What Do You Preach After a Week Like This?

Reactions from 10 pastors close to the recent shootings in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Falcon Heights.
What Do You Preach After a Week Like This?

In the past week, three cities have been rocked by gun violence. Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Philando Castile was killed by police Wednesday during a traffic stop outside St. Paul, Minnesota. The next night, a dozen police officers and two civilians were shot during a protest in Dallas.

The back-to-back tragedies led to a national outcry, including from Christian leaders.

Evangelicals are among the groups least likely to support Black Lives Matter, according to a 2015 Barna Group survey. Yet plenty of pastors joined the chorus of fear, frustration, and grief on social media and also plan to address the recent events in church on Sunday.

CT asked pastors near Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas how they plan to minister to their congregations after this week’s incidents.

Donald Hunter, New Beginning Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Donald Hunter, an African American pastor in the city where Alton Sterling was killed, said he’ll be preaching this Sunday on Psalm 11:5: “The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”

“Most of us have a misconception about Christianity, and that is if you’re a Christian, you’re not supposed to have trouble in your life or community,” he told CT. “But look at Christ—he had trouble from the day he was born.” Hunter said he’ll also draw from Psalm 34:19: “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”

“When we endure such things as murder—whether it's police officers or we kill one another—the challenge we have is whether we will submit ourselves to God and allow that incident to cause something good to be born out of it.”

Some in Hunter’s congregation are angry, he said, and some are patient “because we’ve tried very hard to put all of this under the light of God.”

“We live in a low-income neighborhood, the same type as Brother Alton was killed in,” he said. “We can’t sit idly by and see things happen. We have to try to address them. We’re working.”

Obie Bussey, Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas

Just a couple of weeks ago, Golden Gate Missionary Baptist Church—an African American congregation in Dallas—invited a white, Presbyterian pastor to preach. He was part of a coordinated “pulpit swap” among 100 pastors in the area the church orchestrated last year as a way to build interracial relationships.

Obie Bussey, who directs the church’s rehab ministry, said the church will keep praying for healing, racial reconciliation, safety for law enforcement, and unity as they gather this weekend.

“It seems like no one is standing in the middle to say, ‘I understand the fear and distrust in the African American community, and at the same time, I see that police have a hard job, stepping into these communities,’” he said. “I believe that’s the role of the church.”

In light of the shootings in Dallas, Bussey recalls the teachings of Ephesians 6:10-11 (“Be strong in the Lord… put on the full armor of God”) and Romans 8:28 (“In all things God works for the good of those who love him”). “We have to let people know that we feel them without belittling,” he said. “They have a right to be hurt. They have a right to be afraid.”

Jeff Ginn, Istrouma Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Baton Rouge pastor Jeff Ginn credits God with the fact that he just addressed citizenship from the pulpit over the July 4th weekend. “I preached from Romans 13 on the dual citizenship we as believers have. We are citizens of heaven and citizens of the country where God has placed us. We have privileges and responsibilities in both realms. It prepped us well for the unforeseen events of this week,” Ginn told CT. The church’s next sermon topic: Emotions.

“This week has escalated the issues [of police shootings and violence] to a fever pitch,” said Ginn. “My prayer is that the madness of what happened, particularly in Dallas, will be the necessary wake-up call to us all. Our enemy is not one another. But we do have an enemy and his mission is to steal, kill, and destroy. We can’t be his accomplices.”

Bryan Dunagan, Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, Texas

Minutes before his church’s Friday prayer vigil, Bryan Dunagan, lead pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, was still wrestling with a pastoral response to the shootings that “rocked our city.” He turned to the psalms of lament. “They don’t answer the ‘why’ questions, but they do name it,” he said.

For the mostly white congregation, part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, racial justice “has not been enough of a part of how we do life as a church,” he said. The church has started to do more; Dunagan has recently partnered with African American leaders in South Dallas through a citywide ministry.

“For us at Highland Park, injustice is injustice,” he said. “We are called to pursue justice, shalom, redemption as an act of worship. It is not an add-on to our life as a Christian.”

