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Calling America: take a prayer tour of our dreadful condition. An OpEd

Is American going down? Are we a fermenting vat of self-destruction? Doomed to an endless chewing over our grievances until all joy is gone?

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Rev. Dimas Salaberrios reporting from St. Paul, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas

Rev. Dimas Salaberrios reporting from St. Paul, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas

After praying with the bruised wives of policemen in Dallas, Texas, my wife and I flew back to New York City with an urgent message.

Before Dallas, we had spent a half day praying with Diamond Reynolds, who filmed the dying breaths of her boyfriend, Philandro Castile, after he had been shot by a policeman in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Before that, I prayed with members of the grieving families and friends of the June 15, 2015th martyrs at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Even further back, I prayed with mourners of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the two officers who were assassinated in Brooklyn.

Our prayer tour extends all the way back to the times that we prayed with dead and surviving gang members in the Bronx. And next month our team is headed back to the Chicago area to help comfort the grieving victims of violence. I know how death and pain and destruction have come down on America.

Is there any hope? Is American going down? Are we a fermenting vat of self-destruction? Are we doomed to an endless chewing over our grievances like sour fruit gum until all flavor and joy in each other is gone?

It is dreadful touring America now. The most horrid thing is how we go over and over again the same things.

 

Hope in the land

Let me ask you to stop a moment. Clear your head and clean out your heart and give a space for prayer. I have also found that there are such moments of decency, peace and goodwill breaking out all over our nation through prayer. They occur like gold coming out of a refiner’s fire.

Take Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile. You might think that she is full of hate and indifferent toward the trials of the police in Dallas, But she denounced of the shootings in Dallas. My wife and I prayed with her for justice, peace, and comfort for other victims of violence.

We must not meet hate with hate. Officers are being hit with sticks, then rocks and culminating in bullets. This twisted cord of violence must be broken now. The solution is not for some vengeful fringe elements to rally a crowd to curse out sympathetic officers who resemble the White police officers that killed “one of our own.”

Nor should Whites resort to jeering Blacks, opening a well to foul springs of racism.

Our focus must be on justice accomplished. The messaging of the demonstrations and media must move the ball forward, not backward into the depths of hateful stereotypes. A chord woven of justice and forgiveness must tie us together.

We need everyone in this battle. An “all hands on deck” approach needs to be established in order for long-term change to happen.

 

The struggle for unity: are we up to it?

Right now, the turnout for the protests is socially selective. Sometimes, more White people show up to protest than Blacks; sometimes, there are more Millennials than Boomers. Each protest has its own sociological trademark of sorts.

The demonstration in Charleston, South Carolina had the most public prayer and strongest focus on justice. It then gained the greatest progress in bringing justice through judgment of the death penalty on the shooter.  Paradoxically, in Charleston, the overarching theme was forgiveness and prayer and then justice. There was not a downplaying of justice. As a matter of fact, we prayed all day and night for justice. Over 10,000 people united in prayer and marched for justice in Charleston. But the motive and atmosphere that resulted was so healthy. And that case is further along on the path of justice than many cases in the other places where anger dominated. This data should not be ignored.

In my prayer tour, I could see a disturbance running through Black Lives Matter. It was like a tremor before an earthquake that splits a community into pieces. It was a warning sign.

The warning indicators were a hostility toward ministers by several Black Lives Matter protesters.

I am addressing this issue as a man who prays in poor communities and shows up at the protests. I am not attacking the Black Lives Matter movement but trying to catch a problem before it festers.

The hostility towards ministers from some members of Black Lives Matter is a distraction from our collective plea for justice.

The church fought for justice long before the concept of Black Lives Matter was formed. Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey, and the church in their day, all prayed for hours before a protest. Thanks to them, we now can ride in the front of a bus, vote, and march unfettered.

The Bible has a warning that is relevant far beyond the Christian community. It tells us that "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Likewise, a race divided against itself cannot stand.

Calling the three LGBTQ women -- Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who founded the Black Lives Matter movement. I respect how you have done a positive thing for the progress of the oppressed.

But some of your allies need to show tolerance toward the cornerstone of peaceful civil rights protests in America: the African-American church.

When we show up, we conduct funerals, minister to the wounded, and bring hope. The African American community wants this. At Philando Castile’s funeral, which I attended, Dr. Steve Daniels, pastor of St. Paul’s Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, reassured the audience that God was still present. His words put strength into the hearts of the audience to see things through. Daniels said, “The Lord is speaking to America and reminding America that He is still Lord.” The Christian civil rights legacy continues to empower much of the community. Show respect.

Dimas Salaberrios and Valerie Castile at press conference after Philando Castile funeral in St. Paul, Minnesota

Dimas Salaberrios and Valerie Castile at press conference after Philando Castile's funeral in St. Paul, Minnesota

Remember when Malcolm X criticized Martin Luther King Jr., calling him an Uncle Tom? He suggested that King was being paid by White people to do his peace movement. Later, Malcolm realized the error of his approach and changed.

Please, let's learn from those that made the most progress in our country for authentic civil rights in our country. Please show some respect to the Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Black Lives Matter.

