DOJ Report Inspires Litany

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

When the U.S. Department of Justice issued its report on the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department earlier this year, the Very Rev. Michael Kinman became ill while reading it. It pained him to learn the context surrounding the Aug. 9 police shooting of Michael Brown, an event that turned him and thousands of others into protesters on Ferguson’s streets.

But sorrow was not all that came out of his reading. As he worked through all 105 pages, he had an idea that gave rise to a free liturgical resource: A Litany of Lament for the American Police and Court Systems [PDF].

“It hit me that what I was reading was a Great Litany of sin and lament,” said the Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, via email. “I realized how I was going to get through it was not to read it but to pray it.”

Kinman crafted the litany as he read along. He cut and pasted 89 passages that fit the genre of lamentation. Eleven stories became readings; 29 recommendations became petitions. In about four hours, Kinman completed the 19-page Great Litany uploaded it to the Web.

The resource quotes specific sections of the report, using the DOJ’s descriptions of problems on the force: “From a police culture that relies on the exercise of police power — however unlawful — to stifle unwelcome criticism. (28, 2) / Good Lord, deliver us.” Then later: “Help us develop mechanisms to more effectively respond to allegations of officer misconduct (96). / Come down with transforming power, Holy God.

“I hope it can be helpful in our corporate acts of confession, repentance, and amendment of life,” Kinman wrote on his weblog when he first posted the litany.

Kinman said he’s not sure how many congregations or prayer groups have used it, but he has seen signs of interest. During Holy Week, Christians from five colleges in the Northampton, Massachusetts, area performed the litany as a “protest, prayer, and call to action.” Others have asked him for permission to use it, he said. He always says yes, reminding adding that asking permission is not necessary. Anyone can use it anytime.

Kinman hopes those who use it will “encounter the truth of the evil that is represented in the report,” yet simultaneously be mindful of God’s power, goodness, and compassion.

“I have had people tell me that the litany helped them — not that it helped them feel better (that would certainly not be the goal) — but it helped them encounter truth without losing hope,” Kinman said. “That makes me glad.”

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