Statement by Abounding Grace Ministries about
Racial Injustices and
Police and Community Relations
July 10, 2016
_____________________

We gather this morning grieving with our nation after another week of senseless bloodshed. We mourn with the families of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith. We honor them as men, sons, brothers, fathers, and friends — each one handcrafted by a heavenly Father to reflect the image and likeness of God.

We mourn and pray for their loved ones left behind: sons and daughters; wives, mothers, and fathers; friends, families, and neighbors. We pray for their communities in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Falcon Heights, Minnesota; and Dallas, Texas. We pray for their leaders, civilian and law enforcement alike, to discern a way forward that heals the brokenness, restores hope, and demonstrates humility and justice so that all citizens can fully participate in the promise of freedom — the freedom offered first in Christ and second by the ideals of our country.

We mourn and we pray, and we also repent of the cyclical nature of violence that begets more violence. In these perilous and uncertain times, we cry out from the deepest recesses of our hearts expressing profound sorrow for a national story that includes 400 years of legal, yet horrific and dehumanizing, violence against people of color: the brutality of slavery; Native American conquest; internment camps; Jim Crow segregation; the disproportionate impacts of abortion; the so-called War on Drugs; mass incarceration; entertainment bloodlust; and so much more. The shocking events captured on video this week are not new. What’s new only is the capacity of ordinary citizens to record them real-time, and the collective trauma to the masses from watching the broadcast images.

Coupled with our lament and deep sadness is righteous indignation and holy discontent. While we understand that there is a time to mourn and to be silent, we are led by the conviction that there is also a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), guided by the belief that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).

Enough was enough long ago. The time for hand wringing and platitudes has long since expired. As Micah reminds us: ‘[God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

We acknowledge both the supernatural power of prayer to effect change, and also that prayers alone are not enough when it is within our ability to act — with justice, mercy, and humility. The heroes of scripture were flawed men and women whose faith inspired prophetic calls to repentance and courageous action — not isolation into prayer circles and holy huddles. The church, as an institution, carries the responsibility to be the conscience of the nation. We cannot sit by offering prayers alone while image bearers of God needlessly lose their lives.

Our church in particular bears the responsibility to demonstrate grace that abounds right here in the Lower East Side. Our neighborhood is presently occupied by twin terrors: first, a growing gang and gun epidemic marked by turf wars and teen violence; and second, the growing mistrust between citizens and NYPD exacerbated by economic despair magnified by unrelenting gentrification, and our City’s own police-community tensions.

We are grateful for the reforms of recent months empowered by #BlackLivesMatter advocates and an administration willing to listen. But we know more is needed.

Starting with our own ability to listen with humility and mercy to people with whom we might ordinarily disagree — so that together we may find a path towards greater justice.

We recognize the danger and self-sacrifice inherent in community policing. Everyday, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line for people who may otherwise resent them.

We also recognize that the resentment most often is not personal. The police exist to enforce laws that exist and protect the status quo — even when those laws have created a status quo that is broken. Cops are the only state actors most citizens regularly see. When citizens are angry and frustrated, and their elected officials are inaccessible or non-responsive, cops bear the weight of that anger. Is that fair? No. But it comes with the job.

Most cops embrace this burden, and protect and serve anyway. Some do not. Vilifying all cops doesn’t help any more than demonizing all Black and Brown men as thugs. We must proactively find and punish corrupt and racist cops and career criminals alike, while affirming the humanity of both. We must combat gang violence with real educational and vocational options. And we must continue to reform broken educational, economic, and criminal justice systems that perpetuate injustice against men and women of color.

We have come a long way in the last half century. But as this week demonstrates, we have a long way to go. We humbly offer the others-oriented, faith-filled love described in Romans 12 as a roadmap forward.

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Humble Service in the Body of Christ
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a]faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love in Action
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[c] Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[e]
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

To overcome the evil of systemic injustice with good requires us to test and approve God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will in these fractured and contentious times. To that end, this passage offers no less than twenty helpful truths:

  1. Remember God’s mercy. Mercy alone is the foundation for reconciliation with God and with others.
  2. Live and love sacrificially. Sacrifice requires us to give of ourselves even when giving hurts.
  3. Reject the patterns of the world, including the tendency to demonize others and defend our positions rather than invest in relationships.
  4. Renew how we think — about ourselves, the world, and even the issues.
  5. Affirm the humanity and Imago Dei (the image of God) in others.
  6. Serve others humbly.
  7. Love others sincerely. The word sincere comes from the Latin phrase sine cera, which literally translated means “without wax” and references the Roman practice by some artisans to mask cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as worth more than it actually was. The wax would later melt in the sun, revealing its brokenness. Quality products were often stamped with the phrase sine cera to show it had not be altered. Similarly, the Greek word translated “sincere” in the NIV is the word Anupokritos, which includes the root for our word hypocrite. The prefix an means “without,” so the Greek word actually means, “without hypocrisy.” Our love should be real and not pretend, with no hidden agendas.
  8. Hate evil, and actively reject it.
  9. Cling to what is good, and actively fight for it.
  10. Honor others with love and devotion.
  11. Stay rooted in faith and prayer.
  12. Practice generous hospitality to all.
  13. Actively bless those who curse you. How can Abounding Grace bless gang members and racist cops alike, wherever we find them?
  14. Empathize with others, in good times and bad.
  15. Reject prideful conceits by associating with people who are different than you, and embracing their stories as your own.
  16. Reject vengeance, always.
  17. Do right regardless of who may or may not be watching, or recording you on smart phones.
  18. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
  19. Find practical ways to love and serve your enemies, and do them.
  20. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. Good will prevail in the end.

With Romans 12 in mind, this morning as a faith community we will pray in faith for our community. When we leave here today, we will act with faith-filled courage to make our neighborhood the safest place for all people to thrive, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. And we will continue to advocate for legal and structural changes at the City, State, and National level that affirm the image of God in every person.

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