— As residents protested the death of Freddie Gray, Lawrence W. Rodgers joined them in the streets.
“Jesus is in the streets,” said Rodgers, 30, describing where he finds Christ as he pores over the Scriptures. “He is involved.”
After Gray’s death, area church leaders accompanied Rodgers to nonviolent demonstrations.
Lawrence W. Rodgers reads from Micah 6:8, which says, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
Those joining him included Winston Curry, senior minister for the Bowie Church of Christ,
south of Baltimore, and K. Rex Butts, former minister for the now-closed Columbia Church of Christ,
west of Baltimore.
The ministers’ goal: listen to the people — protesters and police — and understand their perspective.
“As I talked to everyone, I noticed that we all struggle … with seeing one another’s humanity,” Rodgers said. “We all have a rap sheet with God. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.
“But despite our rap sheet, God didn’t give up on us. God never called us a thug,” the minister added. “Instead, what God did was, God sent God’s son to die for us, to redeem us, to rehabilitate us, to restore us.”
On the protester side, residents voiced a desire to be treated not as animals but as humans who deserve respect, he said. On the police side, officers expressed a devotion to protecting and serving under difficult circumstances.
But both sides pointed to systemic problems that they believe contributed to the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal cord injury in police custody.
“So I said to myself, if we realize the problems are systemic, what’s really holding up the conversation is not seeing the humanity in one another,” Rodgers said.
“So what I try to do is continue to teach the protesters nonviolence,” he added. “I encourage them to try to have conversations, proactive dialogues. When I talk to the officers, I encourage the same thing from them regarding having proactive dialogues.”
This is a special clip from a very important sermon, entitled “God’s Rap Sheet on Me”. To see the full video, visit http://wscocbaltmd.org/sermons/gods-rap-sheet-on-me/
Posted by Westside Church of Christ on Saturday, May 23, 2015
As an African-American man, Rodgers — who is married to Bettae and has a 2-year-old daughter named Tatyanna — said he has faced racial profiling by police.
“I’ve always been a guy who stayed in the books, who loves to study,” he said. “I remember times walking to the library (while living in Florida), and the cops pull up behind me, jump out of the car, throw me on the ground, point guns at me and search my book bag.”
They didn’t arrest him, he said.
They didn’t apologize either.
Experiences like his own help Rodgers understand the anger, bitterness and frustration that many feel concerning Gray’s death.
“Freddie Gray is a symbol of a collective experience of many people in the community,” Rodgers said. “That’s not to shed a bad light on all police officers. In fact, I’ve spent quite a bit of my life getting to know police officers.”
The program, which serves older students, honored Rodgers as its outstanding graduate in 2013.
“He was a leader. He was an activist,” Gary W. Gregg, the center’s associate director, said of Rodgers. “He believed in holding up the African-American culture and fighting for their rights, but he did it in a very balanced way. He knew the best way to advocate was to be Christ-like.”
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In Rodgers’ two years with the Westside church, he has helped organize a regular community outreach meal and started ministries to combat homelessness, illiteracy and human trafficking.
K. Rex Butts
The bilingual, racially diverse congregation averages Sunday attendance between 170 and 200.
“What can I say about Lawrence? He is a friend and passionate minister of the Gospel,” Butts said. “Lawrence loves all people, wants them to know Jesus and wants to help bring racial reconciliation and hope to the poor.”
Rodgers said he sees room for Churches of Christ to grow in seeking justice in a fallen world.
“I want to see more ministers willing to have these kind of conversations,” he said. “I want to see more ministers willing to talk to prostitutes, willing to talk to drug dealers, willing to talk to politicians … and try to help create a better environment for people living in the world.”
RACE AND THE CHURCH