April 29, 2015

Adventist Leaders Reach Out in Violence-Torn Baltimore

Columbia Union Visitor,
news editor, Adventist Review

Seventh-day Adventist leaders urged calm and reached out to gang members in the U.S. city of Baltimore amid violent protests following the death of a black man in police custody.

The governor of the U.S. state of Maryland has declared a public emergency and ordered the deployment of thousands of troops and police officers to the city of more than 620,000 people. Hundreds of people identified by authorities as thugs lit fires, looted stores, and lobbed objects at officers on Monday.

The protests started after African-American Freddie Gray, 25, died on April 19 from spinal injuries sustained in police custody. Six police officers have been suspended as investigators examine the circumstances of the death.

“We pray that peace will prevail, for violence will only beget violence,” the Adventist Church’s North American Division said in a statement Tuesday. “To bring a lasting peace we as a church community must also descend on Baltimore with the love and compassion that Jesus modeled for us, not just now, during this time of turmoil, but in the years to come.”

Darryl Smith, a Baltimore police officer and Adventist member, said he got an inkling of how Jesus might have felt when the Baltimore crowd struck him with bricks. Photo: Columbia Union Visitor

Three local Adventist pastors did just that on Monday evening, joining a group of clergy on a walk through Baltimore to encourage young people to stop rioting and looting.

“Tonight God used the clergy to prevent loss of life,” Reginald Exum, pastor of the Edmondson Heights Adventist Church, said shortly after the walk.

“I held gang members in my arms, and we wept together,” he said. “Now they know they have a God and a pastor who empathizes with them.”

The other two Adventist pastors who participated in the walk were David Franklin of the Miracle Temple Adventist Church and DuWayne Privette of the Sharon Adventist Church.

The North American Division applauded the three pastors, saying they had “embodied love and compassion” by taking to the streets to call for a nonviolent solution. It said the church was “ready to provide any and all resources necessary to help transform an oppressed, hopeless people into a vibrant, thriving community filled with hope.”

Monday’s clashes marked a sharp escalation in tensions from Saturday, when a peaceful protest of 1,200 people turned violent at night.

Darryl Smith, a Baltimore police officer and member of the Capitol Hill Adventist Church in Washington, said he got an inkling of how Jesus might have felt on trial before Pilate when the Saturday night crowd struck him with several bricks.

“When the crowd started cursing and yelling and chanting, I felt like I could imagine what it must have been like for Jesus when Pilate asked the crowd what to do with Jesus and they yelled, ‘Crucify Him!’” Smith said. “I could feel a demonic spirit go through the crowd and then they became more violent.”

Smith was not injured.

“I think this is only going to get worse as we approach the end time and the Lord comes to take us home,” Smith said. “But Jesus is not coming only for black people, or only for white people, or Asian people. He comes for those who have on the right uniform — those who are covered by the blood of Jesus.”

Beth Michaels of the Columbia Union Visitor contributed to this report.