Calling all my White colleagues: it hurts when you act as if all cops are great, awesome and perfect on all judgments.

No industry makes sinless people; so when a sin is committed, give the victim the benefit of the doubt.

African-Americans have been dealing with killer cops since slavery. Some bad officers live by “shoot first and ask questions later.” The justice system has allowed to survive a small pack of monster cops who brag about how many people they have killed on the job. Some officers have lived by these rules, because they have seen others beat case after case for killing unarmed African-Americans.

We must effectively empower good cops to bring to justice the bad actors who are just impersonating as cops.

We must also end a double-standard of how we treat Blacks and Whites in dangerous situations.

In May, Joseph Houseman was pictured waving a rifle around in front of a police officer at a Dairy Queen in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Houseman, a White man, refused to drop his weapon. He cursed the officers out for 40 minutes, and no one shot him.

In August, a White man named Lance Tamayo pointed a 9 millimeter gun at officers and children in San Diego for an hour. The officers patiently spared his life and talked him down.

Can Black people get even 5 minutes of negotiating? This is the saddest double standard situation.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton spoke the truth: if Philando had been White, then he probably would not have been killed. Had Philando simply been lighter in skin, he probably would have made his favorite four year old's graduation.

It was a sad reflection on White radio show hosts who turned livid over the news that police may be bad actors. It was as if a secret code giving special grace to Whites was broken by acknowledging the double-standard.

Pray it loudly: some police officers, like some civilians, are scared and prejudge Black people. They need spiritual support against the dangers and fears and prayer for courage. Let’s pray for the good cops to have the power to put away the cop-impersonators who abusive, racist, and hateful.

Calling my 490,000 gang-bangers: 40 million African Americans are overshadowed by you.

You are the 1% who make life hard for us all. African Americans as a group are also maligned by “studio gangsters,” a tiny percentage of music stars who brainwash our young people to look like they have no dignity, act like they have no dignity, and think with no dignity.

Our women raise generation after generation and their reward is a stack of song lyrics calling them dogs and useless prostitutes. When artists brag before the world about how they do not love their own women, which suggests immaturity, self-hate, and an identity crisis.

Something is wrong if you are bowing to Clive Davis and every other powerful financier that tells you your work “ain't hood enough.” You will be held accountable by God.

Maybe, the cowards around you cannot stand up and tell the truth, but you are choking your own people and sentencing them to a hard life for real. You’re making the KKK’s American dream a reality when your attempt to “keep it real in the hood” reinforces the sense that Black Lives don’t matter. If you do not want to serve my Jesus, at least serve your own people better. Make music and live lives that do not drag us lower than the sewer.

Calling the lukewarm church: maybe, some of you want to call me an Uncle Tom, sell-out, and fake preacher for offering love and warning to both sides. Review my words and tell me where I misrepresented the truth.

I am in the battlefield. I pastor in the projects, visit jails, visit the sick, and defend the grandmothers and grandfathers who raise their children's kids. I visit mothers whose sons have been slaughtered. I recently prayed for the mother of a murdered two-year-old in St. Paul, Minnesota, the victim of a drive-by shooting.

I defend people against talk radio haters and go toe to toe with those who disrespect the 40 million because of the careless 1%.

My church members also pour themselves into social justice ministry: serving the poor, giving resources to victims, and doing the clean-up long after the TV cameras have left. We send kids to college and renovate busted apartments of the poor. We are fully in the struggle.

I preach Jesus, not religion, because He was the greatest historical example of a righteous human, and His righteousness still changes lives today. When I call His name, I see crack addicts go home sober and clean for life. Under Jesus, I have seen HIV healed. I have witnessed poverty conquered under the authority of Jesus. I was a Street God, jail brawler, and gunslinger until Jesus got a hold of me. I wrote a little bit about this in my book, Street God. I have tried several ways to live, and Jesus tops them all. Church, I am asking that you get back to your first love.

Calling everyone: we all can agree that we need to ask our citizens to take action because lives were taken with feckless and reckless force. We need all hands on deck to change the broken narrative of division, injustice, and violence.

“All hands on deck” means that we exercise mutual tolerance for each other's methods and practices. All of us are called to help the helpless, defend the poor, and to do justice. We will find different ways to do this, but we need to support each other.

The sum of our calls:

Black Lives Matter folks -- shine a light on the injustice and fight against hatred in all its forms.

Citizens of all races and creeds -- do what good you can to end the violence.

Artists -- produce respectful music and inspire our young people.

Police officers -- live out your vow to protect and serve.

Church -- rise up and be a light to guide our communities out of darkness.

I pray for you all, though we may disagree on many things. That is America. I am America. You are America. Only together can we cultivate our country with hope and justice.

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Pastor Dimas is pastor at Infinity Bible Church. Sunday Services are held at the Bronx River Community Center located at 1619 E. 174th Street, Bronx, NY (b/t Stratford and Morrison).  Services start at 10:30 AM.

Directions: Take the 6 train to Morrison / Soundview and then walk two blocks north to E174th Street or take the BX36 bus to E174th Street.

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