” But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.“
-1 Corinthians 8:9
I don’t normally comment on news and current events, as I prefer to write about topics that have some staying power. Even though the mass shooting in Charleston, SC, last week dominates the news cycle, I think its effects are likely to be with us for some time. This evil has exposed the worst and the best among us. I’d like to offer my thoughts in hopes we can begin and sustain a discussion.
First, the facts
It is beyond question that 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, during their Wednesday night Bible study last week. After being welcomed into this meeting, and sitting with the participants for the better part of an hour, Roof shot and killed nine members of the congregation, including its pastor, Clementa Pinckney.
Then the reaction
The first news report I heard stated that a lone gunman had walked into a church service in Charleston and had started shooting, killing nine people. Realize that an attack on a church — or any house of worship — is unconscionable. But as further details became known, and the police arrested Dylann Roof, a horrible crime was made even worse due to the apparent racist motives of the murderer.
If you have never lived in the southern US, you need to understand that race relations here are different than they are portrayed on the national news. A lot of us were in school when the classrooms in our towns became integrated. Sure, there were problems, but over time black and white students came to appreciate each other as neighbors and teammates and value each other as friends. It took time, but we worked on it together.
To be sure, there were — and still are — people who spoke disparagingly of African Americans, even using the n-word, but some of these same people were quite kind and generous in their dealings with people they supposedly hated. More interesting and impressive was the way peer pressure forced that kind of bigotry to the margins. It didn’t make sense to hate people you studied with, ate with and played ball with.
My impression then as now is that most white southerners and most black southerners recognize that we are in this together. And this sense of community, flawed and fragile as it may be, is the reason Charleston is grieving together with such dignity and grace.
While the residents of Charleston show amazing restraint, Washington pols waste no time trying to tie the evil acts of one homicidal bigot to their preferred targets. I’m talking about knuckleheads from both ends of the spectrum. Not surprisingly, some of the loudest voices out of our nation’s capital called for further erosion of private citizens’ rights to gun ownership. In addition to being poorly reasoned, these arguments are also singularly bad manners.
Let me try to explain this
The staunchest proponents of gun control don’t believe that guns in themselves are bad. I have not yet heard any advocate call for banning all guns everywhere at all times. They have no problem with guns in the hands of police officers and active-duty military personnel. What they don’t like is the thought of guns in the hands of private citizens. And under the banner of not ever letting a crisis go to waste, they appear on camera drawing attention to themselves — bad form.
True, people with evil intent can and do use guns to increase the effect of their malevolence, as we have seen most recently in Charleston. But district court rulings have made it plain that police officers are not obligated to protect every citizen from crime or criminals — and they can’t be everywhere. So you can see this leaves a gap. Gun control advocates would tell us to outsource self-defense and wait for the police — to our detriment. Gun rights advocates would advise citizens to get trained in the lawful and safe use of guns and to defend themselves. I know what I prefer.
The confederate battle flag
Even though the murders took place in Charleston, many people across the nation have been calling for South Carolina to remove the confederate battle flag from the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia. The flag has flown as part of a memorial to confederate veterans since the legislature voted to remove it from the flagpole atop the statehouse dome — a compromise — in 2000.
This issue comes up now because Dylann Roof posted multiple pictures of himself on social media posing with a confederate battle flag. This and his own written statements regarding white supremacy connected the two issues. It’s poor logic to conclude that because a flag flies on a civil war monument a bigot viewed this as his warrant to go on a killing spree, but we are where we are.
As of this writing the SC legislature has agreed to debate removal of the confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds altogether, and many previously in favor of keeping the flag now support taking it down. It just may happen. Here are links to two articles — one for and one against removal — so you can make up your own mind.
While all this goes on, the grieving families of those members murdered at “Mother Emanuel” shocked the world when, one by one, they spoke to their loved ones’ killer and said, “I forgive you.” Not one family withheld these gracious words from the one who in his hatred robbed them of their kin.
This, my friends, is Christianity with meat on its bones. No mere altruism explains this. The families, having endured the bitter captivity of their ancestors’ enslavement, followed by the humiliation of segregation, did not have any obligation to appear nice. Only the recipients of God’s grace through Jesus Christ can surrender their legitimate right to outrage and pray for their enemy the way these good and noble saints did.
A few thoughts of my own
- I’m a little unusual because, even though I’m not that old, my great-grandfather was a confederate soldier. Although I have the right to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and bear no ill will against those who choose to, I do not want to use my liberty at the expense of my black friends. For this reason, I choose not to join nor to display the confederate battle flag.
- Regarding the flying of the confederate battle flag (NOT the “Stars and Bars,” y’all – that’s a completely different flag) on the statehouse grounds, I look forward to the debate. I would suggest that a more appropriate — and less fraught — flag to display at the confederate veterans’ memorial would be the Bonnie Blue, which was reportedly flying over the confederate batteries that attacked Fort Sumter at the start of the Civil War.
- The confederate battle flag has been tainted by its adoption by skinheads, neo-Nazis and white supremacists. I’m fond of saying abuse doesn’t invalidate use, but taken with the south’s history of slavery and segregation, this pretty much poisons the well for keeps.
I visited my great-grandfather’s grave recently – not because he was a rebel, but because he was family. His military career shaped but did not define him.
- Also, if the NAACP were to adopt the confederate battle flag as its symbol, I think white supremacists would start shopping for another logo.
- Kudos to the peace-loving people of South Carolina — and especially of Charleston — who are following the example set by the families of Mother Emanuel. We should all show such grace.
So how about you? What is the most remarkable act of forgiveness you’ve seen? Add your comments below.