After a tragic week that saw three days of racially charged violence across the nation, Triangle religious leaders face a challenge as they head to Sunday services: How to comfort congregations looking for hope and guidance.
“We’re going to tell our people that they should respect law and order, and if they have anything to say, that they do it in a peaceful manner,” said Waymond Burton, a bishop at Zina Christian Center in Raleigh. “We should do this the way Dr. Martin Luther King did it: peacefully.”
Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, echoed that call for peace. “While tensions may rise within communities for various reasons, violence must never be viewed as a solution.”
Faith communities across North Carolina held vigils and opened their doors for prayer in the wake of the week’s news: Tuesday’s death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old African-American man, who was fatally shot by police officers while selling CDs outside a store in Baton Rouge, La. Wednesday’s deadly shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop near St. Paul, Minn. And Thursday’s ambush in Dallas, in which 12 police officers were shot, leaving five dead, when a sniper opened fire at a protest.
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I’m not losing hope, and I don’t think anyone else should either. We can depend on one another.
Chris Jones, pastor at Ship of Zion in Raleigh
On Thursday night, before the violence in Dallas, the Raleigh North Christian Center held a prayer vigil for Castile and Sterling. At noon Friday, Wendell Christian Church rang its bells five times to commemorate the five slain police officers. In downtown Raleigh, Sacred Heart Cathedral held a Friday Mass during which attendees prayed for the Texas victims before reciting a rosary.
“It’s clear that political leaders won’t offer a solution,” said the Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. “So it’s time for the community to come together and the clergy to join community leaders to say that we’re going to do something about this.”
The church held a prayer vigil Saturday followed by a march to the state Capitol to demand change.
The deaths of Sterling and Castile – following other shootings of African Americans – have some members of the black community fearing for their safety or that of their children. Pastor Chris Jones at Ship of Zion in Raleigh, said he will exhort his congregation not to be afraid.
“I’m not losing hope, and I don’t think anyone else should either. We can depend on one another,” he said. “On Sunday, I will be praying for everyone involved, not excluding anyone, because I believe that every life matters.”
Other Triangle ministers said they will emphasize the importance of prayer and forgiveness in their sermons Sunday.
Apostle Darnell Dixon at Bible Way Temple in Raleigh and the Rev. Jack Glasgow at Zebulon Baptist Church both said they will talk about the importance of compassionate healing. Glasgow said he was planning to preach on the Biblical story of the slaying of King Eglon by Ehud, but in the aftermath of the shootings he will temper his message carefully.
Jack Lee, senior pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Fuquay-Varina, said he has addressed other shootings in the past – but never like he will this Sunday
“While I don’t encourage others to follow Ehud’s act of violence – he had enough and took action – it is time for us in the church to take action,” Glasgow said. He said he will tell his congregants to arm themselves “with the fruit of the Spirit,” rather than with weapons.
At least one local pastor said the intensity of this week’s violence has made him realize the need for a new approach.
The Rev. Jack Lee, senior pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Fuquay-Varina, said he has addressed other shootings in the past – but never like he will this Sunday. He plans to make his message of interracial community outreach more specific and pointed than in the past.
“I was hoping that it was just isolated incidents, but obviously it’s not. To me, it has now escalated (into something) much worse. We need to come together and reconcile and bring healing to all people, regardless of race or gender or nationality. That will be my response to the congregation on Sunday morning.”
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler