Like many of you, the news from Charleston this week has turned my stomach. While every murder is a tragedy, this story is certainly sitting differently. The idea that an evil, racist man would sit through a prayer meeting and then callously gun down God’s saints because of their skin color enrages and breaks my heart on so many levels.
As I read and reread the profile of those that were killed, I was reminded, that these murders are not someone else’s problem. This tragedy didn’t simply happen many miles away to someone else’s family. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church is not just a group of people at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Charonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor are not just assorted individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus’ sacrifice means that His followers are no longer strangers with various skin tones, but citizens and members of God’s household. We are children of the same Father. Those men and women are OUR brothers and sisters.
So, how should we respond?
Honestly, I don’t know that there is a “right” way to respond to this, and certainly some are going to feel the pain of this more acutely than others. I have been trying to think and pray about this as a pastor grieving with a family here at GBC. First, I believe it is important to listen… and then listen some more. As people express anger and hurt and pain, I want to listen without jumping to conclusions or offering theories… just listen. Second, I want to agree with the family. This act was racist and evil, and I am heartbroken that it happened. I pray it never happens again, and that justice will come quickly and severely. Third, I want to honor the fallen saints. Frankly, I would be happy to never see a hollow eyed picture of the shooter again. I am far more interested in the pictures and profiles of the men and women that were killed. I want to celebrate them. I want to teach my sons about these men and women who faithfully prayed together, and who lost their lives but gained eternity. Fourth, I want to pray and pray some more. The immediate families are going through pain that I cannot imagine. Many of us may move on from the hurt of this event in the days to come, but the immediate families will likely never be able to forget what happened. They will not “get over it”. They will live with this, and I want to pray that God will comfort and draw them closer to Himself even in these dark hours. Finally, I want to examine my own heart. What nasty evil and racism lurks in my life? Have thoughts and sins and fears infiltrated my heart that I may not even recognize? Do I truly trust God to do what is right even when something so wrong happens?
Continue to pray that God gives a tremendous sense of His presence to those that are hurting the most. Honor the saints and pray for the families as we grieve with our family.