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Response to Recent Police and Civilian Killings, Part Six

August 5, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry

Prayer Vigils

In the last several articles, I pointed out that when there are disruptions and/or urban unrest in response to police brutality and killings, the public officials and supporters of the police react by calling for 1) More Support for the Police; 2) More proposals/recommendations; and, 3) A call for peace/calm. There is another reaction. It’s the appeal for religious intervention. Political leaders persuade the clergy to convene prayer vigils, peace marches, healing and reconciliation ceremonies, etc.

Preachers, who had never been involved when the police were killing and brutalizing innocent citizens, suddenly come alive when the protestors start marching and rallying – in a word, creating a little tension. They don’t condemn the police. They want to pray for everybody. When there is a prayer vigil, surrounded by their colleagues, politicians and “responsible leaders” of the city, they stand strong and pray aloud. Most of the time, they mix a call for reconciliation with unity in their prayers.

There was the occasion when some of the most prestigious clergy in the city gathered for a prayer ceremony. They visited the site where Eric Garner was killed. Then, they visited the precinct where the exonerated officers were. It was not to condemn the police, but to show unity.

They wanted to be balanced and even-handed, and unite. What kind of balance, evenhandedness, or unity can there be when Eric is dead and the killer cop(s) are alive and well? In fact, why try to pray or unite with them? The killer cops and their supporters are unrepentant. The killers and their supporters think they are justified. They even have their own marches and rallies of support for the killer cops.

I am not at all suggesting that calls for prayer vigils for reconciliation and unity have no place. I have organized and attended countless prayer vigils, urging unity and reconciliation. Prayer vigils, in a time of struggle for justice, should be analyzed and strategized, as to when, where, who, and the objective. Otherwise, the wonderful exercises can be counterproductive. The public officials will use anybody and anything to sustain the status quo. Clergy and everybody else who have any influence should be super careful in times of intense movements for justice, lest they be manipulated or used in some fashion to neutralize or distract the movement.

When Amadou Diallo was killed in 1999, I wrote an article which criticized religionists who interjected themselves into a movement which I thought was counterproductive. The article was entitled, “Tension Among the Religionist: Understanding the Role of Contemporary Clergy in a Historical Context of Priest and the Prophet.”

I am convinced that the article is instructive and always relevant in the struggle for social change. I will take the liberty to share it with you:

“In the aftermath of the killing of Amadou Diallo, the ancient tension between Priest and Prophet surfaced. By Priest and Prophet, I mean any clergy who acts in a certain way. Traditionally, in the Judeo-Christian religion, priests were primarily concerned about intercession with God, reconciliation and healing of minds and bodies, and personal fulfillment. In other words, the priests’ concentration was person-centered.
“Their emphasis was on prayers, singing, Bible reading, incense burning, candle lighting, rituals and ceremonies, proper clergy attire, and beautifying and tending holy places. On the other hand, the prophet’s primary emphasis was justice – putting things right between individuals, but also between systems and individuals. Their ministry was more comprehensive, encompassing God, individuals and systems. They sided with the oppressed, the exploited, the outcasts and downtrodden, against those who created, and/or sustained and/or benefited from the system that perpetuated the conditions of the masses.
“They were not afraid or reluctant to take sides. They believed in a God who chose sides; a good God who surely loved everybody, but who took up the cause of the least society, and went to war against the selfish rich and powerful. They believed God desires reconciliation and healing, but not at the expense of justice, or appeasing the oppressors and exploiters. The prophets were action-oriented. Priests were passive, trying to appease all sides. The prophets wanted to see immediate change and employed any action to achieve justice. They were merciful, but did not sacrifice justice. If exploiters and oppressors refused to change, they became the object of the prophet’s wrath, in both words and deeds.

“In addition, the God of Judeo-Christian religion is recorded as choosing some of his choicest servants from among society’s junk heap or rejects. The father of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, Abraham and including many of the patriarchs, were called ‘wandering vagabonds.’ The mighty Moses was a fugitive from Egyptian justice. Gideon, who was chosen by God to lead the armies of Israel, was from a poor family and considered himself, ‘least in his father’s house.’ Judges 6:15

“Significantly, religious leaders, systems, and traditions came in for the prophets’ sharpest attacks. The prophet Isaiah heard God excoriate the rulers of his day in Isaiah 1:13-18:
‘Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'”
… to be continued