by the Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., CSM Chairman
I headed to South Bend, Indiana, early on the morning of the first Sunday after a white assailant shot to death nine blacks at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I was to preach at Saints Memorial Church of God in Christ, where I would be the only Caucasian in the overwhelmingly African-American church’s service.
On the face, one might say the timing appeared inopportune.
I walked into Saints Memorial’s education wing and was immediately taken by a friendly guide to see Pastor Carl Steen. He warmly welcomed me into his office. Our talk brought up I had with me copies of my book of newspaper columns on religion. Steen then said on behalf of the church he’d purchase every one I had brought.
I preached and had a very positive response, with a third or more of the 50 or so attending coming up to the altar for prayer. Pastor Steen told me following the service I had an open in-vitation to contact him about bringing a message at his church anytime I was coming to the area. I was overwhelmed with the day of blessings.
In actuality, the timing of my Saints Memorial engagement was perfect, because it showed the heart of love, acceptance and unity of the congregation’s believers specifically and, I believe, the vast majority of African-American Christians generally.
The Charleston shootings came at a Bible study after a youthful white man, identified by law enforcement as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, came in for the first time and sat next to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. At first, all seemed fine, recounted witnesses, but as the group of 12 and Roof began to discuss Scripture, the young fellow became argumentative.
An hour into the meeting, the shooter pulled out a .45-caliber hand-gun and aimed it at an elderly church member. Roof allegedly said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Accounts say he then started firing, yelling racist epithets throughout, and fled the church when done with his mayhem.
As reporters surveyed Roof’s social-media pages following his arrest on murder and gun charges, they found him shown in pictures with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa, white-rule Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the U.S. Confederacy. Those who knew him said he’d made racist statements that frightened them.
“There is a subculture that sees whites as victims and minorities as predators,” said the Rev. David Daniels III, a professor at Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary and a leader in African-American Christian thought. “I am hoping that now that subculture will be denounced and even challenged.” Daniels also expressed concern that retail outlets and other readily recognizable institutions in American life quietly feed this subculture through selling racially tinged products.
His is a difficult point; for example, while some people would consider the South’s Civil War banner to be a racist symbol, others might say they see it as a remembrance of independence and achievement. I think the heinous crime at Emanuel AME as well as the racially tense era we live in demand we be willing to forgo our personal preferences in favor of the common good, which is best served by avoiding offense to historically marginalized groups.
Racism is one of the devil’s main devices, as it draws narcissists who think everyone must be like they are to be right. Satan is the greatest in such conceit, believing he’s best qualified to run the universe when he had nothing to do with it coming into being. However, if we say someone else’s culture can inform ours, then we’re realizing we don’t have all the answers but together we can do better than separately.
Those most directly affected by the Charleston killings are continuing to reach out to bless, not curse. “We pray and ask for the God of love, mercy and grace to comfort, restore and give peace,” said the AME Church Council of Bishops in a statement on the shootings. Legal hearings for Roof saw survivors and victims’ family members forgiving the accused killer.
Will there be more horrors like the Emanuel murders? “I don’t know,” Daniels told me. “One time is enough.”
Let’s pray this dark episode convicts us to appreciate diversity and integrate purposefully in the church, classroom and our world at large.
The Rev. Huckins now has out a second edition of his nationally award-winning columns, “Race, Faith and Politics Today,” which also has college journalism and theology curriculum available. For details, see his site, http://www.racefaithandpoliticstoday.com.