Alton Sterling: a pastoral reflection

Baton Rouge: our City, our Home

In light of Alton Sterling’s death, I sent the following to our congregation.

I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 
Psalm 6.6-8

You already know today is going to be a long day for our city, our home.

I wanted this to be in your inbox before you woke up. It’s a short reflection for our diverse congregation to read. I hope tone and instruction conveys pastoral care and concern. Writers more skilled than I will provide fuller commentary. My intent is to shepherd us: Grace Mid City. Let this be food for thought as we process today and pray before engaging in social media and water cooler talk. Let us walk and speak in wisdom from above.

Today will be a long day for the bereaved family and friends of Alton Sterling, a resident of our city whom our Coroner said died after being shot multiple times by the BRPD. I don’t know Alton Sterling personally, but I know he – like all humans – is an Image-Bearer of God created by God for relationship with God. As his family and friends mourn his death, he awaits – along with all those departed – Resurrection and Judgement. Any death is tragic.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for the two police officers involved in the death of a fellow human being. Whether it was outright murder, an arrest gone terribly wrong, or officers following standard operating procedure, these men took the life of another man and will have to give an account of why they took such action.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for our city leaders. They woke up early this morning (if they even slept) and had breakfast (if they even ate) knowing an international news media stage awaits. It is no secret our nation is embroiled in tension as the world watches – and we now experience in our own city – the conflict between black citizens and white police officers. Earlier this morning I drove to the corner store where Alton Sterling died, to pray for his family and our city. It’s less than two miles from my house. The corner was empty. Three or four cars were in the parking lot. Two or three people were standing silently by the table in front. No traffic but me, no noise but the truck engine. The calm before the storm? Soon we’ll hear from our black mayor-president and white chief of police. May they lead us well.
Christ, have mercy. 

It’s going to be a long day for the Church in Baton Rouge. Most of our city’s congregations are homogenous. It’s been said our city is segregated most on Sunday mornings. I don’t know the numbers, but I do know we tend to describe congregations as being a “Black Church” or “Korean Church” or “Hispanic Church” or “White Church” or “Vietnamese Church” or some other ethnicity. Right or wrong, it’s a reality. Our reality is that Grace Mid City, albeit mostly white, is a multiethnic congregation. As such, we must – for Christ’s sake! – hold these two realities:

1) Of utmost importance is our unity as Brothers and Sisters in Christ Who, by grace through faith, has brought us into the eternal family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has gathered us, different walks of life and all, to be a local expression of the Body of Christ. We, in our diverse backgrounds and views, are united in the communion of saints.

Our unity is made in Christ.
Our unity is held in Christ.
Our unity is our witness in Christ.

2) Different ethnicities react differently for different reasons. Maybe it would be easier if we all reacted emotionally the same way about the same things, but we don’t. That’s okay. Our different backgrounds and experiences affect how and why we react to certain situations. This hasn’t changed in all of human history (Eve blamed a snake, Adam blamed Eve). Preserving unity in Christ is hard. It requires heavenly wisdom, heavenly empathy, and earthly action. Followers of Jesus, both black and white, will be vocal today. Some will speak in wisdom from above, and some will speak in wisdom from below. [Listen to the last two sermons for context of those phrases.] The pages of the New Testament are replete with calls for unity to be upheld among Christians of various backgrounds and experiences. Let us be sensitive to understand the complexities of our city, and let us be empathetic toward those who are hurting and questioning…on both sides. These deep issues are not going away anytime soon. Our enemy would like nothing more than to distract the Church’s mission and divide the Church’s unity.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for you and me. Baton Rouge is our city, our home. This horrible situation adds to the already deep repairs our home needs in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Tax Reform, Business, Roads, Infrastructure, Overflowing Prisons, Fractured Families, the list goes on and on. Where do we even start? With the psalmist, I’m weary from my groaning!
Christ, have mercy.

On Baton Rouge, our city and home: Christ, our True Hope, have mercy.


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