The church bells, both in the tower and the handbell choir, rang out in memory of the nine people executed at Emanuel AME church last Wednesday evening, and prayers were said for them by name as well as their killer during the Prayers of the People.
And I wept. The tears just flowed from my eyes. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine anything more horrific and senseless than that unleashing of hatred on a group of innocent people gathered for prayer and study.
I was struck the other night when on the CBS Evening News, they reported that the white supremecist who shot and killed nine people at an AME church told the police that he had actually thought for a moment about not going through with his planned attack. He had been sitting with a group of people in a Bible study. But then he thought, "If I don't kill them, who will?"
This chilled me to the bone.
For a moment in time, perhaps a second or a minute, Dylann Roof considered abandoning his premeditated murderous plot. Was it the experience of being in the presence of Christ that made him pause? Was it that these folks welcomed him in to their circle, trusting that he had come there with an intention of good and peace? How long or how fleeting was that moment that raised the question for him, 'Is this the right thing to do? Should I really shoot innocent people who I don't know at all and have done nothing to me'? I have no idea. Such a sociopathic mind that chooses death over life totally eludes me.
The family members of the slain individuals spoke to Roof via an audio interface. He could not see them and he stood motionless in front of a video camera during his arraignment. He listened to the victims' families strain to keep their voices from cracking into sobs of grief. They spoke words of forgiveness and Love to him. But if you listen to them, you have that sense that even as they strived to forgive, they were battling against that rage that would take them away from the Love they hold dear to in times of trouble and sorrow. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find words to speak to someone who betrayed trust and wrecked havoc on the people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He made them, and their beloved people, his target for his warped vision of racial hatred.
Many Episcopal Churches used the story of David and Goliath today, where David, a smaller in stature man defeats the Philistine warrior, Goliath, with a slingshot. As I listened to that story, I contemplated the many Goliaths that face us out of this tragic event and the many others like it. There is the obvious and ongoing problem of racism and race-based hatred. Some are quick to point out that "race" as in "skin color" is a social, not a biological, construct and that we are one human race. That is true. But we humans are more interested in finding those things which divide us rahter than unite us and so we cling to our social constructs to disasterous ends. We have another, equally as menacing Goliath called the National Rifle Association which continues to spread the false security of gun ownership. The NRA lines the pockets of Congress with dollar bills stained in the blood of those who have died because of the gun manufacturers' products. Everyone's afraid to take them on because, well, they've got money and weapons. But at some point, it has to be as socially unacceptable to own multiple guns as it is to be a chain smoker. These are two Goliaths we must be willing to tackle in the same way that David overcame the odds and defeated the Philistine.
The church doors were open at Emanuel AME Church this morning, as they have been for many a Sunday year in and year out. This iconic photo, captured by Joe Raedle for Getty Images, tells the story of how a house built on Love will continue, and the old will welcome in the new. A new generation is coming and with that is the hope that these Goliaths that their ancestors have grown weary fighting will finally be laid to rest. This is my prayer. This is my hope. This is my cry in the wilderness.