“He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
This month’s newsletter article is not filled with pretty graphics, or some “stunt” to get you to read. This month’s newsletter article is not filled with gimmicks or coupons, is not filled with fluff. This month’s newsletter article is filled with truth, and the opportunity for prayer.
Thursday, June 18, I woke up like any regular day. This was the second day of Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska. The day before had been spent in clergy session voting for delegates to General Conference, confirming provisional members, local pastors, and full connection members. A lot of great work had been accomplished. Yet, on this morning, we all woke up to reality. Wednesday, June 17, a group of people gathered for a meeting followed by Bible study. Seems like any regular thing to do on a Wednesday, and something we do as well here in our charge: gathering for worship, meetings, UMW, UMM, etc… But on this night, in this place of safety, a sanctuary, nine people were shot and killed.
Thursday morning, the news was the first thing I read. Chill bumps ran across my arms, shock stunned my brain, I was frozen sitting on the edge of the bed trying to make sense of this, trying to make sense of what I needed to do and say. This is one of the first tragic events that had occurred since I became a pastor, a shepherd, a leader in the local church. I realized people and congregation members were going to be looking to me for guidance and leadership. Being miles away from my community, I did all that I could do in that moment: to write on my blog and to be in prayer. I wrote from my heart the following words:
“As I read the news encounter, it became clear to me that this was even more than a church shooting, it was outright racism. It was an act of hate on my brothers and sisters of African decent, as they had gathered together in a sister Methodist church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.”
Over the past few days, I have collected my thoughts and think about a few ways this has hit too close to home:
1- This is an act of hate. There is no way to rationalize this act of terror without stating it is a racist act. Yet some people in this nation defend Dylann Roof’s actions. To some people he is applauded as a hero. Others are defending him because they believe he is mentally unstable. Yet, upon reading Roof’s manifesto, I can honestly say and I can honestly know that my first understanding of this tragedy as a racist act is true. These words were written by Roof:
I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.
These, my friends, are words that bring tears to my eyes because of the blatant hate written in these words. This, my friends, is hitting to close at home for me to not talk or write about.
2- These actions happened in a church. This act of terror, of murder, of hate, happened in a place that is built for love, grace, and the sharing of God’s word. Nine people were killed while gathering in learning a deeper knowledge of God’s word. We hear on the news and read in the newspapers acts of churches and mosques being burned and bombed all around this world. But on this day, in a city that is less than five hours away, a congregation was rocked with horror, as a young man enters the doors of the church not to be in communion as brothers and sisters in Christ, but to open fire killing those that were gathered in the name of Christ. My brothers and sisters, we do this every Sunday morning – we gather every Sunday as a body to be in the presence of Christ, to hear the word proclaimed, to pray … and it never crosses our minds that some person would want to enter the doors to hurt us, to kill us. Even more, the thought never crosses our minds that some person is going to enter our church and kill us because of the color of our skin. As a pastor, this hurts, it makes me angry, I don’t understand, because every time I enter the pulpit, every time I deliver a word from God, I am preaching for all people, I am preaching love and grace, I am preaching reconciliation … and so, for me, this is an unfathomable act of hatred toward a brother and sister of mine – a member of the body of Christ!
3- This act of hate happened in an African Methodist Episcopal Church. There are many sects of Protestantism across the world. We are a people called Methodists. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was a preacher that went to the streets, the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized … Wesley went to the people that church would not let in. These people were on fire for God, on fire by the Holy Spirit. When Methodism sprung forth on American soil due to the hard work of Bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, people were gathering with people of all walks of life to worship and to be on fire from the Holy Spirit. Somewhere along the way, however, Methodist became pious people (and I don’t mean that as a compliment). Methodism lost its roots, its understanding of Wesley trying to reform the Church of England from its “high and mighty” status. And we as Methodist became “high and mighty.” The richer we became, the more we left those in the margins, the poor, and the disenfranchised … the more we left the streets. Acts of hatred and racism entered the Methodist Church, pushing our brothers and sisters of different color out of the doors of the church. This led to the formation of their own communities of faith with the African Methodist Episcopal Church and eventually the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and what was once the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (renamed today Christian MEC). Further breakage occurred during the Civil War, when the church split into the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The church split was over the Bishops’ disagreement over the ownership of slaves. This is a history that is important; this is a history of our church that cannot be erased. So, this act of hate of racism at Emanuel Church is too close to home, because it happened within a sect of our Methodist heritage, a sister church. These nine people that have gone on to glory, my friends, are our brothers and sisters in the faith … we have lost nine of God’s children that were active in the faith, growing their faith. This is too close to home.
4- Dylann Roof was caught in Shelby. About 20 minutes north of the place where Roof was arrested sits The Belwood Charge. An act of terror that occurred in Charleston, SC became very real when the terrorist is caught in your backyard. The event is real, it happened, people are dead, all because of their being a Child of God – made in the image of God.
As your pastor, I cannot make excuses for Dylann Roof’s actions. I cannot brush this off as a random act of violence. I cannot negate that racism still exist and is prevalent in our world today. As your pastor, what I can do is be in dialogue with you, be in dialogue with other pastors on how to facilitate conversations about racial reconciliation, be in prayer for those who actively hate another because of the color of their skin. As your pastor, I will never agree or accept any racist or prejudice talk or conversations. As your pastor, I have been called to do the following as we affirmed our faith at closing worship during Annual Conference:
I believe it is a matter of faith to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
I believe it is a matter of faith to recognize equally and love all members of God’s human family whatever their race, creed, color, gender, gender identity, marital status, physical or mental capacity.
I believe God’s creation is good, beautiful, sacred, and therefore to condemn any portion of God’s creation is to condemn a portion of God. This is sin.
I believe Jesus Christ came to us to free all people from sin and to make disciples – people willing to live Christ’s discipline of love and justice for all.
I believe the Holy Spirit is that power within us that gives us courage and stamina to face the truth and to live it, even to die for it, as Jesus died.
I believe in the resurrection, the victory over death, the truth that is life for all in Jesus’ name. Glory be to God, the One in Three: Creator, Savior, and Holy power of love. Amen.
As your pastor, it is important to also hear the voices of those that encountered Roof on that fateful night. We can learn from their actions as well when we read the encounters of family members offering forgiveness:
Roof lowered his head slightly when Nadine Collier, [Ethel] Lance’s daughter, tearfully offered her forgiveness. “You took something very precious away from me,” she said, choking back her tears. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.”
Anthony Thompson, Myra’s widower, pleaded with Roof to “take this opportunity to repent.” “Confess,” he said. “Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so that he … can change your ways, no matter what happened to you. And you’ll be OK.”
I invite you to pray for our brothers and sisters who lost their lives on June 18, 2015:
Cynthia Hurd, 54 … Susie Jackson, 87 … Ethel Lance, 70 …
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49 … Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41 … Tywanza Sanders, 26 …
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74 … Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45 … Myra Thompson, 59
“The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims: Make just and faithful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor;
don’t plan evil against each other!” (Zechariah 7:9-10)
I also invite you to take this time to pray for the family of Dylann Roof, as they come to grips with understanding the actions of their son, and the repercussions his actions will have on his entire family.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week … We have all been touched by the moving words from the victims’ families offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering.”
This is Too Close Too Home.
Blessed to be your pastor,
Grace & Peace,
 From Touch Holiness: Resources for Worship, Updated, page 233, Ruth C. Duck and Maren C. Tirabassi, eds.; Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 2012.