By Carol Davis Younger
Three days after the Michael Dunn verdict, Chanequa Walker-Barnes, who teaches pastoral care and counseling at McAfee School of Theology, preached in chapel. She challenged Christians to share the hurt of those devastated that the Florida jury found Dunn guilty of attempted murder for firing into a car of unarmed teens but not guilty of the primary charge, the first degree murder of Jordan Davis.
Walker-Barnes preached, “Many Black Christians who worship in predominantly white congregations or under the leadership of white pastors found the church strangely silent, our grief glossed over with triumphal praise songs, our need for lament stifled. … I believe that what African-American Christians need right now is for our sisters and brothers in Christ to do more than stand in silent solidarity.
“We need to see faith in action. We need to know that as we are feeling persecuted and scattered, that as we are struggling with how to raise our children to be safe and whole in a world that is not safe for them, that you are not simply going on with business as usual. We need to know that your lives are affected. We need to know that you will stand with us even when it’s uncomfortable, when it’s costly. We need you to cast stones at an unjust system.”
How does the church answer this call for faith in action? How do we stand with those who need our presence? How do we interrupt business as usual and seize those moments that invite us to new ministry?
“Conversion means starting with who we are, not who we wish we were,” writes Kathleen Norris in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Maybe conversion starts in our weekly prayer meetings. If our church prayer lists only reflect the personal needs of those closest to us, what concerns would Jesus want us to add? In an effort to avoid politics, have we stopped praying for the needs of the world that God commands us to consider? Could we widen the scope of our compassion by including globes and newspapers on Wednesday night supper tables? Would we begin praying about injustice in the world if we invited those most affected by these wrongs to share their stories with us?
Christ’s Church learns to pray the news. Highland Hills Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., gathers monthly for “Touch Ministry” on Sunday afternoons. In addition to writing visitors, shut-in members and persons on the church’s prayer list, participants gather around a stack of current newspapers, read the news and write notes of prayer, encouragement and shared sorrow to those mentioned in the articles.
In a prayerful response to recent jury verdicts, one Atlanta church posted the following on its marquee: “How to Stand One’s Ground: Matthew 5:38-48.” Jesus’ take on turning the other cheek and loving enemies challenges conventional wisdom and law.
When Jesus told the disciples, “Follow me,” they dropped their nets and their world expanded. Jesus enlarged their perspective, stretched their prayer list and led them to a world desperate for their care.
Jesus invites us to follow him into a wider ministry, as well. We can pray the news and receive courage. We can seek God’s guidance and wisdom. We can discern how to put our faith into action. We can ask God to help us love.