Wednesday evening, after the UMC conference I was attending in Burlingame had closed for the day, I was startled by the “breaking news” ping on my phone. The air sucked out of my lungs as I read the headline, “Shooting at Charleston Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church leaves nine dead,” with the shooter still at large and no question that this act of terrorism was racially motivated.
I breathed out angry prayers to God, peppered with expletives, wondering once again, why America is still in this place? We are a country founded on white people desiring to flee oppression. A people with little power, little voice, ready to risk it all for freedom. We are a country founded on a white people who gained power, who gained voice, and within their freedoms began to oppress those who were not white. Enslaving the Natives. Enslaving the Africans. Using power and privilege from their white skin and tortuous ways to lord over others. There are wounds that run so deep in the flesh of American history that new skin, through scarring, cannot be created.
There was a heaviness in the air Thursday morning when I walked into the conference room, joining the thousand others. Bishop Brown’s voice prophetically carried across that great room with sadness and truth. Being an African American himself, Bishop Brown spoke of times when he and his son had been pulled over, asked what they were doing in the white neighborhood where his son goes to college.
Bishop Brown, and so many others, have felt first-hand the gaping, open wound of racism in a country that professes freedom for all and faith in God.
I have never experienced racism. I probably never will. But my skin color is one that has had and still has a history of using, abusing, torturing, terrorizing, powering up on people who don’t look like me. It doesn’t matter if I never had relatives who participated in the dehumanization of other people. I am a white American and this country was founded on white supremacy, privilege and power. Being white, I have benefited from this reality and I don’t have to dig very deep to find my own prejudices and racial tendencies buried beneath the surface. We must acknowledge our tainted heritage and prejudices, not out of shame or guilt, but because it defines us now even if we don’t want to admit it.
The wounds we hoped would be healed by this point in our heritage of oppression, hate, and murder against black people have to be seen for what they are. They are not easily covered with a bandage. They are not to be ignored with the hope they will heal up on their own. These wounds have been ignored for so long that, instead of new skin growing, they are filled with pus, red around the edges, and in dire need to be seen and cared for. Because maybe some of us didn’t cause those wounds personally, but in ignoring them we have become part of the pain and perpetuated the infection.
Now, I believe most of us will stay shocked and appalled by what took place in Charleston. We will be prayerfully angry throughout a day or so the next time we see the injustices of a black young man being killed at the hands of a white police officer. But those news stories will come and go and we white folk will go back to our lives, never thinking that if we get pulled over it is because of our skin color. Never thinking that we need to teach our children through dramatic role play how to speak to a police officer for fear of incarceration or death. Never thinking that our names could keep us from getting call backs when sending in resumes. Never fearing that we might be murdered in our church because of our skin color. Most of us today will go back to our lives because most of us are white and these injustices will continue to happen because we think we’re not racist so we’re not a part of the problem.
When Godly people of any skin color do nothing, we become part of the problem.
So what do we do? Because I often read the news and opinion articles and become paralyzed and overwhelmed, not knowing how I can help change anything.
Perhaps we must start in prayer, because God is the God of love, not hate. Through prayer we discover God wants us to love, to show mercy, to bring justice, to admit places we have power and to use that power for only good. To share the power and equalize the voice. To bring loving kindness everywhere we go. To search deep inside our hearts and flesh out any areas of prejudice and racism that we all have within. To admit and confess those areas before God again and again so God can begin a new work within each of us.
How has Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church survived since last week? Through prayer. Through bold, loving prayer.
Will you join me in prayer over these nine souls and their families? Perhaps we will see wounds begin to heal.
Cynthia Hurd, 54, branch manager for the Charleston County Library System
Susie Jackson, 87, longtime church member
Ethel Lance, 70, employee of Emanuel AME Church for 30 years
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, admissions counselor of Southern Wesleyan University
The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, state senator, Reverend of Emanuel AME Church
Tywanza Sanders, 26, earned business administration degree from Allen University
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, retired pastor (died at MUSC)
Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, track coach at Goose Creek High School
Myra Thompson, 59, church member
Bethany Cseh is co-pastor of Catalyst Church in Arcata.