Ben Lovvorn, First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas

Just a block away from the site of the protests in Dallas, First Baptist Church ministers returned to their building late last night to pray for and counsel members of the city’s police department, which lost five officers in the shooting.

First Baptist, led by pastor Robert Jeffress, launched a partnership with the Dallas Police Department in April called “Back the Blue.” The church raises funds to pay for the children of the Dallas police officers to attend camp, offers a special Sunday School for officers, and provides free counseling for officers and their families.

“It’s important for Christians to pray for our city, for the Dallas Police Department, and for our nation as week seek unity,” said Ben Lovvorn, executive pastor of operations.

Lovvorn doesn’t anticipate that the church will speak directly to Black Lives Matter, but will continue to minister to members of the police department.

Tony Evans, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, Texas

Tony Evans’ 10,000-member Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship sits about 10 miles south of downtown Dallas. Among its members is Dallas police chief David Brown.

Evans told CT that he feels “hurt and pain at the loss of life and the families that have been devastated by this tragedy.”

“Until the church leads the way—and we’ve been co-conspirators in this problem—of bringing God’s point of view to the culture, we’re only going to see more of this,” he told CT. “We must take advantage of the opportunity that we are afforded to make a difference. We must pray but we must do more than pray. We must become salt and light in a unified way to a culture that is desperate for answers. This is our opportunity and we must take advantage of it.”

T. D. Jakes, Potter’s House, Dallas, Texas

Last night, megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes told Facebook Live viewers that he felt “your pain and your anger and your hostility.”

Jakes leads the 17,000-person Potter’s House in Dallas, where he says many of the city’s police officers attend.

“I’m disappointed in the killings and atrocities of innocent young people. It’s very, very painful. I’m very upset at the killings of innocent police officers who have kids at home who are just trying to do their job,” he said. “My heart is broken. I love this country. My heart is broken because this is my country.”

Jakes, whose own grandfather was lynched, called for unity among Christians.

“This is a moment when the church could stand united,” he said. “It is very important that it not just be the black or brown or white church. It needs to be church that Jesus died for and shed his blood for standing together because we are united not by the color of our skin but the content of our character and of our hearts. I grieve for that and I long for that.”

John Sommerville, City Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The City Church church service will include an extra time of prayer this week, senior pastor John Sommerville told CT. (Sommerville is a board member for Christianity Today International.)

“It’s really hard to even articulate our emotions and what we feel,” he said. “Some are angry. Many of us feel very numb because this seems to come one tragedy on top of the other.”

“It feels like, ‘When is this going to stop? I don’t think we know what to say, and so being quiet and not rushing in to make comment is what we need to do. We need to pursue God, ask him for wisdom and guidance, and intercede for the people who have been touched by these tragedies.”

John Crosby, Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina, Minnesota

Christ Presbyterian Church in suburban Minneapolis will add a prayer of lament and confession to its worship this week, senior pastor John Crosby told CT. The church has been spending a month examining conflict around the world, specifically between Israel and Palestine, Muslims and Christians.

“We'll draw parallels to the tension and violence gripping our country,” Crosby said.

The church must step into the mess and “Iive in the tension while resisting partisan, political divisiveness,” he said. “In this case, as an affluent majority-culture church, we want to lead with silence and lament, listening rather than prescribing answers.”

Greg Boyd, Woodland Hills Church, St. Paul, Minnesota

The sermon that Woodland Hills Church hears on Sunday won’t be the one that senior pastor Greg Boyd wrote earlier this week. “I couldn’t authentically preach on it, and I didn’t have any type of passion for it,” Boyd told CT. Instead, he consulted his friend and mentor Dennis Edwards, an African American pastor who leads Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis.

“We’re taking a distinct kingdom perspective where don’t buy into the polarities—that you’re either for black people or for the police,” said Boyd. “That’s a myopic individualistic approach…. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities.”

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What Do You Preach After a Week Like This?