell Presbyterian Church:
Especially in times of chaos, the commandments serve not as a checklist to get on God’s good side but as a source of comfort and continuity in God’s prevailing desire for humanity. They call us to give life, not take it, to orient ourselves to God before everything else, and to understand that our lives can only be as healthy and safe as those of all of our neighbors’.
As a diverse congregation that cuts across lines of race, class, sexual orientation and religious backgrounds, these have been painful, poignant weeks for the Caldwell congregation as we reflected on the shootings in Charleston and Orlando and, now, (last) week's tragedies in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas. Remembering that God is always speaking, we will continue to gather as a community of faith to listen to each other across the blessing of our differences.
The Revs. Amy and Russ Dean, Park Road Baptist Church:
Do SOMETHING. Reach out... call a congressional representative and demand an end to the partisan gridlock. Reach out, personally, take a black friend, a Muslim friend, a gay friend to lunch. Listen to their stories. Turn off the TV and the 24/7 cycle of mostly-bias “news” that fill so much of the air these days. Turn it off and find some place to volunteer, something productive to do if only for an hour. Do something.
We must create more forums for safe conversation. White people need to be prepared to hear the fear and the anger from the black community – without running from the conversation or becoming defensive. If we aren't willing to hear people's stories, which will mean their rage and frustration and disappointment, which is often frightening, we will not make progress.
The Rev. Amantha Barbee, Statesville Avenue Presbyterian Church:
Build relationships with people different than ourselves. Stop the fear and embrace God's creations. Worship in an environment unlike the norm to build spiritually-based relationships. Teach your children to love and accept.
Even if it's uncomfortable, we must lay aside our prejudices, fears and preconceived realities and have honest dialog with one another. When the conversation gets hard, face the hard part head on, even if it means crying through it. We have to be honest with one another and allow each other to live into very real feelings.
‘Start with empathy’
The Rev. Benjamin Boswell, Myers Park Baptist Church:
People should start talking, advocating, and organizing for gun control and police reform. In addition, churches and civic leaders should engage in conversations about white supremacy and seek to discover what it means to work together toward racial reconciliation.
People – particularly white people – can talk about this in a healthy way by putting aside their partisan allegiances for a moment and strive to listen and speak first as human beings who are a part of a common family. We can start by making ourselves empathize with the victims of police violence and with those who are crying out for justice. We can ask ourselves, “How would I feel if my partner was shot and killed by a police officer right in front of my child?” I believe the path to real conversation starts with empathy.
‘Honor the experience’
The Rev. Bob Henderson, Covenant Presbyterian Church:
The Sunday after the Orlando shootings was also the one-year anniversary of the Charleston massacre. I spoke on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, citing the fact that Jesus did not, in fact, “have to go through Samaria” but intentionally walked out of his way to confront the centuries of layered bigotry and racial prejudice of his own people and faith.
How can people talk about this? To me, this is an essential question, as it seems we lack a common vocabulary and nomenclature necessary to communicate effectively. Phrases like “routine traffic stop” and “black lives matter” have extremely different meanings for specific communities. Developing a vocabulary that honors the experience of a particular community while not alienating others is a monumental and essential task.