In the aftermath of Baltimore, an opportunity to build hope

by Kimberly Pennington |

(BALTIMORE-BARBER REUTERS/Eric Thayer)Lenny Clay stands outside his barbershop in Baltimore, Maryland April 29, 2015. In 1961, when Clay opened Lenny's House of Naturals in this corner storefront, the neighborhood was busy, bright, full of hard-working black families and black-owned businesses. And Clay's barbershop was at the center of things. Picture taken April 29.

BALTIMORE, Md. (Christian Examiner) -- Opportunity.

That is what Rev. Edward Harris, pastor of Christ Power Church and Ministries in Baltimore, Maryland, sees in the aftermath of violent protests which ravaged neighborhoods near his church earlier this week.

"We see this as a wonderful opportunity in an environment where people feel like there is no hope or that they're losing hope. This is a good opportunity for us to pray that Christ's hope would be revealed.

If folks across the country can do anything, this is a time of prayer, and the focus can be that the church would not sit back and just watch but that the church would get involved," he urged.

Harris told Christian Examiner that the most important issue is not relationships between the police and the community.

"The challenge between our communities and police is in any metropolitan area," he said.

The greatest need, he offered, is restoring lives ... with the love of Jesus. This is the most immediate and enduring concern, he said.

"First Timothy 2:1-6 is really what the Lord has laid on my heart as to how we should function as a church," said Harris.

"We have members who live in the area. They love Jesus, but they are devastated. The grocery stores and everything set on fire have crippled our community, and the rebuilding process is going to take time." He explained that many of the destroyed entities are mom and pop stores that have been in business for many years. Without the advantage of being part of a conglomerate, these small businesses, which Harris stated are necessary to the community, cannot rebuild quickly like a corporate store such as CVS.

But he did not dismiss the role churches should play in mending strained relationships between communities and their local police departments, reflecting on his childhood in Baltimore when police officers were respected.

"They would walk the community just like the mailman and were just as respected. They came into schools and give safety lectures," he said.

Returning to the present, he pointed to his congregation as an example, saying Christ Power Church has partnered with other community organizations to create a platform for dialogue between police and citizens to encourage officers to be more visible in the community.

"Amos 3:3 says, 'How can two walk together unless they agree?'" he said. "There has to be a common ground that we stand on, and that common ground is that the public be safe by the police and the police be safe by the community. The only way we can do this has to be a coming together where people can voice their hurt on both the public and police side; and after we get all that out, then let's talk about solutions and ways that we can build a bridge in this great big gap that's not just in Baltimore but across country."

Harris stressed the importance of churches praying for police officers and government leaders to do the right thing, admit wrongdoing when it occurs, and be open to real change. He also emphasized the importance of citizens understanding that police are people too and not all of them are bad people.

"The Bible says, 'Be angry but sin not.' How we flesh that anger out and process that anger, we have to help set that standard and that example and process through legislation and peaceful protesting. They have their place bringing about change and social justice, but there's another justification that we operate in above the justice system, and it is Christ," Harris said.

But Harris made his strongest argument for restoring God in the family and raising children with the hope of Christ in their homes.

"As parents, my wife and I had a conversation with our sons. A lot of young people are afraid. This is surreal to them. Reflecting on what has taken place in our city, this is a good opportunity for parents anywhere to sit down with their children and have a dialogue with them about decision-making and doing what is right: bringing glory to God, not getting caught up by a mob, letting them know about their faith, and encouraging children to walk in faith."

Harris and his two siblings were raised In Baltimore by a single mother who taught the Bible to them.

"My mother saw the need to teach us the Word of God and how important it is to walk in integrity and walk upright. She didn't preach sermons to us. She shared the Word of God in a way that a young person could understand it," he said.

"As we got older, she began to share in more detail because we were able to understand God's Word for ourselves."

Speaking of his own children, Harris shared the peace he enjoys knowing "they know their Christian responsibility: give glory to God in their attitude, conversation, and behavior. We know what's right and what's wrong.

"We must overcome evil with good," he emphasized. "The Bible teaches that."

"For me, everything focuses back on the opportunity to evangelize," he explained, "and when folks have no hope and can see themselves gaining access to the hope we find in Christ, then it gives a person who has made poor decisions an opportunity to turn their lives around.

"That's the message of the Gospel," he proclaimed.

"Whatever their ages are," Harris said, "the greater issue is the heart of that person, and the only one that can change the heart of an individual is Jesus.

"We may not have been rioters," he suggested, "but some of us had lifestyles that were not pleasing to God, and then one day someone shared some hope with us. The sin we were in, that hope changed us. That's what I believe we need."