Evanston religious leaders call for prayer in advance of Ferguson grand jury decision

Hal Jin, Reporter

More than 30 Evanston religious leaders called on city residents to pray Tuesday as a grand jury deliberates whether to indict a police officer for the August fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Rev. Dr. Karen Mosby, a pastor at Second Baptist Church, drafted the letter and convened co-signers by reaching out to members of the Interfaith Action of Evanston, a group of religious leaders, and the Evanston Pastors’ Fellowship, a Christian pastor group. She sent out an invitation to sign and give feedback on the letter on Monday and the finalized letter was published online Tuesday night.

“We add our voices to those locally and nationally who call for healing and reconciliation,” the letter says. “We also affirm that the realization of the divine vision for peace and justice requires holy boldness, compassion, and faithful work toward that vision in our relationships, our communities, our congregations, individually, and in the world. We undergird with prayer those who have and will continue to peacefully seek to bring justice and reconciliation to Ferguson whether they are in government, houses of faith, or marching in the streets.”

Through the two groups, Mosby was able to reach out to 40 to 50 religious leaders, 32 of who signed the letter, she said.

She said she thinks those who did not sign simply were unable to respond in time and that she would continue to take signatures.

The letter also lists six houses of worship that will be open for those who want to gather in prayer when the grand jury decision is announced.

Ferguson officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Brown, who was unarmed, on Aug. 9. The shooting sparked large demonstrations in the city, including one on Aug. 17 that resulted in police throwing tear gas at protesters.

Members of the grand jury must decide on what charges, if any, to indict Wilson.

In preparation for riots that might follow the decision, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Monday and the National Guard has been deployed in the city.

The Rev. David Jones, an Evanston fire department chaplain who signed the letter, described the situation as a “tragedy for every side.”

“We live in a broken world and we can’t always figure out how to get along well,” Jones said. “Part of the solution is for people to see the situation through the lenses of their faith.”

The Rev. Philip Bentley of the Mt. Zion Tabernacle Apostolic Church said he signed the letter in the hopes of achieving peace among different kinds of people.

“I’m not hearing a whole lot of calmness being talked about from the political spectrum,” he said. “From Washington all the way down, people are expecting riots. I’m a pastor, I want peace.”

Jones said he does not expect any violence or riots in Evanston, citing the good relationship the Evanston Police Department has with the different segments of the community.

“One of the reasons I was excited to come here to work is because of the diversity,” the Rev. Kurt Condra of Unity on the North Shore said. “It’s a small enough community and because there’s only one high school, all segments have to come together to overcome any kinds of racism that might arise.”

The fact that the letter was signed by so many different religious sects sends a much stronger message than if it was signed by a single group, he said.

The city’s individual faith sectors have been addressing the ongoing violence in Ferguson, but Mosby said she thinks this is the first time they have come together to act on the issue.

Evanston clergy groups have previously taken collective action toward decreasing violence, Mosby said in an email to The Daily. In December 2012, in the wake of the shooting of 19-year-old Justin Murray in west Evanston, two religious leaders, on behalf of city’s clergy groups, wrote a letter to the community calling for prayer and offering guidance and support, Mosby said.

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