Black pastor in Baltimore says 'God has given us the strength to forgive'

by Kimberly Pennington , National Correspondent |

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)Members of the community work to clean up a recently looted and burned CVS store in Baltimore, Maryland, United States April 28, 2015. The day after rioters tore through Baltimore, the city's mayor was criticized on Tuesday for a slow police response to some of the worst U.S. urban unrest in years after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said he had called Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake repeatedly Monday but that she held off calling in the National Guard until three hours after violence first erupted.

BALTIMORE, Md. (Christian Examiner) -- Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Maryland, and vice president of Southern Baptists' National African American Fellowship, said Christians should first pray for the family of Freddie Gray, but also for those resorting to violence as well as those in authority.

Day told Christian Examiner he is praying "God would comfort and strengthen" Gray's family "in this time of sorrow." He also said he is asking God "to remove bitterness and anger and replace it with forgiveness" that the family might help bring about peaceful but meaningful change.

"Scripture tells us to obey the government," he said. "People understand that they have to respect authority regardless. I'm praying that those young people that are resorting to violence would recognize that that's not the way to solve the problem."

But Day also said those in positions of authority need to understand the riots as "a cry for help."

"People are in dire straights, dire situations, lashing out in the only way they know how," he said. "Those in authority have to provide a forum for them to express themselves and their concerns in a more constructive way."

Day's church is located outside of Baltimore, but he has church members who live in Baltimore and friends who are pastors in the city. "We're concerned for their health and welfare that they be okay."

When asked about the prevalence of news stories about police and African American males in recent months, Day reflected on his personal experiences and biblical teaching.

"I have experienced some of that first hand. I know what it's like to be stopped just because of the color of your skin, or it's just assumed someone is doing wrong and being oppressive," he shared. "But as a Christian, God has given us the strength to forgive.

"We should feel anger at any injustice," he offered. "The Bible supports that God is very much opposed to oppression of any sort.

"Obviously prayer is a big part of the Christian's role, but in terms of a positive response, it's about dialogue. It's about understanding one another," Day observed. "A lot of people are activing out of ignorance on both sides. Some in those poorer areas don't trust the authority, and yet as a Christian, I'm told to trust authority. There seems to be a larger proportionate number of African Americans in poorer situations."

Day also said he was concerned about anyone in authority who might take action "with a chip on their shoulder" rather than having a more positive perspective. They need to exmplify their 'protect and serve' motto, he said.

"I'm very supportive of police. I have police in my congregation," he explained. "We teach respect for authority, but at the same time those in authority need to make sure they're not abusing authority. God will hold them accountable for how they use that authority."

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