By Jeff Brumley
Baptists and human rights, women in the Old Testament and the benefits of parish nursing are just a few of the topics Fellowship Baptists will be talking about at General Assembly this week.
And there’s another topic some ministers involved in Cooperative Baptist life want to hear discussed around the halls of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas: the police brutality scandal currently rocking the neighboring northern community of McKinney.
The YouTube video of a white officer forcing a black teenaged girl to the ground on June 5 has gone viral and become a staple on most everyone’s Facebook feed. News reports and editorials are still coming out daily, and Baptist News Global has run two recent Perspective pieces on the topic.
All the more reason, some pastors say, that a major gathering so close to McKinney ought to bring that incident, and others like it, up into conversations and prayers during General Assembly.
“I would hope it would matter” that the Fellowship is gathering so near to McKinney, said Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
That proximity should inspire sensitivity and “some conscience raising” about what happened in McKinney and about “the wider issue, and the age-old issue, of the treatment of communities of color by law enforcement,” Griffen said.
Unrest in McKinney
It would be a more obvious response if the annual CBF gathering were being held near Ferguson, Mo., or Baltimore, he said.
What the McKinney incident lacks in the police-induced death and protests that has occurred in other places, it has made up for in sensationalism due to the video and subsequent fall out.
It shows 41-year-old officer David Casebolt taken a bikini-clad girl to the ground and brandishing his sidearm at other teens after a pool party.
Casebolt has since apologized and resigned from the police department.
He and other officers were responding to complaints about teen behavior at the pool party. NBC News reported that black teens at the party, held at a community pool, claimed unfair treatment by white teens at the pool and by some adults.
It’s ignited debate in the Dallas suburb about whether the incident has uncovered deeper racist currents there, the NBC report said.
‘We need not be silent’
The gathering of other Fellowship Baptists near McKinney is a reminder of the broken state of American society, said Starlette McNeill, associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Md.
“I can’t get my head around it — all of these [violent events] — why does it keep happening?” she asked.
McNeill said she feels compassion for police, too, because as a whole they are being unfairly depicted as racist or corrupt because of the actions of a few of their colleagues around the country.
“We need police, or we would have anarchy,” she said.
It also makes little sense when protesters turn to violence and vandalism, as was the case in Baltimore and Ferguson. At the same time, people of color must be treated fairly by authorities, she said.
McKinney, like Ferguson and Baltimore and North Charleston, are reminders that Americans need to re-examine their core values, especially on matters of race and fairness and how people with differing opinions are treated, she said.
“Why must we immediately take sides?” McNeill asked.
The church as a whole must be outspoken on issues of reconciliation, she added.
“Something must be said — clearly we need not to be silent,” McNeill said. “You need to have a posture or a stance, or it’s going to look like the church has lost its spine,” she said.
‘Militarization of police’
Scripture makes clear how Christians should respond when confronted with situations and places like McKinney, said Darryl Aaron, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Winston Salem, N.C.
“We have a light as people of God and those who follow Jesus,” Aaron said. “It is clear what has happened in that town needs to have some light put on it.”
And Griffen added that the issue Christians must address is far bigger than a single town or series of towns. Instead, it’s to raise awareness about a trend of law enforcement officers abusing their authority against civilians, especially the poor and people of color.
“For some time, we in the faith community have not paid attention to to Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s warning about militarization [of law enforcement],” Griffen said. “We are now seeing the impact of militarism on police culture.”