Dylann Roof did not start a race war as he had planned, but he did start a number of conversations that were long overdue. When he walked into the Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C. last Wednesday night with a heart filled with hate and a fanny-pack filled with ammunition, Roof had a plan and the sin-warped will to execute it. Tragically, he took the lives of nine precious people. The response of their families now has everyone talking.
The front page of the New York Times, above the fold, read:
The occasion was a bond hearing, the first court appearance of the suspect, Dylann Roof, for the murders, thought to be racially motivated, of nine black men and women during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.
It was as if the Bible study had never ended as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief. They urged him to repent, confess his sins and turn to God.
Did you catch that? The Bible study never ended. The victims’ families bore witness to the power of the Gospel. If you watch the video of the victims’ impact statements from the bond hearing you will hear them inviting Roof to “give your life to Jesus Christ so he can change you.”
From a worldly perspective, these were black families looking into the white face of their loved ones’ killer. The world wants justice for the racist. But from an eternal perspective, these were Christians – redeemed sinners – looking into the face of a lost man. They want redemption for the soul and they offered what they have received: forgiveness.
Christians of every race know the reality of a life marred by sin. They know that no one escapes the effects of depravity. Racism is a part of that. So is murderous hate. But there is hope. There is redemption. There is the reality of living as brothers and sisters in Christ – red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.
Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton, Clement Pinckney, Twanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Singleton and Myra Thompson were my sisters and brothers. We have the same Father, we share the same inheritance, and we will live together in a city not made by human hands, eternal in the heavens.
The challenge we face is how to live together in that unity of Spirit and bond of peace here on earth. Race, religion, forgiveness and justice are all conversations that we must have – now. The world needs the Church to lead the conversation and the blood of these martyrs provides the platform.
Take the opportunity to start a conversation with a person whose skin color is different than your own. Ask them what they think about that forgiveness extended by the families to the killer. See where the conversation goes. Share hope. Be prepared to hurt on your way to healing. Don’t be afraid of awkward silence or even disagreements. This is family…never forget that one over-arching reality. This is a brother or a sister for whom Christ died. Do they know that reality? The families of Roof’s victims have demonstrated how its done – overcoming evil with grace. You can do this and to this you were called as a minister of reconciliation.