Culture Ethics Politics

Panel offers pastors advice on becoming ‘ministers of reconciliation’ in African-American communities

Sanford Police Department Chief Cecil Smith speaks with a reporter as he took part in his "Walk and Talk" program in the town where George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial is being held in Sanford, Fla., on July 11, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GOSPEL-FERGUSON, originally transmitted on April 15, 2015.

ORLANDO, Fla. (RNS) Christian ministers should establish relationships with law enforcement, seek ways to become moral authorities in their communities and listen.

Alex Median, music producer and art director at Reach Records. Photo courtesy of TGC 2015

Alex Medina, music producer and art director at Reach Records. Photo courtesy of TGC 2015

Those were the top recommendations from experts at a panel sponsored by The Gospel Coalition on Tuesday (April 14) titled “Seeking Justice and Mercy From Ferguson to New York.”

The popular ministry offered an alternative approach to that of evangelist Franklin Graham, who was widely criticized for his recent “Obey the police, or else” comments on Facebook. The comments followed the spate of police killings of unarmed black men.

In response to that Facebook post, 31 African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American leaders, many of them evangelicals, signed an open letter to Graham, saying he revealed a lack of empathy and understanding of the justice system.

At Tuesday’s panel, pastor and former public defender Ed Copeland; music producer Alex Medina; Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Cecil Smith; and U.S. Attorney Robert Lang offered tips to help ministers and other church leaders become “ministers of reconciliation.”

Sanford Police Department Chief Cecil Smith speaks with a reporter as he took part in his "Walk and Talk" program in the town where George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial is being held in Sanford, Fla., on July 11, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GOSPEL-FERGUSON, originally transmitted on April 15, 2015.

Sanford Police Department Chief Cecil Smith speaks with a reporter as he takes part in his “Walk and Talk” program in the town where George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial is being held in Sanford, Fla., on July 11, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Joe Skipper
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GOSPEL-FERGUSON, originally transmitted on April 15, 2015.

Panelists urged ministers to find out whether their communities use a focused deterrence policy, and if so, to get on board. The policy calls for community leaders to approach small groups of lawbreakers and warn them about the consequences of their behavior rather than arresting them outright.

“There’s a role in this policing where a community’s moral voice explains their goals and what actions they won’t tolerate,” Copeland explained. “Usually, this moral voice is one of two people: the criminal’s mother or their pastor.”

The policy can be effective if pastors are respected as moral authorities in their neighborhoods. But they can only be respected if they’re active in their community.

Medina pointed to a popular 1962 memoir, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” as an example of how a pastor’s presence can change lives. In that book, later made into a movie, Pastor David Wilkerson tried to be present in New York City gangster Nicky Cruz’s life. Wilkerson’s presence eventually caused Cruz to repent of his crimes and become a Christian.

Medina also recommended that Christians use social media to help create a presence in places where injustice is occurring. Not only can it be used to share information, it can be used to listen.

Finally, Christians need to remember to develop the discipline of listening. All the panelists recommended that pastors do all that they can to become more approachable by all community members, regardless of religious background.

What practical steps can ministers take toward getting involved?

“Ninety-nine percent of police departments have a guy who handles community relations,” said Smith, who urged pastors to find out what programs the police are trying to implement. He also recommended looking into whether the department has a chaplain program.

Lang mentioned that many U.S. attorneys’ offices have Project Safe Neighborhood coordinators who can provide ideas for pastors to get involved.

Bradford Davis, an African-American technical writer from New York, said he appreciated the advice.

“Hearing from a law enforcement officer, as well as an artist with his ear to the broader #blacklivesmatter movement like Alex Medina, enriched the conversation,” he said.

YS/MG END HUTTON

About the author

Christopher Hutton

11 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • People should try obeying the law, and stop thinking that every police officer is after you.

  • “The Cross and the Switchblade”- This is a powerful book that addresses the heart of the matter. We need more people like the Wilkersons. Love changes lives. Let the healing begin.

  • Except in Ferguson, they were!

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/03/ferguson-as-a-criminal-conspiracy-against-its-black-residents-michael-brown-department-of-justice-report/386887/

    The system was designed to shake down the black population with onerous bullcrap fines and piling up pointless civil citations as a form of revenue for the town. To penalize people for being working poor.

    Then you get brain dead amateurs like Eric Harris shooting people in the back
    http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/13/us/tulsa-police-shooting-eric-harris-deputy-charged/

  • PS….if you are pulled over, keep your hands visible and don’t try to show the police how tough you are. Just comply with his or her instructions. If she says stay in the car, you just stay in the car. Doesn’t cost anything to follow instructions.

    Show simple respect. Keep your back-talk and your hands to yourself. And keep your hands off the cop’s gun already!

    You can always dial up the lawyer, the pastor, or the news media tomorrow. But today, just use some Common Sense and Respect !!

  • Because if you are white, they would let you run off and send you a desk appearance ticket. Since they have your address already. If you are black, 8 bullets in your back by an overeager amateur.

    You know that if it wasn’t for the video, the cops story would be much much different.

  • No, Eric Holder’s press agentry was designed to spin it to defame the local police department to justify pointless federal intervention in a local dispute and stoking rabble rousing.

  • You have north of 14,000 instances of homicide in this country and fewer than 3% are non-justiciable. Of these, the number with regard to which prosecutors determinations are truly dubious are few (and that in Ferguson was not among them). The notion that the police are a threat to slum populations is inane. What’s a threat to those populations is the social pathology to be found therein, with regard to which vigorous and well-manned police forces are an antidote. Inducing the police to withdraw or hit the doughnut shops is a fine way of damaging the quality of life. If these pastors had any sense, they’d make that clear to the duller and more truculent members of their flock, as well as to the har-de-har public interest bar. Not holding my breath. Humbug and performance art have been the order of the day in racial politics for fifty-odd years now.

ADVERTISEMENTs