RIDGECREST, NC (BP) – Appeals for pertinent action amid turmoil following the killings of two black men and five white policemen were issued July 12 during a conference designed to strengthen black churches and families. As more than 800 gathered at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference July 11-15 at Ridgecrest, N.C., leaders peppered sermons and seminars with advice drawn from Scripture. Using the conference theme of LEAD, an acronym for launch, engage and advance into destiny, speakers used the biblical story of Nehemiah as a framework to encourage constructive action approved and empowered by God and not defined by individual and personal agendas, nor limited by human strength.
Anthony Dockery, preaching from the theme of "engage" during the July 12 evening worship service, said Christians must engage our Christianity, culture and community to effect change in these perilous times. Not only that, but Christians must follow certain "rules of engagement," said Dockery, pastor of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in LaPuente, Calif. "You see the affliction, you see the pain. Baton Rouge, you see it. Dallas, you see it. Minneapolis, you see it. San Bernardino, you see it. Orlando, you see it. Paris, you see it. Everywhere you go, you see it," Dockery said. "You see the brokenness, you see the hurt, you see the peril.... What's going to help things to change, what's going to help things to be better? It's going to take Anglos, it's going to take African Americans, it's going to take Latino, Hispanic all of us coming together to facilitate change."
Rules of engagement
Dockery referenced Jesus' admonition to "turn the other cheek" in saying that all sectors of society must be able to look past certain entitlements and freedoms -- such as the right or permission to defend oneself -- to achieve what is best for the whole nation. "We say we want to heal the land. Everyone says we need to have a conversation. It needs to go past the conversation. It needs to go to the point where I understand, and my convictions and my Christianity start to supersede my entitlement and my permission" he said, reasoning that a clash of individual freedoms will likely be the downfall of the United States.
"What I'm simply saying is what's going to be the demise of our country is not Al Qaeda, it is not ISIS; it is our own freedoms," he said. "It is implosion from the inside. It's your freedoms infringing on my freedoms and me not moving back from my entitlement and my permission to allow the greater good for the country." When Nehemiah formed a coalition to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the presence of enemies, he operated through authority and power given by God, and necessarily guarded and protected God's commandments while performing the work. Additionally, Dockery noted, Nehemiah acknowledged the Israelites' sins of disobedience and not just the problems that resulted from disobedience.
"We have to understand the worldview of the Anglo and where they're coming from, and try to process that information and then educate them as to where we are coming from. That is the significance of engaging the culture," Dockery said. "And lastly the community, connecting with our community. It's not just the community that you're in, but the community of this nation, the community of this world.... Everywhere we go is our community."
E.W. McCall, who retired from a 37-year pastorate at St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church immediately preceding Dockery's tenure, commended the younger pastor while introducing him to conference attendees. McCall now lives in Dallas and works as a consultant in African American ministry with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In an interview with Baptist Press, the longtime pastor and denominational worker said African American Christians must have a plan of action to follow after the talking, marching and grieving over violence end.
"I don't see a strategy," McCall said. "The only time the system changes for us minorities is when it economically impacts the majority community. Martin Luther King was nonviolent, but ... he impacted the economic position of the majority. And once you have (their attention), the majority begins to think." "When the violence started the other week in downtown Dallas, that area lost millions of dollars, because business was shut down," McCall said of July 7, the night an African American sniper killed five white police officers and injured seven others because he was upset that white officers had killed two black men in unrelated events in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn. "But what after that? What after the businesses recover?," said McCall, voicing concern that the violence and injustice will continue.
McCall pointed out that blacks must be active in legislatures and Congress to impact lawmaking. After pastors point out injustices, the next step is to strategize to determine how we can change the condition of blacks in society, McCall said. "If you're ever going to make changes, you've got to be at the table where the laws are being written," McCall said. "If you're not at the table, you are on the table being carved up and forgotten."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.