When I first blogged about the horrific shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, authorities were still piecing together what had happened. What we’ve learned since then makes the tragedy all the more awful.
The pastor and eight congregants killed on last Wednesday night were targeted because the suspected shooter, 21-year-old Dylan Roof, wanted to start a race war.
By all accounts, this young man was filled with hate. Friends say he talked of the “need for whites and blacks to be segregated,” and that “he wanted to hurt lots of people.” An online manifesto that authorities say appears to be written by Roof is laced with racism, including statements that blacks are inferior to whites.
How can this type of ignorant thinking still exist in 21st century America?
Far from the race war he told police he wanted, however, Roof’s actions have unleashed a powerful demonstration of Christian love, unity and forgiveness. Some have suggested it’s nothing short of a miracle.
I know exactly what is:
It’s authentic Christianity.
We caught a glimpse of the character of our brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME when Roof, who had sat with the small group gathered for Bible study for an hour, admitted to authorities he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone [at the church] was so nice.” The final earthly act of these Christians was to welcome a stranger into their close-knit community.
Soon we met the son of beloved high school track coach Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, who was killed in the massacre. Video showed Chris Singleton, who attends Charleston Southern University, praying with his baseball team. “My mom was a God-fearing woman. She loved everybody with all her heart.” he said. He also added, “We forgive, that’s one thing we are going to do.”
Many of us watched in tears as the family members of the victims addressed Roof in court. One after another, raw pain evident in their voices, these men and women acknowledge the hurt he’s caused them. But then they offer words of life, and words of forgiveness. Some even pleaded with him to repent of his sins and turn to Christ.
This type of reaction isn’t human. It isn’t natural. It’s the result of Jesus Christ in them, and the hope of glory.
That’s probably why the reaction of the men and women of Emanuel AME hasn’t gone unnoticed by the nation. One writer tweeted, “I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity.”
On social media, people marveled at what went on last Sunday during the first service at Emanuel AME since the shooting. A mere four days after the tragic events, Interim Pastor Rev. Norvel Goff Sr.’s words were grace-filled and full of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Preaching from Psalm 46:1-7, he admitted, “It’s been tough. It’s been rough. Some of us have been downright angry,” he said. “But through it all, God has sustained us, and has encouraged us. Let us not grow weary in well-doing.” He thanked the “good people of the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina,” noting “we have shown the world how we … can come together and pray and work out things that need to be worked out.”
Later on Rev. Goff shared, amid the enthusiastic applause and cheers of the congregation:
“A lot of folks expected us to do something strange and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don’t know us. We are a people of faith! We believe that when we put our forces and our heads together, working for a common good, there is nothing we cannot accomplish together in the name of Jesus!
“… Some wanted to divide the races, black, white and brown… but no weapon formed against us shall prosper!”
Indeed, after the Charleston massacre, there is a renewed sense of unity. Far from riots happening in the city, the community has rallied around the church. Sunday evening, about 20,000 people in Charleston participated in the “Bridge to Peace” walk across the 2.5-mile Ravenel Bridge. Together they sang, “This Little Light of Mine” and “God Bless America.” They held a solemn nine-minute period of silence to honor the nine men and women who were slain.
Racism has no place in our country – but in too many pockets of our nation, it still exists. Yet the victims and Emanuel AME Church are showing us how to overcome that great, dark evil: by allowing the love of Christ to reign.
Their devotion to God and of obedience to His Word has united a city. Their response to the evil that befell their community has amazed unbelievers and glorified God. Their example inspires us, their Christian brothers and sisters.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
We are part of the same body as Emanuel AME. We share the same faith and the same God and Father. May the Lord help us do our part to fight the sin of racism with the power of God’s love in our own communities and families.
If you want to offer a message of encouragement or support to our brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME, please leave them in the comments section below. Here at Focus on the Family, we recently called the good people of Emanuel to offer them our support. We’ll be following up with them soon, and I would love to be able to send them your words of love and encouragement.
Before I sign off, however, I want to leave you with two videos: the first of the families of the victims addressing Dylan Roof in court, and the second of the full Sunday service at Emanuel AME. This is what Christianity looks like in the real world.