By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
Ephesians 6:13 reads, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
It seems indisputable Baltimore has seen many “evil days” rooted in violence, murder and mayhem over the last two decades, including the murder of small children like Taylor Hayes and McKenzie Elliott, among dozens of others. It also seems clear City Hall has attempted myriad approaches aimed at quelling violence, to little or no avail.
Since 1999, there have been about a half dozen crime strategies entered into the public discourse surrounding law enforcement in Baltimore.
There have been 10 police commissioners, implementation of a consent decree ordered by the United States Department of Justice in 2016 and over the last decade, about 40 percent of the city’s discretionary budget has been allotted for the Baltimore Police Department (BPD).
Still, from 1999 to Sept. 3, 2019, there have been 5,269 homicides in Baltimore and tens of thousands of shootings.
Beyond the realm of governance and law enforcement, many within this city with more churches and other houses of worship per capita than just about any other American big city, argue there is a “dark spirit,” an intransigent evil energy to be more precise, that has plagued this city for many years. And although there is no empirical evidence to support their belief, many of Baltimore’s spiritual and religious leaders have been waging “spiritual warfare” against violence and its manifestations for years. Yet, despite their efforts many believe religious houses, their leaders and congregations have fallen short. And perhaps the plight of the city is a tragic manifestation of James 2:17, which reads, “…faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
Bishop Angel Nunez, Pastor of the Bilingual Christian Church of Baltimore said spiritual warfare requires, “people get (their) hands dirty.”
“I think that the church has a vital responsibility and has been absent from the playing field in reference to what’s happening in our community,” Nunez added. “Programs can be established, politicians can present the ideas, money can be applied to whatever. However, hurting, broken people need the hand of God, need the touch of God, need the love of God that should be…expressed through the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Nunez, born in New York City, has experienced drug addiction, homelessness and gang violence among other perils. The harrowing details of his life are captured in his autobiography, Let Me Live Again, which has been made into an upcoming documentary of the same name. He said only “unconditional love” can lift many who are suffering in Baltimore.
“I think we need to get out of the four walls, we need to engage our community. We need to get out there with the people and love them, here’s the key, unconditionally,” he said. “You’ve got to keep loving people that cuss you out, spit in our face, backstab you, you know what I’m saying? Take the food and run and you never see them again until they’re strung out. It’s unconditional love.”
Pastor Donald Campbell, who presides over the Moravia Assembly of God in East Baltimore, in assessing the plight of Baltimore in 2019, reflected on the Baltimore Uprising of 1968, following the murder of Dr. King and asked a cogent question: “Why have we never recovered?”
“In beginning to pray into it, dig into it, read passages of scripture in the Bible– particularly in the Old Testament– seeing how they lined up with dynamics in our city,” said Campbell, who was 11-years-old in 1968, living with his family on Edison Highway in East Baltimore.
“What came after the riots with the drug trade? And the whole story with “Little” Melvin Williams and Baltimore becoming the heron capital of the United States and seeing how that issue just became the dominant presence…the dominant economy and dominant destroyer of neighborhoods,” added Campbell.
“And then talking to pastors who would say, “you know, I never thought about it”…and that’s astounding to me. Often we don’t understand it, we aren’t even thinking about why is the land the way that it is. We don’t go to the deeper spiritual issues to understand why the land is the way that it is, and that we are there to deal with those issues that God has given us as pastors and churches; the spiritual responsibility and the spiritual authority to address those issues.”
Both Nunez and Campbell have worked very closely with Melvin Russell, the recently retired Chief of the Community Collaboration Division.
Russell, after decades of service with the BPD, “got his hands dirty” in service to the disenfranchised communities of our city, perhaps as much or more, as any man or woman who has been a member of the department. Since his retirement from the BPD, he has devoted more time to his ministry, which he would contend are indistinguishable.
“Being a self proclaimed Christian man of faith and an assistant pastor in the city of Baltimore, I am a strong believer of spiritual warfare and it’s vital role in combating the violence that plagues our beloved city,” according to Russell, who said he engaged openly and zealously in spiritual warfare in the Eastern District, which he led for years and saw tangible reductions in crime there as a result of it.
“My most notable spiritual warfare started after I was named as the district commander of the Eastern District in 2008. With my wife by my side we went on bended knees to ask God to help fight the demonic stronghold of violence gripping East Baltimore,” Russell said. He claimed that after “finding other strong believers, fasting and praying and deploying seeming ridiculous…initiatives to the natural man,” there was a significant reduction in violence and homicide. “It was if God set a hedge of protection around us. Crime continued to plummet in that district, relation equity between police and community was at an all-time high, while crime fell…to a 40 plus year low for the last three years of my command,” Russell added. In fact, in 2008, Baltimore experienced the lowest homicide rate (234) in many years and three years later in 2011, the city was under 200 homicides (197) for the first time in decades. And we haven’t been under 200 murders since.
“God’s way to combat violence requires us to seek Him for direction, take His advice and incorporate it,” Russell said. “Times are only getting worse…Humility and entering spiritual warfare is key to combating Baltimore’s homicide and violence, by allowing God to drive as we listen and act.”