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dventist leaders have sought to bring healing to a New York community divided by racially tinged unrest by organizing a forum that a U.S. congresswoman praised as an understanding of the gospel that “can transform life in real time.”
The Northeastern and Greater New York conferences gathered politicians, police officers, and civil rights activists before an overwhelmingly young crowd at the Flatbush Adventist Church in Brooklyn to engage in prayer and a round-table discussion about tensions stemming from the death of a Black suspect, Eric Garner, who was held in a chokehold by a White police officer in July, and the shooting deaths of two police officers in retaliation in December.
“We still mourn the loss of Eric Garner. We still mourn the loss of [officers Wenjian] Liu and [Rafael] Ramos,” Daniel Honoré, president of the Adventist Church’s Northeastern Conference, told the gathering. “Society, however, has presented us with a false choice. It has told us, ‘Either you support community rights, or you support the police.’ Today I want to categorically reject that choice.”
“As a faith community, we cannot sit in idleness, twiddling our thumbs in despair. We are a people of hope, not despair,” said G. Earl Knight, president of the Greater New York Conference. “We believe that God can heal the brokenhearted. He can heal our broken relationships.”
U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, of New York’s 9th Congressional District, commended the Adventist leaders for coordinating the “timely gathering for dialogue and discussion.”
“You have decided that church takes place seven days a week,” she said. “From that understanding of the gospel, we can transform life in real-time, not only in the spiritual realm, but indeed we can make a change in the secular realm.”
The Jan. 18 program included prayers for city leaders, protection for the more than 35,000 city police officers patrolling the streets, and God’s healing to ease the hurt and suspicion that are rampant in the community.
Other guests who spoke at the event included New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries of the 8th Congressional District; Harold Miller of the Community Affairs Unit representing Mayor Bill de Blasio; and New York Police Department First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.
Many in attendance were youth and young adults. Adventist youth leaders Andres Peralta and Roger Wade presented the audience with cards containing information about how to respond when stopped by the police, as well as information about citizens’ rights and responsibilities.
“Prayer is not the only thing we can do,” Wade said.
A panel of experts took questions from the audience.
Gilford Monrose, president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, a group of clergy working under the auspices of the city’s 67th Precinct, said pastors could help ease tensions by returning to the more activist-minded roles that they had played during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s and 1970s.
“Members of the clergy have a specific role to pray, but we also have to put our feet to our faith,” he said. “We have to do work and be that liaison between the police and our communities.”
Maranatha Adventist Church pastor Shane Vidal called for a new paradigm of policing that would enable police officers to focus not on how many arrests are made, but on how many lives they can transform by their daily encounters.
Recommendations from the panel discussion will be prepared and presented to the New York mayor’s office.