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Sean Bell and the Local Church

Posted on April 29th, 2008

Last Friday a judge acquitted three NYPD detectives of all charges in the shooting death of 23-year-old Sean Bell who was killed by 50 bullets fired outside a Queens strip club on what would have been his wedding day in November of 2006. It was a tragedy for all involved. There were no winners in this case.What does it mean for New Life Fellowship Church as we find ourselves in the midst of this crisis? In fact, a father of one of our young adults told me his son actually was the one who introduced Sean Bell to his finance and that he attended the funeral. We have police officers in our church that will probably be guarding the picket lines for the protests this week. We also have members who will be marching in protest. So we have Christians protesting and Christians guarding the protest. Apparently some of the Bell family knew Christ as well as at least one of the police officers.A huge range of emotions are evident both in conversations and the media – anger, hurt, rage, grief, relief, helplessness – to name a few. This is the not the first time in our twenty year history we have found ourselves making public statements on a Sunday worship service about a similar situation. If anything, this crisis once again reinforces the complexity of racism and divisions between races, ethnic groups and social classes.I do not feel qualified to make judgments about the judge, the details of the case, what is the right response is for us as a church or for you as an individual, but I do know that we are dealing with powers and principalities of darkness that are much more powerful than we think (Eph. 6:10-20). The distrust and division between the African- American community and the Police Department is profound, going back generations. Deep institutionalized racism is very much alive in our city and country. Take some time and listen again to those in our community who have been on the receiving end of racism. Imagine the pain, fear and confusion of African American mothers and fathers as they raise their sons to respect authority only to wonder when or if that same respect will be given to their sons should conflict arise. At the same time, being a police officer in the present NYC police department is incredibly difficult. The pressure they are under is great and their training is inadequate. They themselves feel under siege from their bosses who demand results and arrests. They also feel under siege from the mayor’s office (they have been without a contract for over three years), and from the media whom they feel are just waiting to pounce on them at the earliest opportunity. Take some time and listen to the police officers about the injustice they feel coming at them from all sides. Add to that the complexity of the racial divisions within the Police Department itself. It is painful and tragic.Our mission as a church is that, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will bridge racial, economic, social class and gender barriers. Jesus paid an infinite price, the price of his blood, to reconcile us to God and to one another. Our call is to lay our lives down and to do battle against the powers and principalities of hell that tell us it is hopeless and will never change. That is a lie.Jesus is alive. The kingdom of God is here. We are here as His church in the midst of a divided city. We are called to exhibit by our lives together that the gospel truly is the power of God! What appears like a setback may actually be an opportunity for the light of Jesus to shine. May we pray for the Bell family, the police officers, our city government and civic leaders, and for the church of Queens New York as we seek to be agents of reconciliation for His sake and His glory.What do you think should be some ways to respond as a Christian community to the Sean Bell protests and crisis around us?

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Church Culture Revolution: A 6-Part Vision That Deeply Changes Lives