It’s the conversation we only have when tragedy happens and we really have no choice. Even then we aren’t always honest about the issue. That issue is race. This blog is simply to get us thinking about some things that occurred, or didn’t occur after the shootings.
I love the famous quote that I read when I was in Auschwitz, Poland at the concentration camp that said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I feel like that has been so true when it comes to race relations in this country. It doesn’t take anything more than one act of violence that crosses racial lines, particularly when it involves black and white folks, to send us right back to spewing both blatant and subtle hate-filled, or insensitive words at one another.
We keep repeating the cycle because too many of us are afraid to acknowledge and talk about it honestly. Well I want to share some honest thoughts about some things that were said, done or not said at all following the horrific murders of nine African-American worshipers in my home state of South Carolina.
Here are 3 things that left me SMH and why they even matter.
1) Fox news initially referring to the shooting [only] as an attack on Christianity.
Now as a Christian and pastor in the faith, I can make that argument with them. I actually agree with them. The problem I have is this, you can’t skip over the fact that it was racially motivated and only say the young man was targeting Christians. Even if all the information hadn’t gotten out, to ignore the fact that racism was likely at the core of this horrific act (when a white kid goes into a church and kills nine African-Americans) is a slap in the face to black people. They spoke with such certainty that the motivation was an attack on faith. Why not wait until the facts come out before even declaring that. It is as if there’s a reluctance to acknowledge that there is still a problem of racism in this country. It just so happens that it gets exposed a few times a year on the national level. We can’t keep sticking out heads in the sand and hoping when we look up it will be a thing of the past. It will take work, a lot of soul-searching and dealing with a difficult part of our history for real. Don’t we know that healing won’t begin until acknowledging there is a sickness/disease?
Why does it matter? Because the issue of racism is very real to a portion of our country and to continue to dismiss it or find a way around it is to allow this evil to fester and continue to further infect our society. SMH
The next two points I really treat as one.
2a) Wal-Mart, Ebay and other companies taking Confederate products and paraphernalia out of their stores. I listened to the CEO of Wal-Mart share that all Confederate flags and products will be taken out of the stores. I was initially pleased to hear it. Then I thought about it and one question came to mind, “Why did it take the murders of nine African-Americans in a church getting national attention for them to take the products out of their stores?” He said he was not aware that they had such products available online. When asked why did it take so long to make this decision considering this has been a long-standing debate he said, “It hadn’t been tee’d up in while.” In other words, it hadn’t garnered national attention and was really an issue contained within the South. If it weren’t for this incident they would still be in the stores in spite of the outcries of inherent offense from the perspective of African-Americans. I understand for white people in the South it is about their heritage. For African-Americans, however, it is associated with and has long been a symbol of racism.
Why does it matter? Because look at what it cost to remove the products from the store? Nine more black lives. SMH
2b) The Governor and other politicians calling for the removal of the flag from state Capitol grounds. Governor Nikki Haley seemed very sincere when she spoke publicly about the murders. Her tears seemed real to me. She showed vulnerability and leadership at the same time. Regardless of your political position, her response was a breath of fresh air when it comes to leadership in a time of crisis.
This tension has existed as long as I can remember. I reflect on being a kid growing up and seeing that flag in the back of trucks as they passed by and feeling a sense of frustration and anger because of what it stood for from my perspective. Similar to my thoughts about the products being removed from Wal-Mart, why did it take this to address the issue of the flag waving on the state grounds? Why not consider a third of the population of your state and how they felt about it for decades?
Personally, I do not give the flag itself that much power, but it’s position on the state Capitol grounds is more than inappropriate because of its offense to a many of the state’s residents. Again, I understand what it means to the white people of the South. But to African-Americans the flag represents those who fought to keep slavery intact.
I am willing to bet many people in the South, especially in my home state of South Carolina, are Christians. For them I have a verse that they may want to consider. Philippians 2:3,4 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others.” Why not keep it in your personal space (home, cars, clothes, private businesses, etc.) rather than have it on the state Capitol grounds where is does not represent, and in fact offends, a portion of your community? I commend them for the decision to finally vote to take it down, but at this cost?
Why does it matter? See answer above under previous point. SMH
3) The silence from the pulpit. I asked quite a few people I know who do not go to “black churches” if they have heard a message addressing the Charleston murders and they each paused for a second, then like me were shaking their heads indicating they had not. I am certain in black churches around America many of them took the opportunity to find a way to bring healing to people affected by it directly or indirectly. But in other churches, namely predominately white churches, there seemed to be a mentioning of praying for them (that’s a good thing), a post or tweet about it on social media, but from the pulpit not much else.
I am not saying that preachers are obligated to preach on this or any particular tragedy, but with something that garnered so much attention nationally and with the issues centered on race relations why squander the opportunity? Across this country there is much talk about diversity or the multi-ethnic movement. In those churches are black people who sit in anticipation of a word from the pastor that shows he cares, he is concerned, and he is hurting with them. They wait for a word of healing. There are undoubtedly non-black congregants that may be uncomfortable with or indifferent to the discussion of race. This is a perfect time to bring clarity, history, and understanding to their hearts and minds as well. To not discuss it can potentially be misconstrued as indifference. Indifference hurts as much as the act of racism itself.
I had lunch with a friend I have the privilege of mentoring named Brian. He shared this thought, “With Charleston there is so much praying and not much talking. But with the same-sex marriage decision there is so much talking and it seems not much praying.” I hope he blogs and expounds on that thought. Being a preacher, and I understand not ever feeling obligated to preach what others think you should preach. But to my fellow laborers of the Gospel, at times we must be sensitive to the cries of the culture and lay our sermon series aside for a week and speak to the pain or confusion that may linger. This is one of those times. A part of the body is aching from what seems like a series of racist acts breathing more life into this despicable evil that has long plagued our country. We (the church) can’t afford to continue to be reactive in the church, we have to be courageous enough to be proactive…we have the Gospel!
Why does it matter? Because, as Dr. John Perkins would say, “You can’t separate reconciliation from the Gospel.” Races, communities, the church and people’s broken hearts need reconciliation. Please preach preacher! SMH
Now black churches are burning down in the South. Hmmmm.
We’ve come full circle in this blog, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”