I need to open by asking for grace for the words I am typing now. I need grace because I am not super human or super woman. On Wednesday night I was laying in bed, finally getting over a cold. I was about to turn on the Golden Girls as I fell asleep when I decided to check my phone one more time. When I opened it, I saw immediately Chris Hayes describe a shooting in a black church in 140 characters. I have been through a range of emotions since that moment- grief, rage, frustration, numbness. I have wept and pounded on tables. Much of my emotional journey is all over twitter where I generally don’t hold back my humanity. I say all this to drive home the point that I am human, with deep feelings and emotions over what has transpired. I do not feel “strong”. I don’t feel “passionate”. I feel grossly, overwhelmingly human. But I don’t know what else to do besides write. I hope that my words will be helpful to someone, but please know, they just might be more for me to make sense of the world, than to change it.
I’ll start with a confession. Last night when I went to bed, I just knew by the time I woke up we would know who the shooter was and that he would be apprehended. I couldn’t believe it when I discovered the shooter was still at large. However, within just a few minutes new reports started pouring in that the suspected shooter had been captured. As various officials were interviewed there was a resounding theme. “Safety has been restored.”
“Our community can now come together.”
“Now the healing process can begin.”
“The threat is now over.”
Though I understand what these officials meant. I want to say that safety has not been restored. I am glad the suspect is in custody. I really am. I am glad for the country, but I am mostly glad for the community of Charleston and anyone that was afraid their home, church, community center or neighborhood might be another target. But my gratefulness does not extend far enough to create any sense of safety. For the next few weeks, maybe even months, black churchgoers will not feel safe because we know the threat is not over.
There have been far too many mass shootings in America. I still remember watching columbine and Virginia Tech unfold on the news screen. More recently I remember crying over Sandyhook, shock over the movie theater shooting, fear that my own mentor could have been a victim of the shooting at Seattle Pacific University. Those were frightening, awful, gut wrenching moments in their own right. They and many more ripped our hearts out, created trauma for so many families. But this is different.
Though the weapon is the same, gun violence, this is different because the driving force was white supremacy, this act the epitome of racism, the goal to kill black people. The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated. Because when the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing imbedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches- there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.
The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words
“Its in my family”
“Its in my church”
“Its in my soul.”
Every time I write about race, someone white says “just know it isn’t all of us,” believing this will bring me comfort. It is offered as balm, but fails miserably. I would much rather people say, “I see this sin in my own heart, my own life, my own church and I am working to uproot it. I don’t want to be this way, and I will do the work to submit this ugliness before Christ.” That’s what I want to hear. Creating distance from it doesn’t serve me, doesn’t bring me comfort. Because it is in all of us. White supremacy has infected all of us who know America. If I have to deal with the white supremacist notions within myself, than I don’t want to hear about how “its not all of us”. It is. It is all of us who must learn to love blackness as an equal and authentic image of God.
Some of us are doing that work. Naming that work. Wrestling through that work.
And others are content to let it grow. And I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.
There is this pervasive belief that Christians can simply choose to be tolerant, or polite, or even kind. There is this sense that as long as certain lines aren’t crossed, that you’re okay. As long as you don’t tell the racist joke, as long as you had a really good reason for moving into an all white community, as long as you never say nigger, as long as you do charity work, as long as you go on the mission trip, as long as you never do anything mean- then you’re alright. Not so.
Jesus has two commandments. “...You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39). The second is like it. So loving your neighbor as yourself is like loving God with all your heart and all your mind and all our soul. Love. 1 John 4:20 says this, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Cannot.
I need you to know that these two verses fly in the face of the sin if white supremacy and racism. To not uproot white supremacy from the mind, heart and soul is to miss the mark on loving your neighbor as yourself and is hatred toward God. I repeat. The sin of racism is hatred toward God. Racism is hatred toward and denial of blackness as an equal and authentic image of God. Now you can let that live if you want to. You can try to wrap it up so tight that it never leaks out. You can try to bury it so far deep that no one ever knows. You can try to avoid contact so that you never say anything stupid. You can try to cover it up so that no one ever calls you out. You can try to fix on MLK day but let it linger every other day. You can talk about it once a year from the pulpit. You can remain silent and never speak of it at all. Those are all options. But it allows hate to live.
Those verses do not say:
Just tolerate one another.
Just be nice to each other.
Just don’t say anything stupid.
Just go volunteer.
Just take the mission trip.
Just don’t be rude.
Just give them some money.
Just build a center.
Just attend a multicultural church.
Just make sure you have one black friend,
Black family member
God demands love. Love toward God. Love toward humanity.
This love is a decision, and too many Christians have made their choice by simply refusing to acknowledge the power, the depths, the reality of white supremacy in America.
This shooter took white supremacy to its only logical conclusion- death. Now you might never shoot anyone, or plant bombs, or brutalize anyone. That’s entirely possible, but is that really your threshold, your standard for determining the health of your heart, mind and soul? My life might depend on whether or not you, your family, your church are willing to uproot racism and nurture love or instead continue to let the same evil that compelled this shooter to pull the trigger, to live on in your soul.
I hope you will choose love today and tomorrow and for the rest of your life.
I wrote on twitter that every church in America should be talking about this shooting on Sunday. But you know what? My real fear isn’t that churches will ignore the shooting. My fear is that churches will underestimate it. I fear that it will alter one Sunday’s plans and nothing else. I fear that the words will be reduced to one lone shooter, to one silent moment, to one prayer. I fear that it will change nothing about every Sunday thereafter, that it will inspire nothing of lasting significance, that no one will make a declaration to kick racism out of the pews. My real fear is that this moment will slip by just as so many others have, that white churches will refuse to see their own reflection. Or that they will and simply turn away.
That is the fear of black Americans because white supremacy is deadly. And people who look like me are its victims.
And despite this reality. We are still here. We still speak truth to power. We will mourn and cry and lament and wail. But we also fight. We resist. We refuse to be erased. My words here will be joined with hundreds maybe thousands of other black writers who will declare that we wont lay down, we wont hide, we wont go away quietly. You haven’t heard the last from us. We fight on.
* this is unedited. and honestly i dont plan to edit it anytime soon. I'll do my best as i notice typos. I hope none are so egregious as to miss my meaning. If you want to tweet and know there is a mistake, feel free to fix it. Its all so raw right now. I need to take my time before re-feeling all these words. thanks to readers who have stuck with me through all of my demanding posts. welcome to new readers. get comfortable because demanding is my new norm.*