“We are becoming numb to such things.” Those were the words of one man interviewed, standing outside Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, where, during a bible study, a circle of prayer and study, open to all people which lived up to its faith and standard in that regard on that night, welcomed in one that would become their killer. Deadly gun violence once again stunned us. Once again we thought, it should not happen in this place, to these people. In the midst of a House of Prayer open to all, evil found its way.
We pay attention to this, as well we should, especially when it gets closer to home, both by country, and by faith. But the truth is this is going on all over the world. Christians are being massacred on a daily basis simply for holding this faith. And the same continues for our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers. In a time when we believe the war between race and faith should be coming to an end, both seem to be on the rise.
With only a few hours separating these events, the Church of the Multiplication, the Loaves and Fishes, along the Sea of Galilee in Israel was vandalized in “price tag” vandalism, most often perpetrated by West Bank settlers. Hebrew graffiti was left behind in this attack as in most. The church was burned leaving serious damage to a beautiful place which I have visited each time I have been to that area, the most recent being in January. In fact, we stay a short walk from this church.
In the article about this event it was stated: Since 2011, 17 Muslim and Christian places of worship have been torched in Israel with nobody indicted in any of the cases.
In this country, in a short period of years, mass shootings have occurred in nearly 180 Houses of Worship. There are so many stories from Iraq and Syria and Africa, which we will not hear about. To feel this most recent incident will be the last one is to continue to live in denial.
The Bishop of South Carolina, Charlie von Rosenberg wrote this in his most recent statement:
As paths of response, may we seek and develop avenues of racial conversation and reconciliation; may we refuse to accept things as they are in our world; and may we strive for the vision of peace offered by Jesus himself.
In terms of self examination, may we not neglect our own complicity in an environment of polarization and suspicion, and may we respond with sincere and profound confession to God, who loves us all.
He further asks for our prayers, and that bells will toll this day at noon wherever they can in solidarity and in memory of those who lost their lives in Charleston, but his plea, above all, asks for the most important thing, that we use this to deepen our resolve to stem the tide of racial discord and discrimination because of faith.
After Ferguson, I stated in every venue I could that we would not let this go away, when the cameras were gone, and the push to “get back to normal” overwhelmed us. I did that to be held accountable for continuing this conversation. Sadly, we have not had to fight the issue “going underground” because it has remained before our eyes nearly every day.
In the past few months our staff has devoted an hour or more to this conversation, discussion, confession, sharing of our struggle and feelings around the issue of race. That discussion continues. Our Anti-Racism Team is very soon rolling out our plans for deepening this conversation across our diocese, and even more, making it part of our ongoing formational life throughout the diocese.
I hope you will answer the call of Bishop von Rosenberg and pray today, and every day that this violence and strife would end. Where it is possible let the bells toll and the praise be sung. But more than that, beyond today, when the bells stop ringing, and the funerals have been concluded, the best gift we will give to those that died and those who mourn for them, in Charleston, and across this globe, is to reform ourselves, to challenge ourselves, to give of ourselves working and striving for the vision of peace offered by Jesus himself.
For the Love of Christ,