On Wednesday night, a young white male walked into the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in time for the weekly bible study. He asked for the pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinkney, and sat next to the pastor as the study began. Witnesses report that after nearly an hour of the study, the young man spoke up. “”I have to do it,” he was quoted as saying. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” And then he opened fire, killing nine people, leaving just three survivors.
Dylann Roof, a 21 year old, was arrested Thursday for the attack. Facebook pictures show him in a jacket featuring the flags of two former white supremacist regimes, leading authorities to label this a possible hate crime. Those flags proclaim his attitude toward people of color – the same attitude shared by these racist regimes.
That picture raised a question in my mind. What patch might I wear on my jacket to proclaim my attitude? One look at Roof’s Facebook page would let anyone know what he believed with his face in a scowl and the two patches on his jacket. What, I wondered, would declare to the world what I believed? How could I proclaim love rather than hate as the dominant attitude in my life?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that our attitudes, our beliefs, are as important to God as our actions. The Old Testament commandment, ‘thou shalt not kill,’ is extended by Jesus to include our attitudes, not merely our actions towards others. On that basis, even before Roof pulled he trigger, his hatred of some people groups violated God’s law as Jesus described it.
We are all called by God to love one another and bear each other’s burdens. That means loving those who are like us as well as those who are different, those who think like us and those whose opinions are diametrically opposite to ours. We must stand for love, for equality and justice for all people. And to remember that when any one of God’s children is hurt, no matter their race or ethnicity, we are all hurt. Last night at the prayer vigil at Mother Bethel, the pastor said he knew that many present were not AME members, and someone in the congregation spoke up, “We are all AME!”
We are to care deeply about each other, about friends at Grove as well as the nine dead in Charleston. If we don’t, if we allow feelings to turn us against each other or groups of people, we will end up devouring one another. That leads down the path of destruction, destruction of our society and of persons.
So back to my initial question. As we pray for the victims’ families and for Roof himself, what symbol might we use to proclaim our love? Perhaps the symbol of the cross best expresses the love to which we are called – love that is self-giving, love that puts the welfare of others ahead of self, love that may be costly and self-sacrificung. Let us raise our prayers to the Lord for all of God’s beloved children, even those who have turned their back on God, and work toward that world where God’s will is done in all of life.
Prayer: God of love, in Jesus Christ you made an enormous sacrifice for a people who had turned their back on you. Teach me to love with that same love. When I am angry with a brother, show me how to forgive; when I hate a sister, show me how to love. Let me look always to Jesus for the model on which to build my life, and remember his love and sacrifice for me. Amen.