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Why did Tulsa pray as Charlotte rioted?

The city of Charlotte, NC, has seen anger, fear and great violence as rioters — endangering the safety of law-abiding citizens and peaceful protestors — have looted, burned and plowed their way through downtown. Police in riot shot tear gas into the crowd, which responded by throwing glass bottles and smashing windows of nearby buildings. One person was shot.

A tangled narrative regarding the shooting of Keith Scott, an African American man who was killed by a police officer, has stoked this chaos into a frenzy. Indeed, Scott’s brother told the press “all white people are devils,” despite the offending officer being African American himself.

However, a police shooting has rocked another city recently and it hits closer to home. Last week, Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby fatally shot Terence Crutcher, a 40-year-old African American man, after his SUV stopped in a roadway. Shelby has since been charged with first-degree manslaughter.

Officer Shelby is a white woman who killed an unarmed black man who appeared to do everything right. One would expect the local Black Lives Matter movement to swell with fervor even greater than Charlotte’s.

But the opposite is happening.

According to the Tulsa World, the citizens of Tulsa have come together to pray for peace.

“Metropolitan Baptist Church’s 700-seat auditorium was packed Wednesday night as people from congregations in both north and south Tulsa came together to lament,” the newspaper reported. “Cars filled the parking lot and lined streets for more than a mile around the church. Christians, Jews and Muslims, black, white and Hispanic, young and old, attended the service, which was characterized by sorrow, anger, and a call for systemic changes in society and law enforcement.”

The church’s Rev. Ray Owens told Tulsa World, “We have sought out and made our way to healthy, nonviolent ways to express our righteous rage.”

Why have these two cities reacted so differently to similar situations?

Owens hit the nail on the head when he offered his church as “a space for safe, yet constructive expression of our righteous rage.”

Righteous anger is wildly different from the petty anger we are used to on an everyday basis. When I’m cut off in traffic, I can feel my heartbeat spike, but this is not the way this emotion is supposed to be channeled.

It’s not that the people of Tulsa aren’t angry — far from it. It’s how they are using it.

We should be angry about injustice and sin. Evils such as hatred, abuse, racism and sex trafficking should absolutely incense us. We shouldn’t be able to sleep knowing such wickedness exists in our world.

When you see footage of injustice and you can hardly sit still, that is righteous indignation. This is the anger Gandhi and Mother Teresa felt. Yes, this is what drove Martin Luther King Jr. toward his historic quest for civil rights. Even Jesus expressed righteous anger toward the sins of this world.

What we do with anger is the difference. If we keep it inward, we do nothing and slowly rot. If we explode outward, we end up hurting others and drowning out our cause. But if we go God-ward, He will give us direction.

As politicians talk of “coming together as a community” and “building trust,” these citizens who united in a church provided a practical model of how to actually do that.

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