Spiritual peacemakers in Columbia, Mo., are trying to mend a community whose residents recently found themselves being 'judged' by other Americans due to accusations of racial inequalities. National media coverage and flurries of social media posts thrust the University of Missouri-Columbia's recent protests, hunger strike, football team boycott, terrorist threats against student groups, class cancelations, security notifications and college administrator resignations into the limelight of public debates. But some residents seek a positive, more copasetic atmosphere for Mizzou's future, one that is aided by the calming effect of religious teachings.
Christ Our King Presbyterian Church staffers in Columbia this week hosted "praying for peace" sessions right at the campus' iconic landmark Columns. Christ Our King Lead Pastor Tim LeCroy today said, "Last night the Lord brought a different crowd than the first night. Four of us were Christ Our King folks, but two were invited by others. One was an African American brother named Richard, a lay minister from 5th Street Christian Church. After the prayer time, three of us, including Richard, got coffee and talked about the gospel. On the way back to our cars, we saw students from Stephens College marching against hate. We were able to bless them, and thank them for their support."
On Tuesday, he said they first met on the campus Quad, with just a simple mission. "We confessed our sins. We read scriptures about equality, justice, peace, and the power of prayer. We prayed. We blessed the campus and the city."
LeCroy said when he uses the word "peace," he has in mind the Hebrew notion of peace - Shalom. "Shalom is wellness. It is wholeness. It is completeness. Peace is not just the lack of hostility. In fact, conflict may have to be entered into in order to have true peace."
The genesis of the student protest movement started over the summer when University administrators abruptly canceled health insurance stipends for all grad students, LeCroy said. "Students organized and protested, and won a concession from the university administration," he explained.
"This protest movement showed others the students had the power to speak up for themselves, and so some of the very same leaders in the grad students protest movement began protesting and speaking out against racial injustice on campus."
LeCroy issued a public invitation about joining the group in prayer on campus once more tonight: "Again, no politics, no agenda, but to pray for peace and harmony. It will take 15 minutes. You can join us on your way home from work."
"We know there's a problem on campus, from our Black brother and sisters, and other minorities. We feel it's a time for listening and finding a constructive way to heal. We're gathering to pray for peace, justice and harmony," he said.
"We're doing something simple, but revolutionary at the same time. I believe prayer is a form of social action, especially when doing it publicly. We believe God is the one who can change what's happening."
LeCroy's first observations, however, were shared on Tuesday before praying publicly: "Minority culture friends on my Facebook feed are universally positive about the protest here in Columbia at Mizzou. Most of my majority culture friends who are speaking to the issue are negative. To me, this demonstrates how great the need is for us all not to label and dismiss the other, but with love and gentleness, listen to our neighbor when he tells us he's hurting."
"It should not be that anyone should have to endure hateful, racist, abusive speech or threats of violence. It does say something about an institution and its culture when these things continue to happen with little done to address them. So when our neighbors come to us and inform us of these things, and that's what I take these protests to be, we should seek to listen and understand."
LeCroy said when the events in Columbia became national news, some people made the situation about national politics. "This makes it very easy to label and dismiss. Friends, the reality is that this is a local issue amongst neighbors who need to listen, respect and respond with love. This is about people. People created in the image of God. As Christians, we are called to see, to hear, to love. That begins with those who are marginalized and oppressed. This comes straight from the Bible and the teaching of Jesus."
"So let me ask all my friends, do you see your neighbors? Do you really see them?" he posed.
Another team from Campus Lutheran Church in Columbia is trying to help community residents by hosting a "Conversation of Healing and Forgiveness" on the evening of Nov. 18.
"The past few days have been filled with high emotion as our University of Missouri campus has made national headlines, divided over issues of racism and the ways in which those issues have been addressed," stated Campus Lutheran Pastor Kent Pierce.
"Right now, we live together in a community in need of reconciliation and healing. Both will take time, empathy, compassion, understanding, leadership, and responsible steps of action."
On the church's Facebook page, Pierce posted: "As Christians, we know that true reconciliation, healing, and peace can only come from our Savior, Jesus, the Christ, who not only spoke words of forgiveness (Luke 23:24) but also demonstrated actions of forgiveness. Most notably, our Lord exchanged His life for ours on a cross in order to remove the expansive chasm, caused by our sin, that separates us from God and one another. Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of our Lord's mercy as we respond to the strife in our community. As always, our words and actions should strive to reflect the love of Christ."
Pierce also encourages other Christians to join in with the following prayer customized to this situation: "Pray for peace to reign on our campus, in our city, and in all places. Pray that all who have behaved in a harmful way will repent and be forgiven. Pray that those who live in fear will be protected. Pray that the church will bring the mercy of Christ to a hurting community. Pray that our Lord's will be done.
Prayers for kindness and consideration come on the same day that the University of Missouri-Columbia staff received a notice that read: "The University of Missouri Staff Advisory Council is firmly united in Mizzou's efforts to provide a safe workplace for all employees and an environment conducive to learning for all students. We will continue to work closely with MU Administration to support these efforts. Mizzou leadership hears your concerns and condemns threats made against our community. We are working as a team to move forward as a stronger community. If there is an immediate threat, please call 911."