What’s the role of the church in a riot?
So much has happened in our city over the past few days. A black man was killed. Police officers are endangered. Communities are grieving. Young people are in an uproar. And some say the church has no idea what to do.
On the evening of the riots, I was bombarded with text messages and calls from clergy and friends asking what we should do. How should we move forward? What should be our message? There is no simple answer. Being faithful to God and to our communities often means that we take on each situation’s complexities as they come. In times of chaos, the church must patiently take part in eating the elephant: one bite at a time.
If you’re wondering what role you can play and how you can be faithful to God’s calling in crisis, you are not alone. Here are five things we can all do to be part of the solution, no matter where we live.
Never miss a local story.
▪ Be prayerful. Never underestimate the power of prayer. More than just communion with God, prayer is the discipline of carrying all things to God. It is a posture of recognizing that while things may seem out of our control, they are fully within God’s control. By engaging in prayer, hosting and attending prayer vigils, including our city within corporate and individual prayer, we are activating our faith on behalf of others. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
▪ Be seen. Now is the time to get outside of the walls of our churches. The media may never show people in church t-shirts on the streets, but the world must see the church engaged in relevant issues. We must be seen walking on the streets in vulnerable communities. We must be seen serving in schools with children in need. People should not have to drive by our churches to see the church in action. Define your step of action and be seen doing what you can. (Matthew 5:16)
▪ Be intentional. While immediate action feels good, it may not be the most sustainable solution. The intentionality of God must be demonstrated in our intentionality toward long-term change as well as short-term impact. This may not be glamorous, but it will do the most good. We must intentionally enhance and expand the sustainability of this work by partnering with groups who are already in it like the NAACP and others. (Proverbs 21:5)
▪ Be with. God is with us. This is the greatest truth of the Christian faith and the greatest gift we can give to the world. We are called to be with those who suffer. Violence and anger are symptoms of deeper hurts. Believers can be with those who hurt by creating spaces for people to be heard, by practicing intentional listening, and by simply getting to know those often stereotyped by mainstream society. (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)
▪ Bear witness. Christians are called to bear witness to the love, peace, hope, mercy and grace of Jesus Christ in the world. Crisis and violence begs for love and grace. By bearing witness to Jesus in the world, we have an opportunity to show love where there is hate and provide hope in the midst of despair. We are witnesses that God can turn things around and this hope must be shared through social media, in our pulpits, in conversations and every way we know how. (1 Peter 3:15)
The riots may be local, but the issues spread nationwide. What is Charlotte one day will be Ft. Lauderdale the next. Now more than ever, the world is thirsty for an authentic hope that goes beyond what is temporary. We have the power to demonstrate hope that is anchored in the eternal through our actions, our words and our stance. May God embolden the Church to be the necessary witness in this dying world.
Nicole Martin is executive minister of The Park Church in Charlotte.