The two largest Pentecostal denominations in the U.S. have called with one voice for Christians worldwide to affirm on Sunday, Dec. 14 that indeed "Black Lives Matter," and, as admonished in Scripture, to "mourn with those who mourn" — in this case, with black Americans who feel the justice system has failed in two recent cases involving the death of black males at the hands of white police officers.
"The lives of all people are precious to God, of course, but at the present moment, many of our black brothers and sisters in COGIC and the AG feel that their lives are not highly valued by many in white America," says Assemblies of God General Superintendent Dr. George O. Wood in a statement made public Thursday. "As examples, they point to the recent controversial decisions of grand juries in St. Louis County, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, not to return bills of indictment against white police officers in the deaths of two black males, Michael Brown and Eric Garner."
"Whatever your opinion of those controversial decisions, can we stand with our brothers and sisters and affirm the value of black lives generally and of their lives specifically?" Wood adds. "Scripture teaches that God does not take pleasure in the death of people, not even the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). If so, then whatever the circumstances, we can be certain that God did not take pleasure in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Therefore, neither should we."
Wood goes on to ask members if they would be willing to "affirm, then, the grief our black brothers and sisters feel about these men's deaths?" He suggested that readers consider: "If the families and friends of Michael Brown and Eric Garner attended your church, how would you minister to them in their sorrow?"
The statement from the Assemblies of God, which counts 3 million members and adherents in the United States and an additional 67 million members worldwide, came a week after Bishop Charles E. Blake issued a public appeal for the observance of "Black Lives Matter Sunday."
Blake is Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. (COGIC), a predominantly-black Pentecostal organization, the largest in the U.S., that counts nearly 6.5 million members globally.
"I am grateful for this unprecedented letter and show of support from Dr. George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. Dr. Wood and the AG demonstrate the love and healing power of Christ by standing with the Church of God in Christ to categorically say, black lives matter," wrote Blake in a statement dated Dec. 12 but made available a day prior.
In his original Dec. 5 declaration of "Black Lives Matter Sunday," Blake stated that the Sunday show of solidarity was to "remind the nation how important the lives of African Americans are."
The bishop added that COGIC "will sponsor (this) day of prayer throughout its 12,000 congregations around the world, in honor" of Garner and Brown.
In addition to special prayer to be offered for the men present during those services, the Assemblies of God has asked participants to also:
- Pray during the service that God would bless the ministries of the Church of God in Christ, our own National Black Fellowship, and the many AG multicultural churches, enlarging their territory through Spirit-guided influence on the communities where they minister.
- Pray that God would unite the hearts of all Spirit-filled believers, but especially COGIC and the AG, so that together, we would become a "Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings" (Isaiah 58:12) in our nation.
- Pray for law enforcement and judicial officers, especially Spirit-filled believers among them, that they would be servants of justice, reconciliation, and peace in the communities they serve.
"We must find a way, through God's help, to continue the work of emphatically telling everyone that will listen that, 'Black Lives Matter!' implored COGIC's Blake in his declaration.
Pastors and members were asked to wear black on Dec. 14, which is also the third Sunday of Advent, the season in which some Christians observe the arrival, or birth of Jesus Christ.
Wood, the Assemblies of God leader, referenced the special season, writing that "at this Christmas season, may we take to heart once again the glorious announcement of the angel that the birth of Jesus is 'good news that will cause great joy for all the people' (Luke 2:10, emphasis added)!"
The Church of God In Christ was founded in 1897 by Charles H. Mason in Arkansas, while the Assemblies of God was founded in 1914, also in Arkansas. The two Christian bodies, historically divided due to segregation, both point to the Azusa Street Revival of 1906 as pivotal to their stories. The charismatic meetings led by African American preacher William J. Seymour featured both black and white participants, and was the catalyst for the Pentecostal movement. Just last year, the AG and COGIC held a historic joint meeting among executive members, the first-ever such gathering for the Christian groups' leadership.
