The shooting death of Alton Sterling has impacted our local Baton Rouge community like few other things have "rocked our world" in years. Questions of safety, suspicion, driving down the road at night, and even who is walking up behind me at the parking lot enter our minds.
The week Alton Sterling was killed, The Chapel had already planned a community partner prayer meeting with New Beginning Baptist Church, a church pastored by Reverend Donald Hunter in the Glen Oaks area of North Baton Rouge. Although the two churches alternate hosting, it was our month to have them join us at our Oaks location. Then the unthinkable happened!
Suddenly, as The Chapel pastor coordinating the upcoming prayer event, I found myself asking, “How should I respond? What should I do?” I wondered, “Do I do anything differently than I had planned?” I knew that as a pastor, I needed to listen to God's voice and obey. I also needed to call God’s people to the same response that God calls them to.
As a staff, we decided to contact Pastor Donald Hunter and ask him to share a video message of hope and courage with our congregation during these troubling times. While talking to him, we learned he had been asked to participate in a community wide prayer gathering at a church right down the road from him in North Baton Rouge. We decided to join him.
Unrest was abounding. Questions for safety were on my mind, and people were calling me to ask whether they should go there in light of the climate of fear. I could not counsel people to avoid going where they felt they would not be safe. Rather I knew I had to encourage them to listen to God's voice and let him direct their steps in spite of their fear. I knew that as the very people of God who have read often that "perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4), we could not succumb to the systemic fear of certain neighborhoods that permeated our city, particularly in light of this tragedy.
Then, almost two weeks later, the unspeakable happened. While we are heading into worship services Sunday at 9 am, six law enforcement officers were ambushed. Three died and three more were forever marred by the hatred and fear incited from this societal travesty. Baton Rouge’s name has become synonymous with societal slurs and incidents that weeks before we thought unimaginable.
How would the church, our church, respond?
I was reminded that God never calls us to anything he has not equipped us to face. I Corinthians 12 states that "the body" has many parts and that all the parts are necessary. The passage goes on to state that we all have "gifts" that are given so that the Body of Christ may be built up. That is fine and good for me in my church, but what about those people up in North Baton Rouge? Am I supposed to do anything?
Our community is on fire with fear, and it is easy to become paralyzed about it. Yet anger and fear are secondary emotions, as some clinicians would call it. The root cause is almost always found at the core of a person not receiving what it is that they need or want, which is mainly an absence of intimacy. It ultimately is how God made us, to be in relationship with one another, but especially in relationship with Him.
When I look through this lens, I no longer see those people in North Baton Rouge. I am looking at my friends Pastor Donald and Genieta Hunter. I see new friends, ten black pastors I met in the police chief's office. I see Pastor Joe, Bishop Warren, Pastor McKinley, Pastor Freddie Phillips, Pastor Shonte Witherspoon, all men of God concerned about the people of God whom they lead and guide and who are living in fear similar to ours. As brothers in Christ, we agreed we would pray 2 Timothy 1: 7 "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
Micah 6:8 asks the question, "What does the Lord require of me, but to do Justice, Love Mercy, and Live Humbly before Your God." Doing justice is a loaded term to our society today, and the Police Chief stated that the Federal Government is handling the administration of that justice. Relationally, the people of God cannot "do justice" without knowing each other's names and living in such a way that we don't engage with one another as those people but rather as fellow children of God.
Although these pastors and I met to come up with a plan for community revival and reconciliation, we agreed that unless The Lord builds our house, we will labor in vain to repair anything. The answer is not found in the administration of justice, rather in the proclamation of Jesus as Savior and Lord, with the commitment to build a disciple who follows Christ with his whole heart. It is only in the pursuit of justice where you call the focus to be about relationship that will bring God glory.
The pastors who met also agreed together that we must figure out how we can do life together and face that fear head on. Not knowing people's names, not engaging in their lives, not praying together--those are things we can stop.
Many plans are being formulated, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has sent a crisis response team to assist our local faith community to come up with a plan of how we can petition our Lord for the salvation of the people in our city, and follow through with a plan to work together. It has worked in Ferguson, Charlotte, Baltimore, and it can work here if God's people will pray and work together.
Further we met for prayer together. Now we are calling you to begin praying for your city, to engage in a prayer walk where you begin to walk your neighborhood or a part of the city where God has called you to pray. An excellent resource for prayer walking is found here. Print out this document, then
- Engage in the prayerful process of intercessory prayer for your neighbors,
- Get to know their names and their stories, and
- Pray for God to draw people by name to Himself.
The people in North Baton Rouge aren’t just those people. They are our brothers and sisters, known by name to Jesus who died for them and rose again to save us all from sin.