Watching the taping of The Daily Show from last night, I found myself inconsolable from sadness. I was crying for the state of our humanity and specifically for the human crisis in our Country. I found myself crying for America.
Despite my wrestling with this Country, this is the only Country I know. I didn’t choose my Country. That was chosen by God. And if God ordained that this should be my Country, then I am compelled to love my Country. And so I share this with love, in love and through love.
And that love is expressed by sorrow. My sorrow is for America. My sorrow is for Dylan Roof. My sorrow is for all the countless millions who think like him.
But that same love is also expressed by joy. My joy for the life of the martyrs. My joy is for the life of Cynthia Hurd, for Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, for Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Hon. Rev. Bro. Clementa Pinckney, for Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sheronda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
My love is here expressed by joy because the grace of God has granted them worthy of being passion-bearers. They have been seen fit to enter that sacred tradition and history of Black people in this Country being killed for daring to worship the Lord and while in worship. The victims of this hateful and terrorizing attack join their ranks amongst those countless Black people from slavery through the present killed for praying or while praying. They truly bear witness to the Passion of Christ, having been killed while watching and praying over their souls. May you and I be found so worthy by God as to leave this life in a prayerful state!
This incident is part of a tradition of White terror at houses of worship and times of prayer. The bombing of Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Alabamba is probably the most notable instance. But that was not an isolated incident. It was a planned strategy.
White supremacists throughout American history often saw these churches as threats, making them prime targets for those who wanted to terrorize and maintain control of black communities and enforce slavery and segregation.
Dr. Christina Greer laid it out on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore: in the past few months Black people in America have been reminded that we can’t be in our homes, in our cars, in parks, on the street, or use the pool. Now, we’re being reminded that their violence and hatred isn’t even constrained by the Church. And that’s the terroristic goal.
This isn’t an AME thing.
Don’t get me wrong: my love goes out to the people of Emmanuel AME Church. Yet, this is no isolated incident. This may have happened in South Carolina, but we’ve seen that it can happen anywhere. The seed of hate is present everywhere in America. Dylan Roof didn’t care that this was an AME church. He cared that it was a Black Church that dared to give hope to those he believes hope is wasted on. His goal, as is the goal of these acts throughout America’s history, is to shake Black people from their Faith. His goal, and the goal of racialized terror, is to scare Black people into faithlessness.
We cannot allow that to happen. And so I have a hopeful joy for the families of those who died while in praise and for the entire family of believers in Jesus Christ. May their offering and sacrifice be lifted up and sanctified to the glory of God!
Some may debate the place of confederate flag in American Society
This incident has opened a discussion on taking down the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State Capitol. And people are lining up on different sides.
Most Blacks see it as a sign of terrorism and treason. Terrorism against Black people and treason against the Country we love. Most Black people just want the flag to come down. They feel the flag bears responsibility for the hatred.
Many Whites see the confederate flag as heritage. They see it as representing the beauty of the antebellum South. Many of them will vehemently reject the idea that the flag or the culture are racist symbols.
I’ll concede this: all White people who embrace the confederate flag might not embrace racial violence. But, for some reason, it seems as if all White people who embrace racial violence also embrace the confederate flag.
The Confederate Flag is a Stumbling Block
Maybe it doesn’t cause you a problem. Maybe you’re immune to the vitriol. Maybe somehow you’ve compartmentalized the history of the confederacy such that you can celebrate the heritage and disavow the hate. Yet, you must at least concede that the confederate flag and confederate culture offer a narrative and an opportunity for growing the sin of hatred.
The ancient Fathers of the Church would say there are three stages of sin. They are listed in various ways, yet I will list them as temptation, deliberation and consent.
- In temptation, a sinful act is suggested to your subconscious.
- In deliberation, you begin to consider the sinful act that had been suggested to you.
- In consent, you agree to act out the sinful act you’ve just considered.
Confederate culture certainly conforms to this trifold model. Confederate culture and everywhere the flag can be found, provide countless opportunities to encounter a tempting suggestion to racial violence. Some are so comfortable with having confederate symbols around that you can find them almost everywhere: in churches and adored by priests and pastors, on state capitols and flags, defended by prominent politicians, on cars, for sale as clothing…everywhere. Streets and buildings are names after confederate leaders. Some states even have holidays dedicated to the confederacy. And despite what heritage may exist, it still carries a stain that continuously suggests unloving acts that occasionally show up as heinous terrorism.
These unloving suggestions are made in an environment that makes space for their deliberation. Dylan Roof would make racist jokes regularly and told his friends he was planning some sort of massacre of Black people for months. Yet, we don’t get the sense that anyone close enough to him felt the need to stop him or loved him enough to intervene.
“I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs,” he said. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”
John Mullins, high school student with Dylan Roof
And that’s confederate culture. It creates safe space for people to lay out their racist thoughts and get feedback from potential peers and mentors. It makes space for people to consider their sinful/racist thoughts out loud. Understanding that we become more comfortable with things when we can say them, confederate culture provides an environment where potential racists can become more comfortable with racist thoughts and ideas.
