Charleston Is Testing the Soul of America


Congregants of the Greater Allen A.M.E. in New York gathered to march in solidarity with the victims and members of Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C., a katz / Shutterstock.com

On Wednesday, June 17, a young believer in white supremacy invaded the sacred sanctuary of the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. There he murdered nine black Christians who were gathered together for their weekly Wednesday night prayer meeting. The killer had been welcomed by the African Methodist Episcopal church members to join them in prayer when he walked in, and he sat with them for more than an hour before he pulled out his gun and shot them dead at the prayer table. They were targeted and killed because they were black.

It is painfully true that in our time, in this year, in the United States, there is still no safe space for black people in America — even in their own churches. Racism is America’s original sin. It expresses itself explicitly and overtly in what we horribly saw last week in a black church, but racism continues on, implicitly and covertly, in American institutions and culture.

When God Can Breathe, We’ll All Have Air

The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.

Packing Hate and Risking Love

Charleston vigil

Candlelight vigil in New York for the Charleston shooting victims on June 21. a katz / Shutterstock.com

The sickness in our society is driven by the way we mistrust and pull away from one another; how we decide to care only about ourselves and our immediate families; the way we choose to serve only those who are like us – same race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, political views.

Everyone else gets minimized and pushed away. We arm ourselves to protect our shrinking little space. We live like moles, wary of predators.

In guns we trust. In fear we live.

Dear White People: Why I Am Racist and So Are You

Charleston vigil

New York City candlelight vigil at the Barclay's Center on behalf of victims of the Emanuel A.M.E massacre, Photo by a katz / Shutterstock.com

White people can no longer afford to deny the violent racism that infects our lives. Rather, we must take responsibility for it. The first thing we need to do is to name it. Yes, name it in people like the terrorist who killed the nine people at Emmanuel last Wednesday. Name it in our political, economic, and entertainment systems that propagate and benefit from racist structures. For example, did you know that currently, “the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa did during apartheid?” Name it for the sinful, demonic structure that it is.

But just as important, name the racism that infects you. It’s not helpful to just name racism in others if we don’t also take responsibility for the racism within each of us. Name it in yourself so that you can repent from it. And once you repent from it, name it again and again. Racism is so embedded in our culture that its evil will surely return to our lives.

Divisible, With Liberty and Justice for Some

Please don’t fail to recognize this vital moment in American history: when our fellow citizens screamed for equality, marched for recognition, and pleaded for justice. Because someday the next generation will ask us: What did you do?

And so today we must ask ourselves: What are we doing? What are we seeing? What does this all mean?

Because the last few years within our country — a continuation of the past hundreds of years — have been socially jarring for a society that considers itself a modernized, technologically advanced, and morally superior nation

Refusing to Be Comforted

Madison Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Charleston Church Shooting, photo by Light Brigading / Flickr.com

I invite my Christian brothers and sisters of all racial backgrounds to join me in my prophetic grieving. Our cries cannot and should not be the same. For some of us, who inhabit black skin, our tears will be coated in rage and exhaustion. They will be punctuated by the stark feeling that we are permanently displaced in the only place we have known as home. We know that we fighting for our lives and have no choice but to cry out to God.

For others, particularly white Christians, the choice may not be as clear. Lament for Charleston cannot be separated from a challenge to the system of white supremacy that serves to protect white people and white interests. Prophetic grief requires a confession that the system of white supremacy infiltrates and shapes our worship spaces, theologies, and ethics. I have no doubt that this process will be risky for my white colleagues. Rarely does transformation occur without birthing pains. The reality of power is that while my survival is at stake, my white Christian brothers and sisters have the option to opt-out, avoid the pain, and remain silent.

'We Are Brokenhearted'

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

Image via Jesus Cervantes/shutterstock.com

We are brokenhearted by the murders of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. We join our brothers and sisters in deep lament for the lives lost in this evil act, and our prayers go out to all of the victims, their families and their communities.

Atrocities like this wound the very soul of our nation. We must not merely attribute this horror to the depraved actions of one individual, mourn those we have lost, and move on as if there is nothing more to do. In his statement yesterday, President Obama quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words in the wake of the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little girls were killed:  

"...We must be concerned not merely with who murdered [these girls], but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream."

The deep wounds of racism, America's original sin, still linger in our society, our institutions, and in our minds and hearts — sometimes explicitly, but far more pervasively through unconscious bias. Wednesday's terrorist act is the latest manifestation of this lingering sin. Are there no safe places for black people in our country, even the places where they come together to worship?

We all have the responsibility to overcome both the attitudes and the structures of racism in America. Today we mourn, but tomorrow we must act. 

A Call for a National Lament

Mourners In Harlem Hold Prayer Service And Vigil For Victims Of Charleston Church Shooting, by Eric Thayer / Getty Images

Lament is not a passive act. Many Christians may hear the word lament and assume that feeling bad about suffering is the purpose of lament. How sad that people died. How sad that the shooter had a mental illness. But lament moves beyond bad feelings for the privileged. Lament is subversive and an act of protest. The powerful and the privileged have no problem being heard. It is the marginalized that need to be heard. The voiceless speak through lament. They cry out that things aren’t right. They are not the way things are supposed to be. Lament voices the prayers of the suffering and therefore serves as an act of protest against the powers.

We Are One Body: White Christians, Time to Get in the Game

Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

Anita Patterson Peppers / Shutterstock.com

I am grieving and lamenting and beyond angry over what feels like open season on the black community/church right now in the U.S. White Christians, this is the time to pay attention and be part of our nation’s struggle to understand and address the continual violence happening against our black sisters and brothers. When one part of the Body hurts we all hurt. When one part of the Body is repeatedly targeted, killed, not protected, pulled out of swimming pools, seen as threats when unarmed – and then misrepresented, silenced, or made small through ahistoric excuses, side-stepping through political mess, or any other form of evil – we need to stand up. We need to show up – loudly. We need to demand a different response – and start with our people in the church.

'The Violence Comes and Goes but ... the Victory Is Already Won'

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Photo by Henry de Saussere Copeland / Fli

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Photo by Henry de Saussere Copeland / Flickr.com

Last night nine Christians were massacred while at Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The dead include state Sen. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, senior pastor and state senator, and his sister.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, is 21 years old. He sat for an hour with the pastor and others gathered for Wednesday night Bible study, then open fired. Reportedly, he reloaded as many as five times while church members tried to talk him down. He said he "had to do it." This was a racialized hate crime.