A week ago, on the evening of June 17, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — one of the oldest AME churches in the nation — with the alleged intention of starting a race war. Hiding a gun in his backpack, he sat and talked with parishioners during their mid-week Bible study. Approximately an hour into the study, Roof pulled out his gun, and began firing. When he left the building, 8 people were dead, with one critically injured who later died at the hospital.
Within hours of the shooting, reports began to fill the airways and internet of the tragic events at “Mother Emanuel“. With 9 people dead and the subject at large, tensions were high as people already began to assume that the shooting was racially motivated. The next day, Dylann Roof was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina — some 245 miles away. He was returned to Charleston where he was promptly charged with the murders. As news crews and TV personalities descended upon Charleston, and images of Ferguson and Baltimore still vivid in the minds of people across the nation, many on the outside of the situation wondered if this tragedy would spark yet more civil and racial unrest.
The answer came on June 19 when, in his bond hearing, Roof was addressed by the people he had deeply wounded — the people of Emanuel AME and the families of the victims. They spoke of the hurt and pain he had caused in their lives — of the wounds born of his act of hatred. Yet, in spite of the pain in their hearts and voices, they had an overwhelming message for Dylann Roof…
“We forgive you.”
In the following days, as reporters broadcast from outside of the church, what they experienced was a wounded community coming together to worship and heal.
As the “usual suspects” of racial division and disunity began to sing their familiar song of prejudice and fear, citizens of the Charleston area joined hands and hearts across racial divides and came together over the next few days in churches throughout Charleston, including the following Sunday at Emanuel AME, where Reverend Norvel Goff had a message for the world…
“A lot of folk expected us to do something strange, and break out in a riot.
Well, they just don’t know us.
They just don’t know us because we are a people of faith. And we believe that when we put our voices and heads together, working for a common good, there is NOTHING we can not accomplish together in the name of Jesus!”
As politicians and activists began attempting to re-invigorate the “anti-gun” message, the message coming from inside the walls of Emanuel AME Church was one of love, forgiveness, and faith. It was also a message of warfare against the REAL enemy…
“… For those of us that are here this morning, I want you to know that because the doors of ‘Mother Emanuel’ are open on THIS Sunday, it sends a message to every demon in hell and on earth that no weapon formed against us shall prosper… Some wanted to divide the race — black and white and brown — but no weapon formed against us shall prosper!” ~ Rev. Norvel Goff
There will always be people of every color in America. Because of our differences, and because we live in a fallen world, there will always be INDIVIDUALS — like Dylann Roof — who have a heart filled with racial hatred. However, I do not believe that America is a racist country. In a country with a population of over 300 million, you cannot ascribe to an entire population or people-group the actions or attitudes of an individual or minority. This is not the America of the 1960’s. It is time that all of us — red, yellow, black, and white — take a stand against the voices of fear and division that would try to use these types of tragic events for nefarious and self-serving purposes. It is time for we, as a united people, to stand up and say with one voice…
It is time that we, the church, follow the example of Jesus in heated and uncomfortable deed, and not just in air-conditioned and comfortable word. For the people of Emanuel AME to stand there, two days after such a tragic event, look into the face of the twisted, hate-filled heart that took away the lives of their beloved family members and friends, and say, “We forgive you” — It put the love of Jesus in full color, front-row view for the entire world to see. While those with no understanding of such love asked the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?”, Alana Simmons, the granddaughter of slain Pastor Daniel Simmons, summed it up in an incredible way on Fox New’s Hannity program…
“God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
What we have witnessed in the people of Emanuel AME is the example of Jesus…
- In the shadow of His inevitable death, He shared a message that said…
“… Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and PERSECUTE you.” ~ Matthew 5:44
- In the agony of His own undeserved death, He reached out to a thief dying next to Him and assured him…
“… Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” ~ Luke 23:43
- As He hung between Heaven and Earth, Jesus pleaded for forgiveness for the very people who had put Him on the cross…
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” ~Luke 23:34
It is an example that the worldly mind will never understand.
Forgiveness silences the critics.
Forgiveness takes the ammunition away from the agitator.
Forgiveness leaves the voices of hatred and assumed offense in stunned silence.
In the aftermath of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore, protesters and politicians were front and center in the media for weeks. In the case of the acquitted officer in Ferguson, although he was proven to be innocent, the false narrative of the tragic event was still being advanced by people with no regard for the truth.
But in Charleston, forgiveness took the teeth out of the story.
Anger never got the front page.
The root of bitterness never found fertile soil to grow.
The forces of hatred and racism never got enough traction to have to be reckoned with.
At the end of the day, Jesus showed up in the hearts, faces, voices, and actions of a group of hurting people who understood love and forgiveness are stronger than hate.
And to those who are trying to keep the story alive by focusing on some of the fringe issues like the Confederate flag or more gun control — please — let’s keep the story where it belongs, for now…
On the lives of the “Emanuel 9”.
If we do that, we might find the message of healing and forgiveness so absent in our culture today.
The message of what it means — REALLY means — to love like Jesus.
For THAT is the message a hurting world needs to hear.