Black leaders Tony Dungy & Fred Luter call for unity

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Photo by Morris Abernathy/BP)Fred Luter, Jr.

BIRMINGHAM (Christian Examiner) -- As protests continued Christmas week throughout the nation following unrest in Ferguson and New York after grand jury decisions in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, prominent Christian African-American leaders Tony Dungy Jr. and Fred Luter Jr. spoke up about the need for prayer and for change.

Luter, the first black president of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, prior to preaching to a Birmingham congregation in early December told a reporter for ABC 33/40 the problem in Ferguson is not racial, but a matter of the heart.

"When I look at it as a preacher's standpoint, a biblical standpoint – we don't have a skin problem in America, we have a sin problem in America," Luter said in early December. "Until the inside gets right, we'll always have these problems on the outside where people are rebelling and don't understand what's going on."

From the sanctuary of Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Luter called on people to pray. "I think the role of the church in the faith-based community is that we've got to come together, whites and blacks, and speak together as one voice. We've got to be an example and role model that we can get along and in order for us to get along, we have to speak together as one voice."

(Dungy Family Foundation)Tony and Lauren Dungy

Luter said he believes the church should be a place where unity is modeled.

"We've got to understand that heaven's going to be a place (for) whites, blacks, reds, browns. There's no difference in color of skin or background or what side of track we live on."

Dungy, the first black NFL coach to win the Super Bowl, spoke about "Ferguson, Eric Garner, and our nation" on a video blog for All Pro Dad, a Tampa, Florida-based non-profit fatherhood program.

Dungy, an analyst on NBC's Football Night in America and a member of Central Tampa Baptist Church, is the author of several books including Uncommon Marriage, a New York Times bestseller he co-wrote with his wife, Lauren.

In the preface to his Dec. 16 video, Dungy says: "In the last couple of weeks we have seen racial tensions rise due to several disturbing incidents, in Ferguson and New York. Here are my thoughts on these tragedies and what we can learn in the process."

In the less-than-two-minute video, Dungy says to remember that there were "two lives lost" and said people need to work at how "we can get law enforcement and citizenry to be on the page."

"Actions and attitudes have to change," Dungy says in the video. "It's got to be both sides coming together to make this happen. That's what I'm praying for and that the Lord will intervene and help us as citizens of the United States of America, the greatest country in the world, to come together and solve some of these problems we have."