Dallas churches respond to shootings, encourage unity

July 13th, 2016 / By: Jane Rodgers | Managing Editor / comments

DALLAS—Dallas-area churches responded quickly to the racially motivated shooting during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown July 7, where a gunman targeted police officers, leaving five officers dead and seven wounded in addition to two civilians. Churches close to the scene offered physical and spiritual support, and others hosted prayer services and funerals to help the community heal from the tragedy.

In Mesquite, the hometown of shooter Micah Xavier Johnson, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church held an “All Lives Matter” community prayer event attended by local pastors and city officials Monday evening, July 11.

MFBC pastor and former SBTC president Terry Turner opened with a call not to sweep events “under the carpet,” but to deal with the tragedy “face to face.” Reminding the congregation that the shooter was from the city, Turner affirmed, “that’s not what we are like in the city of Mesquite.”

Calling the Black Lives Matter march “good,” Turner stated that the issue became “a matter of all lives matter” when the officers were killed. The protests were in response to two unrelated incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota where black men were killed by police officers.

Turner referenced growing up in the Jim Crow era, saying, “I believe in the Black Lives movement because I’m a black American living in black America. I know what we have to deal with, … what it’s like to be treated like a second-class citizen.” He called for races to love one another in the name of God. “There is greater power in love,” he said.

Among the MFCB guests was Mesquite mayor Stan Pinkett, who said, “What’s behind dark clouds is the sun. And I am here to proclaim tonight that we have the Son that we know is also lighting the world.” Applause drowned out Pickett’s remaining words.

Another largely African-American congregation, Arlington’s Cornerstone Baptist Church hosted Arlington police chief Will Johnson at their two morning services on Sunday, July 10, with 1,400 attending. Johnson participated in a question-and-answer session after the second service.

“Our goal was for our people to be safe—s.a.f.e.—and saved,” said pastor Dwight McKissic, describing the services titled “Finding Calm in the Chaos: Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minnesota.”

In an interview with the TEXAN, McKissic said Johnson was brought in to explain how members of the congregation could avoid becoming victims. McKissic praised Johnson for helping the congregation “understand the mindset of a police person” during tense encounters.

“Respect begets respect,” McKissic said. “If the police respect the citizens, then the citizens respect the police, you can greatly reduce the odds of [tragedies] happening.”

McKissic spoke on Luke 13 in Sunday’s services, drawing parallels between current events and Jesus’ response to violence. McKissic emphasized that Jesus focused not on fairness or fate but on faith. “‘Except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish.’ Ultimately, Jesus says we are all going to die. … If we die at the hands of a madman, or a tower falling, or citizen brutality, or police brutality, whatever reason we die, we are going to likewise perish.”

In the wake of the inevitable, McKissic called upon the congregation to live lives of “repentance and faith” so that they will be prepared. “My goal was to make sure everybody got saved.”

Incendiary social media posts and a perceived hostile tone in the community prompted First Baptist Church of Farmersville pastor Bart Barber to contact area pastors to participate in a Sunday night prayer service July 10.

“I could see some of the same divisions we see playing out across the country unfolding right here in our town,” Barber said. “I just felt a real obligation that the churches of our community should get out in front of this and bring everyone together.”

Some 200 from six churches attended the service at FBC Farmersville. The mayor, city council members, police and fire department representatives and other first responders also came. Rev. Paul Mack of Mt. Calvary, Farmersville’s largest African-American church, attended with his wife and members, Barber said.

Every pastor participated in the service, leading in prayer or reading Scripture. The service concluded with small group prayer, with each group including people from other churches.

“It was pretty powerful,” Barber noted of the prayer time.

“I think that it’s always good when God’s people get together and talk about things and learn about each other’s perspective on things,” said Barber, describing a decrease in community tension. “I have seen things calm down and a willingness to see both sides of the story. … People who walked into that prayer services kind of defensive, walked out of that prayer service smiling and hugging each other.”

Dallas mega-churches also responded to the crisis. The night of the shootings, a team of ministers from First Baptist Church in Dallas, which is located downtown, deployed to Baylor hospital and DPD headquarters.

Executive pastor Ben Lovvorn represented the church at an interfaith prayer vigil held the morning of July 8 at Thanksgiving Square. Lovvorn described the event in a FOX news interview: “Pastors of all faiths came to lead our people in prayer, praying for our city, for the Dallas Police Department, for Chief Brown, for unity.” Lovvorn cited 2 Chronicles 7:14 as the solution to problems. “Our prayer is that God will use this tragedy to turn our nation back to him and the ultimate healer, Jesus Christ. … Pastors and churches must lead the way.”

Additionally, the church held a prayer gathering in Jeffress Fountain Plaza at 8:45 a.m. Sunday.

In Plano, Prestonwood Baptist Church also held a time of prayer during its July 10 morning services. Onstage with Pastor Jack Graham were Mike Gurley, retired DPD officer and Prestonwood member, and State Representative Scott Turner.

Prestonwood also has opened its facilities for memorial services for two fallen officers:  Sr. Cpl.  Lorne Ahrens, Wednesday, July 13, at 11 a.m.; and Officer Michael Krol, Friday, July 15, at 11 a.m.

Graham said of the crisis: “Today we pray for those who mourn. We weep with those who weep. We pray to comfort one another and ask God to heal our land and restore our hopes. There is an opportunity to put feet to our prayers and recommit to serving our community and boldly proclaiming the love of Jesus. This is a heart problem, and the only lasting solution is a Savior who died and rose again so that we may be saved. The church must rise up and stand together across America and offer biblical answers to life’s most important questions. We must overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21); to turn on the light and be the light of Jesus in our communities.”

Retired pastor and SBTC African-American ministry consultant E.W. McCall lives in Dallas. In an interview with Baptist Press at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference July 11-15 at Ridgecrest, N.C., McCall 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 that pocket, [the majority begins] to think.”

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.”