On Thursday, June 18, I read with dismay the news of the shooting of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Church the previous day. Another apparent hate crime? Or the work of a mentally deranged individual? As the news unfolded, I moved quickly from anger and dismay to sadness for the families of those who died. I grieve for my country that, despite 150 years of emancipation, still contains people who hate others because of their race.
Six degrees of separation changed to just two degrees later that day, when a friend and colleague in United Methodist ministry, Nathan Howe, informed us at the East Ohio Annual Conference that he was in the same doctoral cohort as the pastor of Emanuel AME Church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Yes, we have much work to do to spread the love of God among people who would rather trade love for hate, plows for swords. The Rev. Pinckney and his church should be examples for all of us.
The Emanuel AME Church is the oldest of its denomination in the South. Founded out of discrimination against blacks, it has survived fire, earthquake and hurricane. The Church was banned, and its leaders unfairly jailed and executed because they were African-American. But the Church has survived all this, and still bears witness to the love of God for us in Jesus Christ.
The response of people who follow the Way of the Christ is to love those who hate. However, Jesus didn’t practice “doormat” theology, he taught and fought for the rights of the poor and those who are discriminated against: “doorway” theology. This is my response as well. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney would want us to keep our doors open, to invite even those who hate us, to join us in Bible study, as he welcomed and taught his killer for an hour before his life was taken. I have worked with churches to find the balance between safety and open ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is a challenge in society today, with the easy availability of weapons, to safely proclaim the good news of God’s love. As with all generations in the past, there are many who won’t hear it. There are many who won’t live it. But the Way of the Christ teaches us to proclaim the Gospel without fear, for God, who without fear, sent Jesus to die as an example of God’s love, and not for condemnation (John 3:16-17).
As a biracial person, I have experienced discrimination, and my reciprocal response was one of love. Most of the time, that response wasn’t anticipated, but brought understanding and repentance in the one who was hating me. My parents also encountered discrimination, but loved in return; their reward is a marriage that has lasted sixty years, and hundreds of people who lovingly and respectfully call them “Mama” and “Papa.” I am also aware of the history of racial discrimination in my own ancestors in the South, and instead of buying into it, I chose to spread God’s love in Jesus Christ instead.
The message of this most recent Church violence is this: we shall go on to share God’s command to love God and one another, despite the hate we encounter. We pray for our enemies, that they might come to know this message as well. And as with Pastor Pinckney and Emanuel AME Church, WE shall overcome!