On Emanuel

Emanuel AME was a church that nurtured Black leaders and resisters, that protested segregation and racist policing, whose denominational family was born out of the rejection of the racism of others (including my own) and which never forgot that spiritual nourishment and community are the foundation for these world changing acts. They have never forgotten that Jesus called us to enter a new kind of Kingdom, and not just to save ourselves.

In the wake of this horrific crime every American, every Christian, and every white person owes the nine who were killed a searching of their hearts for how we are or are not combatting the wicked forces of racism that caused their deaths. Have you heard the kinds of jokes Dylann Roof regularly made before he turned to murder, and ignored them? Have you watched as politicians made the same false generalizations about supposed Black criminality as he did, and let them keep their offices? I’m ashamed to say I have, and in those moments failed the God that Emanuel served.

This tragedy is a profound failure of society as well as this man – otherwise, the flag of pro-slavery rebellion would not still fly next to South Carolina’s state house even as we speak the names of that state’s dead citizens. Otherwise, it would not have taken hours for media outlets to report the race and racist statements of the shooter. Otherwise we would universally see this for what it is, an act of terror.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the five year old girl who survived the shooting by playing dead. How did she know to do that? Was it because she had heard stories of four little Black girls murdered in church fifty years before? What stories had they heard of their uncles or cousins or friends lynched for resistance twenty years prior? What stories had those men carried of their ancestors who fought for freedom in the Civil War only to never receive the pay and protection they were promised? And those before them who were forcibly enslaved?

Enough is enough, but enough has also been enough, for too long, for half a millennium now, and we have continued to fail God, one another, and especially Black people in our country’s continued complacency. Racism is evil. Black lives matter. And it’s past time for every single one of us, especially those of us who are white and most able to pretend it’s not real, to be doing something about it.

Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer for the lives lost, and that our lives still here may be transformed to honor them.