More than 1,000 Seventh-day Adventists gathered in Washington last weekend to pray, mourn, and acknowledge the killing of two black American men and five Dallas police officers.
Church members marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the evening of July 9 in what Debra Anderson, one of the event organizers, called an effort to combat the silence, confusion, and lack of empathy that many felt following the deaths.
“This is not a protest. This is a coming together of people of like minds to join hands in like faith and like purpose to pray for our nation,” Anderson told the crowd of church members, many wearing red to mourn those who died, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. “We are in perilous times. … We are going to pray today more than anything else. This is about human dignity, human life.”
Anderson continued: “In the midst of the heated rhetoric regarding the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, God placed in my spirit that across the nation a significant population of our church community was hurt and confused.
“When someone dies, when we are grieving … sometimes it is the ministry of presence that allows us to feel better,” said Anderson, a member of the Restoration Praise Center, a Seventh-day Adventist church in nearby Bowie, Maryland. “Today all of you are exhibiting a ministry of presence. You didn’t come here just because of a Facebook post. You came because you knew something in your spirit said, ‘We’ve got to do something, and we’ve got to pray before we do anything else.’”
The march came after a series of deaths made international headlines over the course of three days. Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 5, and Philando Castile was shot dead by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on July 6. A day later, on July 7, a black American killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas, in what Dallas police chief David Brown has described as a payback attack.
Several Adventist Church leaders, including G. Alexander Bryant, executive secretary of the North American Division, denounced the killings during the Washington gathering.
“The church is called to speak truth to power, no matter how unpopular or how inconvenient,” Bryant said.
“Many are now asking the question, what should we do? What should the church do? What would Jesus do?” he said. “Jesus … left us a formula, and the formula is love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them who despitefully use you.”
Division president Daniel R. Jackson said the U.S. problems could not be easily fixed.
“Jesus said, ‘You are the salt of the Earth; but if the salt loses its flavor … it is then good for nothing,’” Jackson said, citing Matthew 5:13 (NKJV). “The church cannot afford to stay behind its walls of comfort. We must reach out to our world. We must be the agents of hope, and compassion, and healing in a fractured world.”
Dave Weigley, president of the Columbia Union Conference, a territory that has several large cities facing similar tensions, noted that he wanted the Adventist Church to be part of the solution for healing in a time when so many communities are hurting.
“I’m encouraged to see so many of our local conference leaders, pastors and members desiring to be part of the solution,” he said.
Another speaker, David Franklin, pastor of the Miracle City church in a Baltimore neighborhood near the spot where black American Freddie Gray died in police custody last April, spoke about his church’s efforts to break cycles of poverty, reduce incarceration rates, and help improve education levels. Franklin encouraged the crowd to get active and work to help communities similarly affected.
“You cannot afford to wait for the organizers of this march to pull together events and activities for you to participate in so you can resolve the issues in your community,” Franklin said. “The key to solving our issues is everybody realizing the power that you have in your own hand. You need to go home, get in your prayer closet, figure out what you can do, and then move out and make a difference.”
Franklin added, “We need this to be the beginning that creates an avalanche of change that continues until Jesus comes.”
Looking ahead, event organizers devised a three-point plan that they are encouraging churches in the area to take: Engage in a #WeStandForAll day of service in local communities to enhance the quality of life for our neighbors; attend workshops by local law enforcement agencies on executing the proper response when stopped by law enforcement; and address the issue of voter apathy with voter education forums and voter registration.
“We are in prayerful consideration of what God has for us to do in the immediate future,” co-organizer Anderson said. “We know that the synergy experienced as we came together in like mind must be developed for the greater good of our communities and ourselves.”
Jackson called for Christians to “be a force of love in our world.”
“We will not find political solutions to these problems. Jesus says, ‘My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,’” Jackson said, citing John 14:27. “We must make personal determinations — we personally will commit to the ideals that Jesus taught. The effect of Christians must be felt.”
Watch the gathering of more than 1,000 Adventists in Washington on July 9, 2016. (North American Division)