How do we pick up the pieces after a senseless tragedy? The racist hatred of one man — Dylann Roof — resulted in the shooting death of Pastor and State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight members of his church. Neither the historic Emanuel AME Church nor our national community will ever be the same again.
As lead pastor of a church with more than 60 nationalities represented, and as diversity consultant to the National Basketball Association, I cannot turn away from Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself. To do so would be contrary to the core message of the gospel. Plus, there’s too much at stake.
With that in mind, here are four things I try to keep in mind during times like this:
1. Justice is medicinal.
Thankfully, within 24 hours of the massacre the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, was caught. The justice system now stands front and center. The nation — and the African American community in particular — now holds its collective breath because healing springs when justice is meted out.
Justice is the working of God in our fallen society. That is why David sang in Psalm 103:6, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When society acts justly toward victims, particularly in the instance of “hate crimes,” it buoys their self-esteem and value. Justice injects medicine into the soul of the oppressed because it says, “You matter. You are valuable. You’re worth fighting for.”
Without justice the oppressed languish in pain and despair, which over time morphs into anger, hatred, and deep-seated prejudice.
2. Prejudice is a cancer.
In his book The Nature of Prejudice, renowned Harvard sociologist Gordon Allport defines prejudice as “prejudgment with emotions.” Someone who is prejudiced actually harbors deep-seated negative emotions that are inseparable from his prejudgment. If left untreated, like cancer it can spread to the point of violent rage — as was the case with Roof’s actions.
Allport identified the mushrooming effect of prejudice as moving like this: (1) talking about it with friends, (2) avoiding a certain group, (3) excluding all members of the group from social privileges, employment opportunity, residential housing, and so on, (4) physically attacking members of the group, and (5) exterminating the group (massacres, lynching, ethnic cleansings).
Imagine what our world would look like if we applied our faith to this biblical promise: “Where sin increased, grace [God’s empowering presence] increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). Our love toward members of other races would graduate like this: (1) from merely talking about making cross-race connections with our same-race friends; (2) to including all groups into our circle of friends; (3) to including all members of other groups in social privileges, employment opportunity, and residential housing; (4) to demonstrating tangible acts of love to members of other groups; and finally, (5) to practicing social justice, ensuring equity and equal rights, and protecting ethnic survivability in order to build up groups who’ve experienced large-scale ethnic abuses.
3. Forgiveness is non-negotiable.
Having myself been a victim of hate crime, I know firsthand the non-negotiable role of forgiveness. When I was 10 years old, my house was fire-bombed when five white teenage boys threw a Molotov of cocktail into the rear bedroom window of my home in Rosedale, Queens. By no means am I equating the crime against my family to what occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. No one in my family was hurt; just the house was damaged. But the boys were caught and released without any jail time or punishment. Healing had to come from a higher source — God.
At 20 years old — the age I became born again — I forgave the teenagers for their crime against me. Forgiveness was not for them. It was a gift I gave myself. At times, forgiveness occurs instantaneously. Other times, it is a process (or the result of a process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude toward the offender. Regardless of the time it takes you to unshackle yourself from your victimizer, forgiveness is non-negotiable if you want to experience freedom and healing.
4. Public compassion quiets public rage.
How do you quell the brewing rage and unrest of the African-American community in the aftermath of a barrage of deadly hate crimes? The answer is found in compassion. This word — compassion — is medicinal to even the pain caused by social trauma. Compassion means to suffer together with.
Regardless of the murderer’s mental state , which remains to be discovered, nine black people were killed while tending to the welfare of their souls. Roof’s alleged statement that he was there “to shoot black people” must awaken vocal statements of compassion by people of other races, especially whites, since Dylann is white.
If compassion is only heard from the voices of black leaders and social activists, anger from within the black community will reach a piercing cry. Thankfully this has not been the case. The white community has been quite vocal with its compassion.
As this action becomes more widespread we will see a reduction in hate crimes. We’ve learned that silent compassion from the white, Asian, and Latino communities only perpetuates the anger and feelings of injustice among African Americans. Shouts of compassion from all sides must be heard amidst the cry for justice if healing is to occur.
The redemptive power of public compassion is what caused Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to say, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” King wasn’t alone in this sentiment. Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, wrote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Public rage must be met head on by public compassion. According to Jesus, reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. That is another way of saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Image courtesy of John M. Cropper.