CHURCH IN THE NEWS
MASSACRE IN BUFFALO
Shrine set up in Buffalo to honor mass shooting victims (Photo: CNY Central)
Churches condemn hate, urge action after shootings
By HEATHER HAHN, Contributing Writer
BUFFALO, NY (UMNS)—Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church stands a few blocks from the grocery store where a gunman opened fire May 14 — killing 10 people and injuring three.
But for members of the largely Black congregation in Buffalo, what officials labeled a White supremacist attack hit far closer to home.
One member lost an inspiring teacher. Another lost her beloved uncle. The church’s pastor, the Rev. George Nicholas, is close to the family of Aaron Salter, the retired police officer who died trying to stop the gunman.
On Sunday, they and an interracial crowd of worshippers came to Lincoln Memorial to mourn, to begin to heal and to discuss what following Jesus requires.
"See for us Black folks, we are familiar with suffering," Nicholas told those gathered. "This ain’t news to us. We’ve been here before and we’re just desperately waiting for God’s people to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us not just for a moment, not just for a vigil, not just for prayer time. I’m talking about standing with us."
Nicholas was among the United Methodists calling for prayer and action after a weekend that not only saw a mass shooting in Buffalo but also across the country in a Presbyterian church in Southern California. The Rev.
Doug Williams, senior pastor of Laguna Country United Methodist Church in Laguna Woods, Calif., said his church is reaching out to its Presbyterian neighbors to find out what is needed.
"We are going to try to meet those needs if we can," he said. "We’re going to offer prayers and support. I know that's cliché, but it does give comfort to folks."
Laguna Woods started as a 55+ community that has since grown into a city. A gunman opened fire at a lunch banquet of a Taiwanese Presbyterian congregation that shares a building with Geneva Presbyterian Church. The attack killed one person and wounded five others. Investigators say the killing was motivated by political tensions between China and Taiwan, and they have also labeled the mass shooting a hate crime against Taiwanese people.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, the U.S. has seen more than 200 mass shootings as of the 19th week of 2022. The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shootings as an incident when four or more people are shot or killed — not including the shooter. The attack in Buffalo is the deadliest so far this year.
Bishop Mark J. Webb, who leads the Upper New York Conference that includes Buffalo, released a statement immediately after the attack calling for prayer for the wounded and people who lost loved ones.
"As the Church of Jesus Christ, we condemn hatred, injustice and sin in all its forms," the bishop said in his statement. “Violence against another, whether with a gun or with another weapon, is sin and we must stand against it."
Investigators say the 18-year-old suspect in the Buffalo killings allegedly laid out in a 180-page manifesto why he wanted to kill, including his belief in a racist conspiracy theory that White people are being replaced by Black people and Jewish people. The suspect then recorded himself driving to the Tops Friendly Market and carrying out the attack, law enforcement officials said. The gunman targeted a largely Black neighborhood, shooting 11 Black people and two White.
United Methodist leaders across the denomination condemned the attack and called for prayer. The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, called the shooting an act of "domestic terror," noting that the shooter reportedly used assault weapons and wore tactical gear.
"As United Methodists, we take seriously Christ’s words 'to love our neighbor as we love ourselves,'" she said, quoting Mark 12:31. "We affirm that hate and racial terrorism has no place in our society. As Christians and Americans, we need to unite and rid the influence of White supremacy, White nationalism and racism — hate ideologies that severely veer from Biblical teachings and The United Methodist Church’s Social Principles."
The agency is pushing the U.S. Congress to address gun violence and urging The United Methodist Church to continue its work of addressing systemic racism and racial violence.
United Women in Faith, formerly known as United Methodist Women, noted that the massacre is only the latest high-profile shooting in which authorities say the suspect was motivated by hate. Those include last year’s shootings at Atlanta-area massage parlors that left eight dead, including six Asian women; the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, that targeted Latinos; a 2018 assault on a synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 2015 attack on a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
"We name the simple truth today: White supremacist ideology is a poison to our country and anathema to the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Harriett Jane Olson, top executive of United Women in Faith.
The Rev. Giovanni Arroyo, top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, also expressed horror and grief at the attack. The agency offers resources to work toward racial justice.
"All our church and community leaders must act to undo the work of racism that’s deeply rooted in our society," he said. "We must take responsibility for this ongoing work. Every anti-racist action and conversation is a step in the right direction."
Nicholas, the pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, challenged the visitors to his church’s Sun- day service, to speak up when someone in their social circles says something racist. "If you say nothing, you are complicit," he told those gathered.
He spoke in front of an altar rail lined with 10 yellow roses — each representing a life cut short in the Buffalo attack.
In an interview on May 16, Nicholas said The United Methodist Church as a denomination also needs to do more to address the sin of racism. He said that includes digging into its own history of racial segregation in 1939-1968 that has left its shadow on today’s church.
Nicholas said many clergy colleagues have reached out to him since the May 14 brutality. But he wants them to understand that this is a long-term battle. The challenges of segregation, poverty and health disparities faced by Black people in Buffalo will still be there when the television cameras are gone.
