Prayer in troubled Charlotte counters 'hurt, anger'

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney speaks at a Sept. 22 press conference after the police killing of a black man spurred violent riots and protests in Uptown Charlotte, N.C. (Screen capture from WSOC-TV)"Hurt" and "anger" have met with prayer in troubled Charlotte, N.C., where Southern Baptist pastors are praying and encouraging peace and reason amid violent protests and a declared state of emergency after the police killing of a black man.

Christians of various denominations held prayer services today (Sept. 22) and yesterday after police shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott while looking for a suspect in an unrelated incident. Charlotte policeman Brentley Vinson, also black, has been identified as the officer who fired the fatal shot among officers at the scene.

"Hurt; Anger; Disappointment; Frustration; Heartbroken; Sadness; Tired is the mood of our city of Charlotte as another black life is taken at the hands of a police officer," Pastor Phillip R.J. Davis of Nations Ford Community Church, a leading Southern Baptist African-American church in Charlotte, wrote in a message posted on the church website.

Davis' words are almost identical to the description given by First Baptist Church of Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris in a written message to his congregation this morning, which he shared with Baptist Press, saying the city was experiencing "pain, hurt, anger, disappointment and frustration."

Both churches hosted prayer today at noon. While Nations Ford Community Church is about 5 miles southwest of where the riots occurred, First Baptist Church is in the same block. Marshall Park, the site where a peaceful protest at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 turned violent just yards away, is in First Baptist's backyard.

"The church facilities have been protected and suffered no damage or harm. We thank the Lord for His mercy!" Harris told his membership. "Our offices are open presently, but will close at 3 p.m. to assure our staff be able to get home safely. ... I am writing this to you from our sanctuary, where I have been reflecting and praying this morning." Buildings were damaged and looted within the same block of the church at 301 S. Davidson St.

Harris invited church members to a prayer meeting in the sanctuary today at noon, which was attended by about 300 people, including professionals who work in the Uptown community, church members and staff, and students from the church's school, Brookstone.

"There will be no agenda, no program, no music, no preaching, but just men and women of God, on the altar, crying out to The Father!" Harris said. "These are serious days, and they require serious people who take seeking the heart and will of God seriously!"

Davis wrote similar remarks.

"Now is the time for heartfelt and sincere prayers, not political and personal-agenda driven rhetoric," Davis said on Nations Ford Community Church's website. "Now is the time for loving encouragement, not condemning judgment. In light of the climate in our city, I stand with other pastors and leaders—both black and white—and our church unites with other churches that [demonstrate] the Gospel of Jesus Christ in love and that [seek] the peace of our city."

The National Guard and the North Carolina Highway Patrol have been called in to help keep peace after overnight protests turned violent, leading to the critical injury of one civilian by another, minor injuries to eight other civilians and two police officers, and 44 arrests on charges including failure to disperse, assault and breaking and entering, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said in a televised press conference at 11 a.m. today.

Harris, five other pastors and 25 members of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team held a press conference yesterday, when Harris urged Charlotte residents to trust the process of the investigation of the tragedy, to practice peace and to pray.

"We pray for the Scott family. The death of a loved one is gut-wrenching under any circumstances. They need our prayers," Harris said at the press conference. "We pray for the officer involved in the tragedy. This public servant, this protector of all of us, is no doubt hurting as well. Not only the pain of what took place, but the intense scrutiny of each decision, which is life-and-death moments faced all too often, is cause for us to lift up this policeman and his family."

The rapid response team from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, headquartered in Charlotte, is operating from First Baptist's parking lot, offering prayer and counsel, Harris said.

"People can gather to protest and have their voices heard. But it must be done in a peaceful and a lawful manner," Harris said in summarizing his press conference remarks. "Much of what we are seeing play out is being perpetrated by people from outside Charlotte. The true leaders, black and white, in Charlotte, who work, worship and raise their families here are all calling for peace."

Bob Lowman Jr., executive director of the Metrolina Baptist Association in Charlotte, also is encouraging unity, prayer and cooperation across denominational lines. He is a member of the Pastors Prayer Summit Group that has been holding multiracial and multidenominational prayer gatherings for years and is planning a citywide prayer gathering with pastors within the coming weeks.

The city needs a spiritual awakening, he said.

"We need to see the church revived ... and we need to be praying for God to do work that only He can do to send awakening to the culture," Lowman told BP. "If you were watching the news last night here in Charlotte, that was not a picture of awakening. It was the opposite on the streets of our city."

Lowman, Harris and Davis voiced confidence in the power of prayer.

"While my feelings I share with the community are real," Davis wrote, "so is the God I serve. ... God is real enough to bring comfort and healing in the midst of the pain. God is real enough to bring calm even through the violence. My God is real enough to bring peace in the midst of chaos. God is real enough to reconcile hearts that [have] been divided."

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.

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