Peaceful Church Protest in Brooklyn Brings Disruption, Blessing, and a Call for Change

People participate in the “Prayerful Protest,” a march in memory of George Floyd and against police brutality, in Brooklyn, New York, on June 2, 2020. RNS photo by Roxanne Stone

NEW YORK (RNS) — “No justice, no peace.”

The rhythm of the call and response chant was a simple one.

It was only a few minutes, though, before a handful in the crowd of Brooklyn protesters mirrored the cadence, but substituted choice curse words of their own.

That didn’t last long.

“That’s not our movement!” a bystander in the crowd shouted. “Our movement is love. God is love!”

Organized by The Bridge Church, a 6-year-old ethnically diverse congregation in downtown Brooklyn, the “Prayerful Protest” saw several thousand people from more than 80 New York City churches gather on Tuesday evening (June 2) in Brooklyn to march peacefully in support of Black Lives Matter, and in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

“Peaceful” was a critical word for the organizers.

“I think Christians want to protest, but I think they’re confused about how to protest because right now it’s been marked as ‘violent,’” organizer James T. Roberson III told Religion News Service in an interview before the march. “We are angry and we believe God is angry too. But because we are looking toward God, we are not seeking retribution by seeking violence.”

Organizer James T. Roberson III, lead pastor at Bridge Church NYC, speaks to participants before the “Prayerful Protest” in Brooklyn on June 2, 2020. RNS photo by Roxanne Stone

Roberson, the lead pastor at Bridge Church NYC, said Christians need to own the act of protesting. “We are Protestant Christians, after all,” he said, emphasizing the first two syllables of the word. “We are countercultural by nature. We are protesting systems, principalities, powers in the world. A protest is just a physical way of embodying the way we operate spiritually anyway.”

He said the idea for the march initially came from his friend Justin Mattera, lead pastor at Zion Church in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. Roberson described Mattera, who also runs a coffee shop and a marketing company, as a “networker and mobilizer.”

Roberson, though, was less than enthusiastic about taking part in the march when Mattera first pitched him on it.

“I’m tired. Trying to understand life as a black man,” Roberson said. “But then once I put the phone down, there came kind of a ‘God moment,’ where I was like, why not us?”

He called some friends and colleagues and within 20 minutes, Roberson said, several other pastors and churches in his network had already agreed to join as well.

“I think a lot of churches wanted to do something,” he said. “But they wanted to make sure black people were out in front.”

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Source: Religion News Service