The Rev. Diana Swoope is overcome by anguish each time she hears that violence has taken another life.
While grappling with heartache recently, she was moved by an inner voice to speak out against the violence and to advocate for solutions.
“The rash of murders that seem to be taking over our city is very troubling. My heart has been burdened,” said Swoope, senior pastor at Arlington Church of God in Akron. “We have to sound the alarm. We must band together and call on God, who is the absolute most powerful force in the world. And then, we must help people understand that when they are angry, there are options other than violence.”
To start the process, Swoope made a call to Love Akron, a nonprofit organization that works to unite the Christian community, to plan a prayer gathering. That event will begin at 6 p.m. Sunday at Arlington Church of God, 539 S. Arlington St.
“As elders of the city, it is our duty to call people together in prayer. It’s time for the church to fall on its face and ask the Lord for help,” said the Rev. Mark Ford, executive director of Love Akron. “We’re taking that leadership role and seeking to fulfill a biblical mandate to take care of community issues. We just believe that spiritual leaders have the responsibility to lead the way whether anyone follows or not.”
Ford, Swoope and the Rev. Jeffrey Dennis, all of whom planned the prayer gathering, agree the faith community must be an integral part of the solution to end the violence that has resulted in 22 murders in the city this year. Comparatively, 17 of last year’s 25 murders were recorded during the first nine months of the year, said Lt. Rick Edwards, spokesman for the Akron Police Department.
Dennis, senior pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church and executive director of Minority Behavioral Health Group (a counseling center in West Akron), said that by addressing the issue of violence from a spiritual perspective, the goal is to pray for transformation while teaching conflict resolution and anger management.
“We must help people, especially young people, see that violence is not the only option,” Dennis said. “We must pray and we must take action. This prayer time is for the entire community and it is a call for all spiritual leaders in the community to commit to the same message, focusing on conflict resolution.”
Dennis, Ford and Swoope said the unfortunate reality of people who see violence as the only response to anger must be addressed. They also believe there is a need for the faith community to speak out and exclaim that violence is not just an inner-city problem.
“This is a human issue, and concern for tragedy needs to happen everywhere,” Swoope said. “I believe the faith community needs to be on the front lines, offering support to end the violence that threatens our community.”
The hope of the three organizing ministers is to get as many pastors as possible to agree to preach a message on how to solve conflict without violence on a weekend of their choice. They also hope to get members of the faith community to commit to going into areas where a murder takes place to pray and to offer members a forum to express their concerns.
“I think we sometimes forget that the community is a victim, too. People are impacted, and they need to be able to express their fears and anxiety,” Swoope said. “When we talk about anger management, we want to teach people the three R’s: retreat, rethink and respond. At the end of the day, if one person who has murder on their mind decides to step away, we will be successful.”