‘Worship is our protest’
FERGUSON, Mo. — Brian Owens feels a need to protest.…
DALLAS — A young mother on her way into worship hugged a Dallas police officer providing parking lot security at the Prestoncrest Church of Christ.
Any other Sunday, the scene would not have seemed so poignant.
But on this Lord’s Day, emotions were raw. Anxiety was high.
Prestoncrest members pray at the church’s early service Sunday. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)“It has been a very rough week for us in Dallas, unlike anything we’ve had in a while,” Prestoncrest minister Gordon Dabbs told his congregation before leading a special prayer.
Members of Churches of Christ — like Americans in general — are trying to make sense of the violence and racial tension that have shaken the nation.
Then on Thursday night, a protest over those shootings turned violent when a sniper opened fire, killing five Dallas officers and wounding nine other officers and two civilians.
After the massacre in downtown Dallas, ministers such as Dabbs scrapped originally planned Sunday sermons and came up with new ones. Dabbs decided to focus on “what it means to be salt and light for Jesus in the midst of a divided and angry culture.”
“While we may feel overwhelmed, we know that the God that we have gathered to worship is never overwhelmed,” he told Prestoncrest members, citing Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
Rather than a normal sermon, Dabbs organized a panel discussion of Prestoncrest members that included Dallas City Council member Adam McGough, Project In-vizible co-founder Oliver Johnson and fellow minister Gary Cochran.
The panel discusses how Christians can — and should — respond to the recent violence. Pictured, from left, are Gordon Dabbs, Gary Cochran, Oliver Johnson and Adam McGough. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Part of the problem, McGough said, is that Americans have forgotten how to listen to each other.
“When you’re watching our news outlets and our politicians, it’s all about who’s talking and making the next, best point,” he said.
The Prestoncrest Church of Christ in Dallas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)Oliver agreed: “If we don’t actively listen to each other, we can’t really talk and exchange ideas and understand each other’s perspective. And it destroys the conversation.”
McGough advocated listening to God first and then developing real plans to tackle society’s ills.
“When we serve in our Christian walk, often we have a compulsion to give a dollar to the panhandler,” the councilman said. “We work on a coat drive or a turkey drive — wonderful, great things — but we’re not moving the needle strategically.”
Cochran suggested that the solution starts with forming authentic relationships with people outside church members’ normal comfort zones.
“Jesus was incarnate. He had a great place to hang out, but he didn’t,” Cochran said. “He chose to come to a very dirty place — a place with hurt and pain — and said, ‘I want to provide you with a glimpse of heaven.’”
‘HOPE IN A HOSTILE COUNTRY’
At the Cedar Crest Church of Christ in Dallas, minister Jon W. Morrison spoke Sunday morning on “Holding On to Hope in a Hostile Country.”
Morrison used as his main text Genesis 39:1-6, which describes Joseph’s experience as a slave for an Egyptian master.
Jon W. Morrison preaches at the Cedar Crest Church of Christ in Dallas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)“While our troubles are often painful and unwelcome, God has a unique way of using the troubles that we endure and the tragedies that we experience to shape us individually and as a nation,” Morrison said, seeking to reassure Cedar Crest members.
Later in the sermon, the preacher told the predominantly black congregation: “You may feel disenfranchised economically. You may feel disadvantaged socially. You may feel disqualified politically. You may feel discouraged personally. You may feel discriminated against racially. But God is still with us, and God is still with you.”
After the Cedar Crest assembly, members voiced conflicted feelings about the week’s events.
“It’s just sad for Dallas that it happened because violence is not the answer,” said Christie Moore, 41, mother of a 19-year-old son named Devonte. “I mean, it’s heartbreaking.
“But you do notice that something has to change when it comes to the way police do things when they’re pulling over people, in particular those who are black men,” Moore added.
Cedar Crest Church of Christ members hold hands as they pray. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Georgia Shelton, 70, said she wonders about the gunman — Micah Johnson, who spent six years in the Army Reserves and deployed to Afghanistan — and “what type of mind he was in to do that.”
Shelton said she hates that Dallas police officers were targeted for “something that happened somewhere else.”
“The world has gotten so confused now, and then (people) done took the Lord out of their life,” said Shelton, a Cedar Crest member for 53 years. “They don’t think about the consequences they’re going to have to pay. I just think that’s so sad, and I hate it for everyone.”
Cedar Crest members pray on the Sunday after five officers were shot to death after a downtown Dallas protest. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
‘CHRISTIAN LIVES MATTER’
Sunday night, the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Dallas hosted a previously planned citywide revival service.
As part of that assembly, organizers invited Carl Sherman, a Church of Christ minister and mayor of the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, to lead a special prayer for law enforcement officers.
“If you believe like I do that God is still in control, then you know that, as Joseph said, ‘What they meant for evil, God meant for good,’” Sherman said in his opening remarks. “Good will always reign over evil.”
A few dozen police officers from Dallas and other area cities attended the service in uniform and were invited on stage.
Carl Sherman prays for law enforcement officers and young people at Sunday’s citywide service at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Dallas. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
“Now, blue lives matter, and so do black lives matter,” Sherman said in praising the officers for their law enforcement service and “running into the bullets to protect us.”
“If Paul were here today, he would say Christian lives matter,” the mayor/minister added.
Sherman characterized “over 90 percent” of officers as good.
However, the father of three black sons and two daughters added: “It’s not the good cops that I’m afraid of. I pray to God that this nation will recognize that it’s only because of video that we’ve been able to see what many have cried about for many years.”
Christians bow in prayer at the Southern Hills church. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
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