Fox Valley pastors, officials discuss avoiding a Ferguson situation

  • Gregory Thomas

    Gregory Thomas

  • Jeff Swoboda

    Jeff Swoboda

Posted9/19/2014 5:30 AM

What should Fox Valley church leaders do if last month's events in Ferguson, Missouri, were to take place locally?

For one, they should have already been proactive in forming bonds not just with the community but with each other, local pastors said during a Thursday forum in St. Charles.


Michael Brown, a black teenager from Ferguson, was unarmed when he was fatally shot Aug. 9 by white police officer Darren Wilson. The incident, under review by a grand jury, sparked protests in Ferguson and across the country.

It's crucial for spiritual leaders to be united during crises, said Cheryl Pacilio, director of local serving at First Baptist Church of Geneva.

"We have to be demonstrating unity in the Gospel all the time, looking like this room, perhaps," she said.

Churches should be ready to act but also make it clear to law enforcement they don't represent a threat, Pacilio said.

Randy Schoof, who serves as a chaplain for the Aurora Police Department, said the church has the responsibility to coordinate a positive response.

"We shouldn't be messing it up or making it worse for the police department or city officials," he said.

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Elgin Police Chaplain Tim Perry agreed. "We have to prove we are risk mitigators, not risk increasers."

Perry pointed to the Christian Emergency Network, a grass-roots network with resources to prepare individuals, churches and entire communities to deal with crises and disasters, " ... so we don't stumble, and we know exactly where we need to go, who we need to contact."

The forum was at Fox Valley Christian Action, which regularly holds pastors' forums on various topics, said program director Joel Lara. Aurora Police Chief Gregory S. Thomas and Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda were among the guest speakers.

"We hope (Ferguson) never happens here, but the reality is we don't know, so we definitely want to be proactive and be prepared," Lara said.

Thomas said police should communicate frequently with the community and churches and faith-based groups.

Situations that spiral out of control are about distrust, Swoboda said.


"I'd d be foolish to say we as the Elgin Police Department have the trust of 110,000 people that live here," he said. "The police department is made of people, and people make mistakes. But when you make a mistake, you own it."

Police officers need to build -- and maintain -- relationships with the community to prevent the "slow boil" that lead to crises like Ferguson's, Swoboda said.

Communication from leaders is key, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said. He also urged church leaders to be cautious before taking action.

Bob Whitt, senior pastor at Family Life Church in Elgin, pointed out it's easy to get along in peaceful times.

"Let a young man and young woman become victimized where it touches your heart, and are you still going to be walking in Jesus Christ, in unity with in law enforcement? Are we still going to trust them to do their job as they are trusting us to do our job?"

Tyrell Ivy of Elgin, who said he's a Hebrew Israelite, said he wished the discussion had included the topic of racism.

"Racism is a deep-rooted system that touches everything -- from politics to education and policing," he said.

Pete Bone, a police officer in Carpentersville and member of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers, said the forum was "an awesome start to a great conversation."


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