Tragedy and Hope in Charleston

Last week we witnessed yet another massacre in our beloved United States of America. A massacre is a hard issue for a pastor to discuss in any circumstance. But when one occurs inside a church, during a Bible study, it’s beyond words. Nevertheless, it’s an issue we must talk about. What happened in Charleston, South Carolina last week exposed two of the most sensitive and volatile issues in this country once again: race and guns. And for that reason, it should be a serious wake-up call for all of us.

First, we need to ask: how does a white man born in the 1990s in the United States of America develop this kind of racial hatred? Regardless of what we may discover about the alleged shooter’s mental health, we can’t let this discussion be primarily about him. We need to focus on the big picture.

Tragically, the kind of terrorism we witnessed last Wednesday at Emmanuel AME Church is not new in our country. Forty-one years ago this month, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother was gunned down inside Ebenezer Baptist Church while sitting at the organ playing the Lord’s Prayer. In 1963, white supremacist terrorists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four young girls. And as we’ve seen over the past year, we’re not living in a “colorblind” society. Continuing that mantra is only going to prolong the agony and denial. So let’s face it: we need to have a serious conversation about race in this country.

And despite the overwhelming power and shooting authority of the gun lobby in our government, we also need to have a serious and civil conversation about gun violence that is based on facts, not ideology.

The glimmer of hope amidst the tragedy of course, was the unshakeable Christian faith embodied by the victims’ family members when the alleged shooter appeared in court on Friday. That they could both weep in grief and forgive this young man at the same time embodies the radical, scandalous essence of Christian faith.

The scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ after all, is that the cross is the place where God becomes the victim of brutality and violence and hate. The place where God becomes the victim of the racism and church massacres. The place where God bears the wounds and the pain and the sin of the world within Godself – all for our salvation.

And because of that, as the people at Emmanuel AME know so well, the cross is also the place of God’s deepest love for us. It’s the place where God heals and comforts, loves and forgives. It’s the place where God meets the world’s suffering and pain and sin with nothing less than God’s own self. And for that reason, the cross is also the place of our deepest and most abiding hope — hope that calls us to confront head-on the difficult issues we need to talk about in order to heal the wounds in all of us.