In the words of a Washington Post article:
"The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, and then forgiven by the people he deeply harmed."
I ran to my bedroom, lay down on my bed, and wept some more.
I wept because I believe that the Church of Jesus has often not been the one to lead the charge to justice and reconciliation across racial and ethnic lines; we have not embodied the truth that each person of every color imaginable is made in the image of God. We have not done our job well. I have not done everything I could.
Lord, have mercy on me! Lord, have mercy on us!
And who will lead us into the reconciliation Jesus ushers in?
It will be the very ones who have lost their family members to a premeditated, hateful act of terrorism when those family members welcomed him into their Bible study.
This is the gospel, the good news, that defeats death, and says that contrary to what we see death does not win. Our brothers and sisters in Charleston's Mother Emanuel Church declare that Christ is reconciling all things to himself. It is those hurting the most who will most embody the gospel for us to see on national television. This morning a CBS reporter quoted a Scripture verse read at one of their funerals, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes.
Yesterday, my good friend Natasha Sistrunk Robinson posted this article on the Missio Alliance blog. As a black woman of deep faith, she is mourning and she is calling her white sisters and brothers in Jesus to say something and do something:
"I need there not to be silence from my white sisters and brothers."
When I called Natasha yesterday, I told her how proud I am of her. Though I had texted her, I told her I was afraid to call for fear I would cry on the phone. South Carolina is her home state; you see, this tragedy could have involved one of my dearest friends.
I remembered all the regular Skype calls we've shared for several years now. We have talked about Jesus, and seminary, and my childlessness, and our call, and reconciliation across gender and racial lines, and we have cried through searing life changes and laughed and rejoiced in times of victory.
I am bound to Natasha not by blood, but by a deep sisterhood in Christ and a desire for his love to transform our relationships, for the good news of Jesus to evidence itself in our relationships, service, and daily living.
She said something to me on the phone that reminded me of how our posture should be on this crucial issue. She said she is not judging, but is open to meeting her brothers and sisters in Christ where they are at, to being an ambassador that brings both forgiveness and reconciliation to the great, big, beautiful body of Christ.
And this is so true. She has dealt with my ignorance with grace; she has educated me with conviction and love; she has answered my questions on race honestly and patiently.
A month or two ago, I was at the Missio Alliance conference, a diverse gathering of folks who are interested in embodying the gospel and exploring what reconciliation means. My husband and I had experienced a searing adoption loss literally days before, and in a period of several hours, three women had crossed my path who had spoken words of such conviction, understanding and comfort in my suffering that I was blown away by their ability to empathize and enter into my pain.
As we entered our hotel room that night, I told Natasha about these women I had shared lunch and dinner with and she said, smiling: "They were black women, weren't they?" And I laughed, and said, "Yes, they were, and how did you know?" She said that those who have suffered often have a unique ability to enter into the suffering of others. What's more: each of these women held an openness that made me comfortable approaching them—with them, I felt safe.
So, yes, I am a whole lot undone over Charleston. Because Jesus has been teaching and loving and instructing me through friends of color who embody his love and his gospel and forgiveness in ways that take my breath away. I am not lamenting without hope, however; for my black sisters and brothers are showing us how to love like Jesus does.
My prayer is that I, and the rest of those who follow hard after Jesus, will have ears to hear and voices that no longer remain silent.
Your turn: Are you undone over Charleston? How might God be using this horrible crime to bring about renewal and reconciliation? How can we be a part of it?