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Religious Leaders Encourage Understanding After Week Of Violence


Across the country today, many people are attending Sunday services. Many people are looking to their religious leaders to help make sense of the week's violence. In Minneapolis, where Philando Castile was killed on Wednesday, Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team attended two services this morning with two different congregations.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Feel my wrath...

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: On Saturday, Pastor David Keaton of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church visited the home of Valerie Castile, Philando Castile's mother. And in his sermon this morning, he told his congregants he was stunned by the resilience of her faith in God despite what had happened.

DAVID KEATON: Isn't that amazing? Her son - not only was he unjustly killed, from we could see, but the whole world - can you imagine as a mother having to watch and have everyone around you watch your son take his last breaths of life? A baby that you gave birth to in the world?

FLORIDO: If she could keep the faith in such trying times, he said, so could he. So could they.

KEATON: And I dare each and every one of you this morning to just believe that whatever evil comes in life, it is not that God caused, not that God allowed it, but somewhere, somehow, God makes use of everything the devil does to work out his plan...

FLORIDO: Keaton encouraged his congregants to continue supporting Black Lives protesters. He said their fearlessness was part of why they've succeeded in elevating the conversation about police violence against black men and women. After the services, Tommy MacNeil said he'd come to church feeling despair over this week's events, but he left with a sense of purpose.

TOMMY MACNEIL: You know, it has me directed and just in my thoughts and my emotions. And so I leave out of here today with a sense of focus and determination to really make an impact and hopefully that would affect some people positively that surrounds me.

FLORIDO: At the first Universalist Church across town, Minister Elaine Aron-Tenbrink encouraged her mostly white congregation to really understand the power that comes with being white.

ELAINE ARON-TENBRINK: Could there be anything more anathema to what we stand for as people of faith than this? And yet, the system is so old. It's so entrenched, and those with greater power and privilege, the white folks not only benefit from it but are socialized to be utterly blind to anything but its most abject manifestations.

FLORIDO: But, she said, none of that would change if white people aren't willing to start listening to people of color to start talking about this among themselves and to demand change.

ARON-TENBRINK: To use our influence to contact lawmakers, to use our white bodies as tools of de-escalation and demonstrations, and we don't have to do this alone. And I know that it is so hard, but it is not nearly as hard as never hearing your son call your name again because he has committed the crime of driving while black.

FLORIDO: Tenbrink told her congregants she was there to help them, and she borrowed the words that Diamond Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter used to comfort her mother as she was breaking down after her boyfriend Philando Castile was killed.

ARON-TENBRINK: I'm right here with you.

FLORIDO: Adrian Florido, NPR News, Minneapolis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.