I have an invitation for you…for something a bit different…but first…
On the evening of June 17, 2015, a young man named Dylan Roof walked off the street and joined a Bible study and prayer group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the oldest Black churches in the country. He spent time with them discussing and studying scripture, and, by all accounts, was received and accepted by the group.
Toward the end of their time together, the group began to pray. In the midst of the prayer time, Roof stood up, revealed a handgun, and began to shoot. As he shot, he shouted racial epithets, and reportedly said, “Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.”
Nine people lost their lives. All of them African-Americans.
Dylan Roof is white. He espouses (with a fair amount of pride) white supremacy. And Dylan Roof was confirmed in an ELCA congregation.
Received and welcomed, he turned on his hosts and ended their lives. In a church, studying scripture, in a time of prayer.
Roof is currently incarcerated, with a death sentence (federal) and life imprisonment (state). Yes, some would say, justice has been served. But the nine lives are still gone.
Now, jump with me to another place and time. London, England. June 13, 2020. Just a few days ago. The protests over racism have moved far beyond our shores, to England, France, and other places around the world.
In England they too have embraced “Black Lives Matter.” (Just a side comment – if that phrase bothers you, perhaps it helps to think of it as “Black Lives Matter TOO,” because that’s really the point!)
Last Saturday a protest around “Black Lives Matter” was held. A number of right-wing counter protesters also showed up. In the midst of the protest a black man named Patrick Hutchinson saw a white man, injured and lying on some stairs.
Was he a right-wing protester? Innocent bystander? To Hutchinson it didn’t matter. He gathered some of his friends, formed a protective cordon around him, and then carried him to safety. As he carried him some continued to try to hit the white man.
Why did he do it? Hutchinson said he helped the white man because he didn’t want the main reason for the protests to be lost in one moment of violence. Moreover, he added that he would like to break down the race barriers and for people to realize, “we are all one race.”
By the way…you can check out the story at https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/14/uk/london-blm-protester-injured-man-photo-trnd/index.html.
White and Black. Some praying, some protesting, some seeking to create a better world. Others, well, not so much. One for sure, determined to continue the violence and destruction, built on a notion of superiority and supremacy. And while we don’t know the reasons for other white man’s presence (protester, or counter-protester, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time), we do know there were right-wing counter-protesters present. One way or another, an ugly scene.
The Emanuel 9…George Floyd…now this past weekend Rayshard Brooks…will it ever end? Some important steps are being taken to reform law enforcement procedures. That will help. Not just for the police, but the whole system which, for African Americans, seems to be stacked against them.
But the Emanuel 9 remind us that this is not at its heart about police brutality, or the failure of the legal system, or something fixed by passing a law or two. It’s about both racism in the heart, and a society that too often ignores those of color.
Think I’m wrong about that? Think again! This past week Johnson and Johnson announced that Band-Aids will be made in various shades rather than just…light, like me. A small example of the privilege white Americans have had – even our band-aids are “our” color.
A change in the color of band-aids won’t solve all our problems, and reforms of the legal system will help, but there’s a lot more to be done.
So, what do we do about it? Some ideas:
We start by lamenting and confessing our failure to honor all of God’s children as precious and literally made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26).
We celebrate that all people, of all colors, languages, cultures, and beliefs are the object of God’s love and care. We rejoice in the diversity of creation that God has brought into being and for which Jesus Christ came to save (see John 12:32 – ALL are to be drawn to Jesus!)
We seek reform for systems including legal, education, employment, and housing which have failed to serve those of color, and we act to renew them that they may serve all of God’s children – white, black, and everything in between.
We support those, especially in law enforcement, who have worked to faithfully serve all citizens, and yet get tainted by the actions of those who fail to carry out their duties appropriately.
We look inside ourselves and ask how Jesus calls us to a new way of life. We repent, not merely with words, but with real change, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to live that new life.
That’s a big list! Lots to do – lots of hard work. But it needs to happen. And it needs to happen now.
But immediately, what can we do? Two things…
First, give thanks for Patrick Hutchinson, and ponder what his example shares. There is hope. There are people who care, both white and black. If he can do it, so can I! I too can keep my eyes open, and embrace others, even those who are different from me, and even those who might be very bitterly against me.
Second, I can refuse to forget what has happened. Again and again we have seen racial unrest, with calls for reform and a change in attitude…and nothing has happened. Time to stop that cycle!
So, I invite you to join with Pastor Jean and myself in a “Zoom” worship on Wednesday, June 17, at 7 PM. We will take about 20-30 minutes to remember the Emanuel 9. To lift up their names in prayer, just as in prayer, their lives were cut down by white supremacy. We will ask God’s forgiveness for our failures, and we will also ask for a renewal of the Holy Spirit that we (those of us in prayer and the larger “we” of our society) will make this a time of real change.
To join us, go to https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81898395497?pwd=S0JNM1BzbTE2UWNZM0kyNHRyNUFldz09.
Yeah, I know it’s heavy, and it’s a lot, especially in a time of anxiety and uncertainty. Bad enough to have a pandemic, but do we need this as well?
No, but we have it. Tough luck.
But as I’ve shared with you before (check out my previous reflections for May 5 at www.oursaviorswestsalem.org/category/pastors-blog), maybe it is just for a time like this that God has placed us here.
After all, God’s work happens through the hands of people. Why not our hands?