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The Sword Not the Gun!

By Rev. Hiram Ratliff

Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:17

Growing up in Harlem in the seventies and eighties as my mother’s only child, I realized the importance of survival.  It was my mother who gave me the tools that I would need, education being the first, church being the second, and lastly, programs in the community that would help keep me out of trouble, such as, the Boy Scouts.  I thank God for this foundation; however, even with all this in place, I oftentimes wondered due to the homicide rate of young African males, gang violence, and Police brutality would I make it past thirty.

Academics would lead to careers in the Social Services field, such as, Case Worker within the Bureau of Child Welfare, a Probation Officer with Juvenile Intensive Supervision Program, Supervisor of Young Men’s Program, and presently a Teacher’s Aide position in a Juvenile Facility (JCCA) school in Pleasantville, NY.

My spiritual calling would transition me from the choir as a teenager to becoming a Deacon, Youth Minister, Assistant Pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church to my present role as Senior Pastor of the New Tabernacle Baptist Church.  Having achieved all of this I could not resist the voice, the tug, the pull of God towards something more.

I enrolled in New York Theological Seminary in 2000 and graduated with my Master of Professional Studies in 2007.  During this season I interned with the seminary in its Uth-Turn program which molded and trained me and other students in how to work with at-risk youth.  Uth-Turn help me develop the skills to relate and minister to at-risk youth both inside and outside of the church.  Yet I still felt the pull of God towards something more!

During the first five years of Pastoring the New Tabernacle Baptist Church, I set up a program for the youth entitled Check Yourself Before Your Wreck Yourself which was designed to give the youth both a spiritual and recreational foundation.  I invited former NBA players, news anchors, rappers, and authors to mentor the young people, and in addition one of my parishioners who at the time was an NYPD Police Officer conducted workshops that dealt with how to respond if one is stopped and questioned by a Police Officer.  I wanted the young people to have a strong Youth and Young Adult Ministry in which I benefitted growing up and helped build along with my wife at Antioch Baptist Church as the Youth Minister.  Yet again, God what more are you calling me to?

An awakening would happen in June and September 2018 that would shake me to the core.  The deaths of two of our young people at the hands of gun violence, one a seventeen-year-old African American female, and a twenty-one-year-old African male in less than three months’ time.  I preached the eulogy for both but to mine and the churches shame had nothing in place to deal with the families after the fact. I resolved to do something to keep their memories alive and every youth that died prematurely or way to soon, for every, “Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted” (Jeremiah 31:15, NIV).  Something to bring comfort to the families, honor their children’s memories, and hopefully help curb the needless gun violence that our children succumb to from day to day.  No, I must do something, the church must do something, the churches across the United States of America no matter the faith or denomination must do something!  God could it be, is it, it must be the “more” that you are calling me to.

I enrolled into New York Theological Seminary’s DMin Program as a Powell Fellow in September 2018.  The first cohort in the memory of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. which certainly is an honor and a privilege.  I knew without a doubt what my action dissertation project would address, the need for the church to create and develop ministries to address the gun violence that occurs daily outside of the church’s front doors.  Ministries that will address the traumas of gun violence through counseling, workshops that will bring youth and young adults together to discuss solutions and alternatives to gun violence, and the sermons necessary to address gun violence before it happens and when it happens.  Although my action dissertation project challenges Baptist Pastors and Baptist churches, this curriculum that will be developed will be used worldwide.  The curriculum will offer churches a blueprint to start and build upon as they seem necessary in addressing gun violence.  It will give our youth an alternative in that of the sword as opposed to the gun.

If Powell were with us today, his challenges would be to the Pastors and churches to do more about the gun violence within our communities, and he would have written a Powell Amendment in adopting legislature making it harder to purchase guns, mandated State and local background checks, and fines along with imprisonment for illegal gun sales by dealers and gun traffickers. Rev. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell would have brought, taught, and used the sword.  The sword that would create lifelong opportunities for young people and bring comfort amid suffering.  The sword that would show churches how to advocate for gun reform and collaborate with other churches, nonprofits, and government agencies aiding to get illegal guns off the streets.  Adam would have brought the sword of the Spirit to churches, communities, and government.  The sword of the Spirit, the only offensive and defensive weapon that was and is essential to my survival.

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all NYTS classes will take place remotely for the Fall 2020 semester