Panel Offers Pastors Advice on Becoming ‘Ministers of Reconciliation’ in African-American Communities

Panel offers pastors advice on becoming ‘ministers of reconciliation’ in African-American communitiesORLANDO, Fla. (RNS) Christian ministers should establish relationships with law enforcement, seek ways to become moral authorities in their communities and listen.

Those were the top recommendations from experts at a panel sponsored by The Gospel Coalition on Tuesday (April 14) titled “Seeking Justice and Mercy From Ferguson to New York.”

The popular ministry offered an alternative approach to that of evangelist Franklin Graham, who was widely criticized for his recent “Obey the police, or else” comments on Facebook. The comments followed the spate of police killings of unarmed black men.

In response to that Facebook post, 31 African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American leaders, many of them evangelicals, signed an open letter to Graham, saying he revealed a lack of empathy and understanding of the justice system.

At Tuesday’s panel, pastor and former public defender Ed Copeland; music producer Alex Medina; Sanford, Fla., Police Chief Cecil Smith; and U.S. Attorney Robert Lang offered tips to help ministers and other church leaders become “ministers of reconciliation.”

Panelists urged ministers to find out whether their communities use a focused deterrence policy, and if so, to get on board. The policy calls for community leaders to approach small groups of lawbreakers and warn them about the consequences of their behavior rather than arresting them outright.

“There’s a role in this policing where a community’s moral voice explains their goals and what actions they won’t tolerate,” Copeland explained. “Usually, this moral voice is one of two people: the criminal’s mother or their pastor.”

The policy can be effective if pastors are respected as moral authorities in their neighborhoods. But they can only be respected if they’re active in their community.

Panel offers pastors advice on becoming ‘ministers of reconciliation’ in African-American communities

Medina pointed to a popular 1962 memoir, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” as an example of how a pastor’s presence can change lives. In that book, later made into a movie, Pastor David Wilkerson tried to be present in New York City gangster Nicky Cruz’s life. Wilkerson’s presence eventually caused Cruz to repent of his crimes and become a Christian.

Medina also recommended that Christians use social media to help create a presence in places where injustice is occurring. Not only can it be used to share information, it can be used to listen.

Finally, Christians need to remember to develop the discipline of listening. All the panelists recommended that pastors do all that they can to become more approachable by all community members, regardless of religious background.

What practical steps can ministers take toward getting involved?

“Ninety-nine percent of police departments have a guy who handles community relations,” said Smith, who urged pastors to find out what programs the police are trying to implement. He also recommended looking into whether the department has a chaplain program.

Lang mentioned that many U.S. attorneys’ offices have Project Safe Neighborhood coordinators who can provide ideas for pastors to get involved.

Bradford Davis, an African-American technical writer from New York, said he appreciated the advice.

“Hearing from a law enforcement officer, as well as an artist with his ear to the broader #blacklivesmatter movement like Alex Medina, enriched the conversation,” he said.


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Darren Smith
Darren Smith

And additional benefit would be for the UMC to offer chaplain services to police departments. Roles of police chaplains are well known but they do offer benefit to not only those citizens in need during times of personal crises but they also can serve as liaisons to provide better community orientation for the department and officers in general. One aspect that leads to some of the incidents that cause anger in the communities often rests with the actions of individual officers or the collective actions leading to a bad culture in the minds of some officers. Individual police officers can… Read more »

Richard Hicks

Why is this being run in an UMC “newspaper”? Currently UMC church law is ignored and/or applied unevenly. As Bill Clinton said, “It all depends upon what the definition of ‘is’ is.” Whomever raises the loudest cry of “victim” usually gets to by-pass the Book of Discipline if they can claim successfully to be a member of the current pet minority or victim class of those in power.

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