Try as I may, I cannot come up with much to say, or to do, in response to the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina at "Mother" Emanuel AME. Last Sunday, I ditched my usual way of preaching and spoke entirely from my heart--I simply could not get to a place where I could put things down on paper. So I am not yet sure what I will do in response to such a callous act of racist violence. But I do know what I will not do.
1. I will not be quiet.
My friend Stephen posted a quote on Facebook from the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer with which I deeply resonate: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." I have heard of churches that did not mention Charleston in worship on Sunday, except perhaps to note how sad it is that people kill other people. There is more to be said: much more. I will not let my own desire to make the people around me happy keep me from speaking up for my neighbors. If it is the case that when we do not help our sisters and brothers in Christ, we do not do it to God, then it is the case that our neglect actively hurts God.
2. I will not talk more than I listen.
I am a white guy: always have been. I don't know what it is like to be scared to go out in certain public situations, nor the experience of being discriminated against because of the color of my skin. "Reverse discrimination," set up against the backdrop of history, is one of the most ridiculous ideas I've ever heard. I have no idea what it is like to live a life in which people are skeptical of me simply because of how I look or who my parents are. While I will speak my piece and advocate as well as I know how, I will not speak more than I listen. My sisters and brothers are speaking out, often at great cost. I owe it to them to listen, and then to speak
3. I will not play it safe.
My biggest temptation in ministry is to speak a bit on controversial matters, get patted on the back, and go on. This response is insufficient. I will not play it safe. Too much is at stake. People are being killed. This is not some sort of meaningless exercise. This is real life. Speaking of which . . .
4. I will not simply play church.
So much of what we do as part of the Church is designed to make us happy or to uphold traditions, regardless of their present worth. Church is not what happens when we sit in pews and say certain words and then dismiss in time to make it to lunch before the congregation down the street. Church is what happens when those who desire an authentic life, lived in community and under the direction of Jesus Christ, gather to praise God and worship in spirit and truth. The events of last Wednesday are a reminder of the deadly seriousness of the task we are about, and if you are tempted to think that this is all folly, I'd encourage you to listen to the family members of the slain forgive the killer. As my colleague Angelo has said, America didn't make those people. The church made those people.
5. I will not forget.
It is easy to be outraged and then to move on. I will be honest: something has broken in me this week. I am sad in a way I haven't felt before. And I know that God is calling me--God is calling all of us--to take this opportunity to do something about violence, particularly violence by white people against black people. This is 2015, not 1940. We must do better. God is relying on us. And, God willing and with God's help, we can do better. But it won't happen without our willing participation in the reign of God. Let us offer our willingness as a sacrifice.