A Response and to a National Tragedy and a Prayer

Dear Colleagues:

Last night, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a lone gunman attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South, Carolina – a church that served as part of the Underground Railroad and named among its founders Denmark Vesey, who was famous for attempting to organize a slave revolt in 1822. Nine church members are dead, including their Pastor Clementa Pinckney, a State Senator and father – just days before Father’s Day. They were all in Bible study. This is an offense against God, the church, the community and people of color.

So, what does the Lord say? Ironically, I taught a Bible study lesson on this past Tuesday about “Power Against Enemies,” taken from Psalm 37:1-2: “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” I spoke about how to handle people who perpetrate hurts, insults or sleights against us. I reminded our class that hate is not uncommon. Jesus said, “They hated me before they hated you” (John 15:18-19). Hate is certainly not unfamiliar to black folk. I shared that Jesus admonishes us as believers to love our enemies, bless them and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). The Word even goes so far as to say that God will turn his anger from our enemies if we take joy in their downfall (Proverbs 24:17-18). Finally, I taught that God declares war on those who hurt his children (Exodus 23:22) and that revenge belongs solely to him (Proverbs 20:22).

What, now, should believers do? First, we pray. All the news stations are making the most of this story, calling it a hate crime – something it may well be. Anger is festering and people will deem a call for prayer impotent. They favor guns over God. However, we know that prayer is a weapon (Ephesians 6:18). Then, we know that the source of ill will and hatred is spiritual and not merely the acts of a young man who coolly walked in, sat a while and began shooting. We do not fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). We are compelled to be strong “in the Lord” (Ephesian 6:10). We cannot be strong by ourselves but God can provide the means (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Second, we must not be silent. Ironically, on Wednesday, I met with Megan O’Brien of PACT, a social justice agency in Miami, about a collaboration between the Susie C. Holley Religious Center, the Lions for Justice and other campus resources to combat issues within our own community that lead to violence and undue incarceration, noting the continuous imbalance of justice in America. FMU must be proactive in fighting the forces that allow the proliferation of guns and the continuation of attitudes that allow gun-driven massacres to happen. We can neither be idle nor silent. Historically black universities are not immune to tragedy.

Third, we trust in the Lord (Proverb 3:5-6). It is not a feeble response to the Emanuel AME Church tragedy for the people of God to seek God’s face (2 Chronicles 7:14)? Anger, if allowed to vent fully, will yield nothing good (Proverbs 29:11; James 1:19-20). We are required to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). It is perfectly alright to be angry but that anger cannot lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26). Retaliation and violence will only demonstrates that we do not trust God (1 Peter 5:7). Any other action would violate the memory of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks who believed that love is stronger than hatred. Let us pray.

A Prayer

Dear Lord:

The forces of evil believe we are defeated. We are not, only made stronger and more unafraid (Psalm 27:1-2). Please bless and attend to the needs of the members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, their families, friends and their community. Their hearts are grieved by senseless loss; and they are searching for ways to understand why such things must be and why should people die in church. This tragedy, coupled with innumerable grievances against black communities across the nation, may cause many to lose hope and to waver in their faith. We pray that their faith will endure. We lift them before you.

Our brothers and sisters in Charleston awakened to ineffable news of loss. Help them to understand that you will somehow cause good to come from this (Romans 8:28). Let them to know that you are with them, that your love is there, that we are grieving with them and that wherever sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. Lord have mercy! Give them strength, mercy and peace (Ephesians 4:8). Honoring your Word is no burden on us because you said, “My yoke is easy and my burdens are light.” Paul even went on to say that these “light afflictions” are but for a moment and that even tragedies work to our advantage in heaven (2 Corinthians 4:17). Being strong in the face of death is not a small thing but you are a great God. We surrender our anger to you.

Your Word tells us to expect trouble (Job 14:1; John 16:33). But your Word also tells us we will not perish because things happen. In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul said, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed . . . .” Our nation is rife with hateful massacres but our faith in you remains unchanged. We have been through too much to change now. “We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” You are our hope. You are our refreshing. You are our source of life.

We pray for the young man who did this. He is no villain. He is not a devil, simply a soul lost in emotions too unspeakable to understand. The powers that drove him to kill people in church are unfathomable to us. We pray for his salvation. We pray for his soul, for his young life, for his deliverance from evil. We do not understand why his actions needed to result in death. Reports say, he came to kill black folk. Lord, increase our faith. We pray for his family who will have to live with the aftermath of his actions, for the victims whose souls now rest with you. We are thankful that “to be absent from the body is the present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

I pray for Florida Memorial University. May your hedge of protection surround its people and properties. As we strive to build love, intelligence and good character, let us use this incident as fuel to be more passionate about the work of making America better through educating its youth. Let us encourage them to be perpetrators of love and not hate wherever they go. Let us realize, we pray, how precious life is and that we are protectors of life in this work. Again, bless our brothers and sisters and the families of Emanuel AME Church.

Amen . . . Amen . . . Amen!