“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus in Luke 4:18
On Thursday, June 18, we awoke to the news of yet another shooting in our nation. As you know, the night before a young man attended a prayer meeting at Emmanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston and then proceeded to kill nine people. At first this news hurt like any other shooting, but for me that pain grew over time as it started to sink in that this crime of hate happened in a church located in one of the cities I know and love most dearly. The reality continued to sink in as we travelled to the Isle of Palms, located just outside of Charleston, for vacation. Throughout the week, I hurt and reflected. As I continue to think about the situation I am thankful for how the gospel has been reflected in the response of many. Here are how four specific responses have impressed the good news of Jesus deeper into my heart.
Click here to see the video of the family members of the victims responding to the shooter
The Response of the victims: As we rolled into Charleston on I-526 I came across a tweet that read “I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity.” The tweet also included a link to a video of the families of the 9 victims addressing the shooter Dylan Roof. As we crossed city limits I was brought to tears hearing these victims pronounce forgiveness to this hurtful, hate-filled young man, as well as pleading with this man to repent to God for the sins he has committed. The tweet rang true. This was a remarkable display of Christian power, and I think it really hit home because most people watching the video wondered if they could display such amazing grace. I know that is what I was thinking.
The Response of Charleston: The Sunday after the shooting Charleston’s major newspaper, the Post and Courier, honored the victims with a full front page spread including an image of 9 sweetgrass roses with the names, ages and a short description of each victim. I thought this was tasteful, touching, and very Charleston (known for the sweet grass goods that have long been made and sold in Charleston). Later that day, Mary and I drove our kids downtown to go stand and pray outside of Emmanuel AME. At the same time about 15,000 people responded to a social media invitation to come and walk across the bridge to show support for Emmanuel Church. As we drove over the bridge we saw these people smiling hugging, singing and walking. One of the participants was quoted saying “This is how we riot in Charleston.” This is the second charged tragedy in Charleston in 6 months and again Charleston has responded in an impressive way, in a way that displays the unity and compassion that comes from the gospel. It is as if God used this tragedy in one of his churches as a source from which flowed a river of gracious response. Being there, the flow of gracious response felt palpable.
The Response of my kids: People handle talking about tragedies like this with children in different ways. Our general approach is to talk, to inform, to explain in appropriate ways hoping for understanding yet knowing that there will be misunderstandings. Seeing them wrestle was interesting, powerful and heartbreaking. From Celia’s 11 year old response of trying to understand how someone could be so filled with hate, to Christian’s naïve fear when he said “I am glad I was not there because I probably would have gotten dead, because I have dark skin.” Being a father of a mixed race family makes responding to issues like this even more complex, but it is a joy to share about the sovereignty of God, of his goodness, and about how we need to have Jesus change us and our world. These painful moments are opportunities for redemptive conversations.
The Response of the church: We were able to watch much of the coverage of the funeral of Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emmanuel AME, before we left Charleston to return to Charlotte. The funeral was powerful and lifted the name of Jesus high. There were many speakers and lots of amazing music, but the words that gave the most gospel clarity to this situation for me came from Rev. John Richard Bryant who focused on Christ saying,
“We as a church would be more than pleased if somebody in this crowd, somebody over that television, somebody over streaming faith, would hear the word about our Jesus. Now already Clementa is with the cloud of witnesses, just imagine how he’s gonna feel if somebody gets saved today.” (Click here for the video of these comments)
Wow, seriously. As these words echoed through my brain I could not help but consider that the mission of this church was not stopped by Dylan Roof, the mission continued and in some ways the message of our savior gained an even greater platform. I am thankful that Jesus is our hope in life as well as our hope in death.
These four responses have encouraged my faith. Of course, not the whole world’s response has been positive. There was actually an article published on Salon.com entitled “Why America Needs to Reject the Charleston Massacre’s Dangerous Narrative of Forgiveness.” But even the ignorant audacity and bitterness of that article magnifies the fact that true hope and healing can be found in Christ alone. The world is hurting looking for grace, peace, unity and victory, but those that have rejected Christ are scorning the only one that has born their shame in order to fulfill that desire. We live in a broken world, and we are called to reach out to the broken knowing that Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and the only one who brings true healing (Luke 4:18).
Father God, in tragedy and in celebration, in the extraordinary moments as well as the ordinary moments, use our lives and our words to help others to hear about our Jesus. May we cling to him and point others to him.