"We need to be working on a daily basis to really build what Dr. Martin Luther King talked about as 'the beloved community,'" Nicholas said. "But it takes real work. It takes introspective work. It takes painful work. And some- times it takes sacrificial work and it takes holding ourselves accountable as a denomination for a racist past and some of our current racist practices."
Heather Hahn is assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service.
Judge refuses to dismiss case against leader of megachurch
Naason Joaquin Garcia. Courtesy Courthouse News
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—A judge refused today to dismiss sex-related charges against the leader of a Mexico-based evangelical megachurch who is awaiting trial in connection with crimes allegedly committed in Southern California.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus agreed that the California Attorney Gen- eral's Office should have turned over some evidence to Naason Joaquin Garcia's attorneys before an August 2020 hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial, but found that the defense had "not met the materiality requirement" for the case to be dismissed.
Garcia—the 52-year-old leader of La Luz del Mundo or Light of the World—has been behind bars since June 2019.
He is awaiting trial June 6 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the church said it has "complete confidence that the time will come when the innocence" of Garcia "will be proven in a court of law."
"Truth shines in the darkness and lies can never extinguish it," the church said in the statement, in which it indicated that it was "surprised that the judge did not dismiss the case today."
Garcia's attorneys have indicated that they plan to appeal the ruling, according to the statement.
Garcia was ordered in August 2020 to stand trial on 23 felony counts, including forcible rape of a minor, forcible oral copulation of a person under 18, unlawful sexual intercourse, lewd act on a child, extortion, conspiracy and possession of child pornography.
Co-defendant Susana Oaxaca, 27, is charged with one felony count each of forcible oral copulation of a person under 18 and oral copulation of a person under 18. She is free on bond. A third defendant, Alondra Ocampo, 39, pleaded guilty to four counts and is awaiting sentencing. The three were initially charged in June 2019, but a state appeals court panel ordered the case to be dismissed in April 2020.
The appellate court panel found that Garcia did not waive his right to a timely hearing to determine if there was sufficient evidence to require him to stand trial and that the hearing was not held within that time.
The Attorney General's Office subsequently refiled the case, which alleges that the crimes occurred in South- ern California between June 2015 and June 2019. Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen found sufficient evidence in August 2020 to allow the case against Garcia and Oaxaca to proceed to trial.
State prosecutors alleged in the complaint that Ocampo told a group of minor girls that they were going against God if they went against any desires or wishes of "the Apostle" — Garcia.
The Guadalajara-based Pentecostal sect has branches in 50 nations and claims more than 1 million members worldwide.
Women worship at First Wesleyan United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Mutum Biyu, Nigeria, the Nigeria Episcopal Area’s first church for the Deaf community. Photo by Ezekiel Ibrahim, UM News.
Church in Nigeria ushers in first- ever deaf congregation
BY EZEKIEL IMBRAHIM, Contributing Writer
MUTUM BIYU, Nigeria (UMN)—The Nigeria Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church recently welcomed its first church of the Deaf. Resident Bishop John Wesley Yohanna introduced the new congregation, First Wesleyan United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Mutum Biyu, Gassol, in Taraba State.
Deacon Albert A. Pena, the first ordained Deaf pastor in The United Methodist Church in Nigeria, said the congregation’s 30 members had belonged to several mainline denominations, as well as nondenominational churches, before joining the new church.
Yohanna asked the congregation, "Do you believe that God is calling you to worship in The United Methodist Church? If so, can I hear you affirm that?" Signing in unity, all responded, "Yes, we believe."
The congregation shared in Holy Communion and songs of praise.
The bishop appointed Pena as pastor in charge, under the supervision of the Rev. Philip Audu, Taraba West District superintendent.
Felicia David, coordinator of ministry with the physically challenged, thanked Yohanna and other leaders for their support through the Southern Nigeria Conference evangelism ministry. All played a role in the actualiza- tion of the ministry. David presented a token donation to help support the new congregation.
In his homily of hope, Yohanna declared, "Time is coming when no one shall be physically challenged." Read- ing from Matthew 11:1-11, he recalled a conversation between Jesus and a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus advised, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is proclaimed to the poor."
He assured the congregation that Jesus came to liberate. "We need only believe in God," Yohanna said. "One day, we will be healed of every kind of challenge when Jesus returns to take us home. We will be like Jesus as we all dwell in his presence."
Pena thanked the bishop, David, director of evangelism the Rev. John Simon Jatutu and Southern Nigeria Conference leaders for the successful establishment of the church. He also expressed gratitude to the Rev. Chan Kim for his immense support to the ministry of the Deaf.
In a 2015 speech at Banyam Theological Seminary, Pena said creating a new church for the Deaf was essen- tial. "About 80 percent of them," he said, "either take solace with a nearby church, where they are half-fed or become passive Christians because of lack of a good shepherd."
The Deaf congregation began gathering for worship seven years ago.
Using sign language, Patricia Joseph said, "I am very happy with the response of The United Methodist Church, who welcomed us into their family. Our dream of becoming a church is fulfilled today. Glory be to God!"
Ezekiel Ibrahim is the communicator for the Nigeria episcopal office.
United Methodist News Service