Once people have tested out their racist thoughts within the safety of confederate culture, they are emboldened to act. They want to be part of that history. They want to add to that history. They want to be celebrated as part of that history. And so they must do something that will stand out and set them apart from those who simply remember the “good ol’ days.”
Now, we have Dylan Roof consenting to the thoughts that he had been considering after they were suggested by the glorification of confederate culture. Because of his consent to those suggested thoughts: nine Americans are dead.
Confederate culture joins well with this model of sin and it ultimately prevents too many Whites from receiving their salvation. The culture has truly become a “stumbling block” in the Christian sense of the word.
Even paying homage to the confederate flag in history is questionable
Some people want to simply take down the confederate flag and display it in a museum. Even President Obama has called for confederate flags to be in museums. Yet, the only way memorializing the confederate flag can make sense is if that means fully telling the reality of confederate ideology for Black people.
Here’s some questions to bring this closer to home:
Does Germany pay homage to Nazism? I find it hard to imagine them holding reenactments of the holocaust. Can you imagine that?
Is the Nazi flag held in a favorable light? Are there any cities and states in Germany flying the flag officially? Is Nazism taught to German children as something to celebrate and honor? Are little Jewish children forced to draw pictures of Nazi flags because the flag flew over Germany at some time?
In fourth grade in Florida, my son was made to draw several iterations of the confederate flag. When I asked why, I was told it was because the flag flew over the state at one time.
Are there any churches in Germany flying the Nazi flag? Is there any German priest/pastor wearing a swastika on their belt buckle, or cap, or any other possession? There are churches with confederate flags in stained-glass windows. Other churches have confederate flags hanging in the sanctuary.
Is it popular to name German streets, public buildings, and businesses after Adolf Hitler or other Nazi leaders? The University of the South was founded to be the Harvard of the confederacy. Dormitories there are named after confederate generals. Countless streets throughout the South are named after confederate leaders. Communities and cities are named after plantations and called “plantation.” Could you imagine a new subdivision named “concentration cam hills?”
Does Germany separate Nazi Heritage from Nazi Hatred? Do we not admit Nazi heritage to be one of hatred? Don’t we consider hatred to be the heritage of Nazism?
It is the same for the confederate culture.
Is the propensity to sin worth the nostalgia? The confederate flag and confederate culture certainly creates an opportunity for hate to grow. Is holding onto that heritage worth it? Is the damage done to the soul of even one of your White sons and daughters worth your right to celebrate that heritage?
White American should Abandon the Confederate Flag!
It’s not Black people who are harmed by the flag. We are harmed by those who hold on to the racist sentiments of the confederate flag. It is White people who are harmed by the flag. Some of your sons and daughters who would otherwise grow up into the fulness of the Image of God are cast to the swine and thrown into the abyss because other Whites want to hold onto their right to celebrate confederate culture.
The Civil War ended long ago. But, is your love of confederate heritage so great that you are willing to continue sacrificing your sons and daughters on the battlefield of satan versus our God?
The confederate flag is a hindrance to the salvation of your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Abandon the flag and the confederate culture so that you might live.
Emmanuel AME Church will live on. It has a long history in the struggle. There’s no reason to believe that will change. Black Americans have a long history of faithfulness in the face of terror and persecution.
The Goliath of racism has come out from among the Philistines that mock whatever noble aspirations exist for America. Are we like the Israelites who doubted the Power of the Spirit? Or, are we like David who didn’t care about his disadvantage because he knew he was covered by the Spirit of the Lord? Will we pray and work for a return to normalcy, allowing us to live like nothing is deathly wrong with our Society? Or will we stand up to the evil that is threatening to destroy us? Will we simply hold hands and sing songs of comfort? Or will we put on the full armor of God and go out to meet the beast?
Racism is a sin that is working to destroy us. And this giant beast is doing a phenomenal job mocking the Gospel. And unless we determine to uproot the culture that incubates hate and allows it to fester, we will forever be plagued by this violence and the Gospel would continue to be trampled on by those professing to love the Lord.
Taking Down the Confederate Flag is Not Enough
The removal of the flag everywhere in public life should be a given starting point. Taking the confederate flag out of churches should be a given starting point. There’s no way that displaying a swastika in any form would be considered as acceptable. So, there’s no way that displaying the stars & bars in any form is acceptable.
But beyond that, we must address the culture that makes apology for racial violence. We mustn’t be distracted by the fringe issues of mental health and guns, while ignoring the issue of unrepented racial sin. The original sin of America is still taunting us and preventing us from being the exceptional nation we claim to be. We must have the real conversation, for the sake of those who might otherwise meet destruction while thinking they’re being faithful to a noble cause and expressing their Southern Pride.