The nation was shocked by the mass murder of 9 people in a historic church in Charleston, S.C. This hate crime was racist and evil. While I am encouraged by the response in Charleston, I am dismayed by other responses. From political comments to strong calls for white churches to repent of our privilege that contributes to ongoing racism, I’m tired of the rhetoric. Our rhetoric has become so negative, I think we’ve forgotten how to look at the positive, how to communicate hope. I think there is much cause for hope, even as we have continuing work to do.
As President Obama indicated in his comments, 52 years ago a church was blown up in Birmingham, Alabama. But what a sharp contrast with this church tragedy in Charleston. In 1963 local residents gave tacit approval to the action. Today there is universal outrage over this action. In 1963 no local white residents joined with black residents in grieving the loss of the four girls killed. Today churches immediately came together. Churches filled with both black and white, holding hands, singing, praying and refusing to allow this to divide the community.
“We cannot make sense of what happened, but we can come together,” declared the Rev. George Felder Jr, Pastor of New Hope AME Church.
In 1963 the police shot two innocent black boys in the aftermath of the church bombing. Authorities knew four Ku Klux Klan members did the church bombing and refused to take action. No charges were filed until 14 years later and then only a minor charge as to one of the perpetrators. Today police worked quickly with residents who helped bring Dylann Roof to justice within hours.
In 1963 the governor of Alabama called out the National Guard against black residents. Today South Carolina’s first woman governor born of Indian immigrants fought back tears as she announced, “We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.”
In 1963 blacks were being denied the right to vote. Today, one of the victims was a prominent state senator.
In 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King challenged a nation to come together around love, not hate. Today a young 15-year-old boy who only knows of Dr. King from books, held a sign outside the courthouse telling Dyllan Roof, “Your evil doing will not break our community! You made us stronger!”
In 1963 the girls killed were in Sunday School studying a lesson from Matthew – “Love your enemies”. The actions surrounding the bombing demonstrated how deep the divide was between white and black. They were enemies. Today the outpouring of love and support for the community demonstrates the fight of Dr. King and Civil Rights was not in vain. Today whites and blacks were together in church. Today authorities responded quickly. Today a white motorist took great risk to call in and follow Dyllan Roof to bring him to justice. Today an Asian female governor is grieving the loss of a black senator and eight other pillars of the community.
I applaud the residents of South Carolina. I believe their actions demonstrate the hope that is America. We can change. We can overcome. No we are not perfect and never will be, but the heart of the nation has made significant progress and we should celebrate that. We should celebrate the significant sacrifices of Dr. King and other Civil Rights activist that made this possible.
I am grateful for their sacrifice, I am hopeful by the response of Charleston, and I hope we follow their example and
Go and Do Likewise!