Written by Colleen Tolan, Summer Intern
Maybe you’ve watched the news this week and you’ve noticed a lot of talk about… flags. It seems that lately, every news outlet is talking about the confederate flag. And to be honest, I don’t really get it. I mean I understand the symbol of a flag and its authority. I understand the arguments both for and against it, but it is so striking to me how much we are talking about a flag and how little we are talking about those nine men and women who were murdered. I guess I don’t quite understand what is helpful about the way the media has chosen to talk about this tragedy. Because what happened in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17 2015, was not political at all and its reactions shouldn’t be either. What happened at Mother Emmanuel AME was an act of sheer terror, motivated by hate through human hands, and as I flipped through the news channels this week I couldn’t help but hear in my head over and over again, nine black bodies lay breathless underground and we’re still talking about flags.
So I tried with intent to understand why this was the pivot point of the Charleston conversation. I wanted to understand why it was that we are not collectively outraged with horror over a racially motivated hate crime on our black brothers and sisters. Why had this crime not stopped us all in our tracks, and taken the breath from our lungs with its horror? Why had we chosen to focus on flags?
I know that election season is upon us. I am aware that many voices of our nation are speaking from politically motivated places of action, including the removal of a flag. And perhaps they have to; perhaps there has to be people talking about flags. But the unique call of the Church is that we do not. We instead, have the privilege and command to operate as a body. A collection of parts that ache and suffer as one piece of us is violated in their home sanctuary.
Part of what is so difficult about talking plainly and truthfully about what happened in Charleston is that it makes us accountable. We are a majority white church and in this way are not the ones who were shot, we are the shooter. I have been with you all a little while now and I can tell you, you are not the shooter. But I can also tell you, if we are not careful, we can be like the family and friends of Dlyann Roof who witnessed Dlyann’s ignorance and hate and did nothing.
This is such a vital and humbling thing to recognize. We need to collectively recognize our brokenness, in the world at large but also within our own hearts. We can praise the families of the victims for their quick and merciful apologies but we cannot claim them as our own. We need to sit with the depth of these apologies. These words of Grace from the people of Mother Emmanuel come from deep down within the belly of a community that has known God through generations and generations of fighting hate. They have been through so much discrimination and persecution as a church body, that Emmanuel – God with us – is not just their church name but their crying hope. This is a fight I’m not sure the predominately white church has ever known.
I was apprehensive to write this post because I did not want to miss communicate my heart here, but as I have gotten to know you all it seems that our hearts beat together for this one. God is love and perfect love drives out hate. And in the words of Isaiah 1:17, it is the call of God’s people to “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression.”
Nine of our brothers and sisters were killed in an act of racial terrorism last week. As their families host their funerals this week let us be a body that seeks to weep with them, mourn with them and be moved by their pain. Let us look into the eyes of our friends and into the world amidst this tragedy and turn our disgust for the tragedy into everyday intolerance for racism and hate. Your tears matter and your desire to seek to understand is not lost. God hears the cry of His people and He is in the business of making all things new. I believe that. My deepest prayer this week is that we would continue to be a people so distraught by the hate that we would stand up to the biases of privileged circumstance and as a body, join together to say no more.