Brown's and Garner's cases have set off storms of protests, a few marred by violence, with some Americans viewing the men's deadly encounters with the police as emblematic of how law enforcement frequently engages with black civilians. Common chants among protesters were reflected in the Twitter hashtags #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, and #HandsUpDontShoot.
Brown, 18, was shot a total of six times by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during an August confrontation on a residential street. Some witnesses claim the teen had his hands up in surrender when was shot. Wilson said Brown attacked him and was killed while charging at him.
Garner, 43 and married with six children, died in July while resisting arrest outside of a Staten Island convenience store. Responses to the grand jury decision in his case in particular included shock and outrage since his death at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo and at least four other cops, was videotaped. The death of Garner, who is heard saying 11 times, "I can't breathe" in the video, was determined as a homicide caused by a chokehold by a medical examiner's office. Officer Pantaleo denied applying a chokehold to Garner, as the New York Police Department banned the deadly maneuver in 1993. Instead, Pantaleo told investigators, he had actually applied a "takedown" move on a 400-pound Garner, whose obesity, asthma, and other health complications played a part in his death.
A Dec. 8 poll report by the Pew Research Center and USA Today revealed that 50 percent of Americans believed the grand jury in Ferguson was right to not charge Wilson for killing Brown (37 percent said the grand jury was wrong; 13 percent said they did not know). In the case of Garner, 57 percent of Americans said the grand jury was wrong to not charge Officer Pantaleo for the Staten Island man's death (22 said the grand jury made the right decision; 20 percent said they don't know). When asked how race factored in the grand juries' decisions, most respondents said race was not a factor at all — 48 percent in Brown's case and 39 in Garner's.
The varied responses to the deaths of Brown and Garner reflect the conviction among some Americans that the nation is a long way from racial reconciliation and healing over its ugly history of slavery and Jim Crow, the spirits of which live on with the mass incarceration of black Americans, some might argue.
A separate survey, from CBS News and The New York Times, was reported on Dec. 11 to have found a deepening divide among Americans on the issue of race. While 47 percent of white Americans said they believe race relations in the U.S. are generally good, just 34 percent of black Americans felt the same way. Other questions from the same survey touched on law enforcement, discrimination, and other related subjects, which you can read about in the report below.
Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, insisted in recent video remarks that America's racial divisions remain because Christian churches still struggle to unite as one body under God.
"We can never get around to being one nation under God if we can't even get around to being one Church under God," according to Evans.
"A unified nation will never be realized until there is a unified church," he insisted, adding that when that does finally happen, "watch what God does for the nation."
The statements from Blake and Wood appear in full below.
COGIC Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. Declares December 14th "Black Lives Matter Sunday"
Memphis, TN (December 5, 2014) The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is hosting "Black Lives Matter Sunday," to remind the nation how important the lives of African Americans are.
Sunday, December 14, 2014, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) will sponsor a day of prayer throughout its 12,000 congregations around the world, in honor of the two recent cases of African American men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, killed by police.
Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. says, "I watched, as did most of America, first the video of the incident, then the report of the Grand Jury in the Eric Garner case. I am saddened by the decision of the Staten Island Grand Jury to not indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo. With no indictment in two national cases in less than a two week period, and to hear and see Eric Garner, a father and grandfather, placed in a banned choke hold and repeatedly say 'I can't breathe,' takes us back years in the struggle for equal justice."
Bishop Blake added, "We must find a way, through God's help, to continue the work of emphatically telling everyone that will listen that, "Black Lives Matter!"
COGIC is asking its pastors and members to wear black on the second Sunday in December to show solidarity. A special prayer will be given for all of the men present in the service on that day.
About the Church of God in Christ:
The Church of God in Christ is the fifth largest Protestant religious denomination and the largest African American church in the United States, with churches in 63 countries worldwide and an estimated membership of nearly 6.5 million members.
Call for AG Churches to Observe "Black Lives Matter Sunday" in Coordination with Church of God in Christ