Response to the Shootings at the AME Church in Charleston: A CHRISTIAN WITNESS OF FORGIVENESS AND LOVE

Centuries of discrimination and inequity have led to pain reverberating in the souls of our people.  The hurt runs so deep that it has etched itself into the ways in which we identify ourselves, interact with others, and view the world.  In one sense, this is the experience of all of humanity, while – in quite a unique manner – this is the seemingly painful experience that the Egyptian Christian community shares with our African brethren living in America. Although systemic discrimination bonds our peoples together, the recent response from our respective communities serves as a witness to a hurting world.

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, a new chapter was written in the history of a storied Church. One of the oldest African American churches in the Southern United States, having to meet “in secret in the years when black churches were outlawed here before the Civil War…it contains a shrine to one of its founders, who helped organize a slave revolt in 1822,”[1] the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church mourn the brutal murder of 9 members of its parish, which included Rev. Clementa Pinckney. They were killed simply because of the color of their skin. At times when we see such growth in the global human village, it is moments like these that give cause to pause and realize there is much room for growth and healing. This incident was not simply an accident or a saddening event, as some have described it. I have embraced that there are certain moments in which words do not suffice in communicating the anguish, frustration and disappointment that is filling the hearts of countless people throughout the world. Although there is a general sentiment that humanity has indeed advanced beyond this type of hatred, the truth of the matter is there are many people who share similar sentiments as the Charleston shooter. Perhaps their manner of expression may vary, with some going so far as to hiding their feelings due to fear of being isolated from the broader community, the reality is the wounds of hatred are in need of healing.

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE

One would not blame those who survive the victims if they responded with anger or hatred. Although some have attempted to politicize the killings, the families have however maintained a singular focus on God as a result of their deep-rooted Christian faith. A daughter of one of the nine victims, Ethel Lance, said “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”[2] Chris Singleton, the son of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton who was another victim, said, “we are mourning right now, but I know we’ll get through it…we forgive; that’s one thing we are going to do.”[3] At a time that the world community should be comforting the bereaved family members, it is those same persons who offer comfort to a broken world. It is true that “in the midst of [the] darkest tragedy, the decency and goodness of the American people shines through in these families.”[4] However we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the family response is unquestionably motivated as a result of their unrelenting commitment to their Christian faith.

To the members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I offer my condolences to you and assure you that I stand in solidarity with you. Earlier this year, we too suffered a brutal attack motivated by hatred and ignorance. Likewise the response of love and forgiveness from the families of the 21 Coptic Orthodox Christian martyrs in Libya towards the members of ISIS – who killed their husbands, sons, and fathers – left the world in wonder. While I am left wondering about the state of humanity, I am at the same time overwhelmed with awe because of the profoundly loving, Christ-like witness of a hurting community that continues to forgive. Forgiveness is at the core of the gospel and at the heart of the message of the cross. It is from the cross that Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[5] Our solidarity is in the cross of Jesus Christ and forgiveness, which we receive and likewise offer. My prayers are with you, that God may grant healing and comfort for all those who have been wounded by this tragedy. While wounded people wound other people, healed people – have the profound ability – to also be a source of healing for others.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-killings-evoke-history-of-violence-against-black-churches.html?_r=0

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting-main/

[3] http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2015/06/charles_singleton_son_of_charleston_church_victim_sharonda_coleman_singleton.html

[4] https://twitter.com/POTUS/status/611993830980747265

[5] Luke 23:34

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.