Prayer surrounds Ferguson amid rioting

Darron Edwards
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Amid tensions surrounding a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenage robbery suspect in Ferguson, Mo., Southern Baptists are gathering in prayer.

Darron LaMonte Edwards, pastor of United Believers Community Church (SBC) in Kansas City, is among the leaders of the newly formed interfaith group K.C. Prayerful Response, a prayer movement of nearly 30 pastors and open to all Christian leaders who share the group's Christ-centered goals.

"We believe because we preceded the [grand jury decision] with a prayer rally on Sunday, that we had, according to our chief of police, a very mild and peaceful night last night," Edwards told Baptist Press. "With Kansas City being the sister city of St. Louis, there was concern that we could have unrest here. But we are pleased, joyful, to say that there was no great unrest. [There were] peaceful demonstrations that took place in Kansas City last night. And we look to have that spiritual energy to continue as we move forward."

The group will host a community-wide prayer meeting today (Nov. 25) at 7 p.m. at Friendship Baptist Church (National Baptist Convention, USA) to comfort the distressed and encourage a biblically based response to the turmoil, Edwards said.

We want "to hear the cries of the community, as well as promote our causes of how we handle the decision that has been handed down by the grand jury," Edwards said. "We have three principles that we are using as guiding principles in what we're doing.

"We're pushing prevention, that we choose to refrain from destroying our communities. The second one is protection, that we honor peaceful protests only, as a means of being a vehicle of our voices," Edwards said. "And finally, of course, we are a prayer movement. We are promoting the causes of Christ, which are love, forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation."

Among other Southern Baptists participating in the movement is Rodney Hammer, director of missions of the Blue River – Kansas City Baptist Association, who said he is participating to bridge racial divisions, to promote biblical reconciliation and to better understand the African American perspective.

Hammer sees the group as "a prayerful, Christian response guided by biblical truth," he said, "for promoting peace and not destruction, and for understanding and building bridges across racial divides that cause this kind of distrust and presuppositions when an incident happens that polarizes us."

The grand jury decision, Edwards said, "speaks to a slowdown, perhaps even a meltdown of racial harmony as I believe Christ prayed that we might be one. I think we're seeing that there's much preaching, teaching, comforting and consoling that need to take place."

Edwards sees the Southern Baptist Convention as one of God's tools for racial reconciliation in these turbulent times.

"I really believe it's a God-ordained catalyst to bring about these changes," Edwards said, "once we agree to have open and honest dialogue, and then center it in on prayer and action. I think the world is looking for a response and I believe SBC has it."

Open and honest conversations are needed among Southern Baptists to bridge the divide, he said.

"I think we [should] rally around our current SBC president and engage in prayer that really deals with the epidemic that not only faces America, but honestly faces our convention," Edwards said, "and that we come together and have open and honest dialogue around race, around what does reconciliation truly look like within our denomination, as well as in America."

He encouraged Christian leaders to focus on spiritual tenets in ministering amid the tension and unrest, remembering Christ's Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer in particular.

"I would counsel all clergy to remember that we are clergy, that we are here to give a biblical and a Christocentric response to what has taken place," he said. "We are here to promote the causes of Christ and that our response needs to be a Kingdom response."

Focused prayer and spiritual songs are scheduled at the event expected to draw between 500 and 700 people, as the Nov. 23 gathering drew about 500, Edwards said.

"We're really looking at reconciliation between our races," he said. "There's just one race, the human race."

Edwards' predominantly African American church draws a combined 700 Sunday worshippers in two locations.

Weeks of protests in Ferguson and elsewhere have occurred since Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black male, was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during an Aug. 9 convenience store robbery in the St. Louis suburb.

When the grand jury announced its decision Nov. 24 not to charge Wilson with a crime, violent rioting erupted in the community, with protesters burning and destroying more than a dozen businesses and many police cars. At least 50 people have been arrested, according to news reports.

Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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