The only logical conclusion after Charleston

Jun 19, 2015 by

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There have been far too many mass shootings in America. I still remember watching Columbine and Virginia Tech unfold on the news. I remember crying over Sandyhook, shock over the movie theater shooting, fear that my own mentor could have been a victim of the shooting at Seattle Pacific University. Those were frightening, awful, gut wrenching moments, in their own right. They and many more ripped our hearts out and created trauma for so many families.

But what happened at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is different.

Though the weapon is the same, the driving force is different: white supremacy. This act is the epitome of racism, the goal to kill black people. The level of terror that black people feel in America at this moment cannot be underestimated.

When the driving force of such a massacre is the very thing embedded in the roots of America, thriving on the branches of generation after generation, sitting in the pews unchallenged every Sunday morning in white churches, there is no reason why black Americans should feel safe.

The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words:

“It’s in my family.”

“It’s in my church.”

“It’s in my soul.”

Every time I write about race, someone white says, “Just know it isn’t all of us,” believing this will bring me comfort. It is offered as balm, but fails miserably.

I would much rather people say: “I see this sin in my own heart, my own life, my own church and I am working to uproot it. I don’t want to be this way, and I will do the work to submit this ugliness before Christ.”

Creating distance from it doesn’t serve me, doesn’t bring me comfort. Because it is in all of us. White supremacy has infected all of us who know America. If I have to deal with the white supremacist notions within myself, then I don’t want to hear about how “it’s not all of us.” It is. It is all of us who must learn to love blackness as an equal and authentic image of God.

Some of us are doing that work. Naming that work. Wrestling through that work.

Others are content to let it grow. And I need you to know those are the only two choices. There is no such thing as neutrality. You are either nurturing love or hate. There is no middle ground, no third way, no alternative.

There is this pervasive belief that Christians can simply choose to be tolerant, or polite, or even kind. There is this sense that as long as certain lines aren’t crossed, that you’re OK. As long as you don’t tell the racist joke, as long as you had a really good reason for moving into an all-white community, as long as you never say “n****r,” as long as you do charity work, as long as you go on the mission trip, as long as you never do anything mean — then you’re alright. Not so.

Jesus has two commandments. “ . . . You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).

The second is like it. So loving your neighbor as yourself is like loving God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul. Love. 1 John 4:20 says this, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Cannot.

These two verses fly in the face of the sin of white supremacy and racism. To not uproot white supremacy from the mind, heart and soul is to miss the mark on loving your neighbor as yourself and is hatred toward God.

Racism is hatred toward and denial of blackness as an equal and authentic image of God. You can let that live if you want to. You can try to bury it so far deep that no one ever knows. You can try to avoid contact so that you never say anything stupid. You can try to fix it on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but let it linger every other day. You can talk about it once a year from the pulpit. You can remain silent and never speak of it at all. Those are all options. But they all allow hate to live.

Those verses do not say:

Just tolerate one another.

Just be nice to each other.

Just don’t say anything stupid.

Just go volunteer.

Just take the mission trip.

Just give them some money.

Just build a center.

Just attend a multicultural church.

Just make sure you have one black friend, family member, child.

God demands love. Love toward God. Love toward humanity.

This love is a decision, and too many Christians have made the decision by simply refusing to acknowledge the power, the depths, the reality of white supremacy in America.

This shooter took white supremacy to its only logical conclusion: death. Now you might never shoot anyone, or plant bombs, or brutalize anyone. That’s entirely possible, but is that really your threshold, your standard for determining the health of your heart, mind and soul? My life might depend on whether or not you, your family, your church are willing to uproot racism and nurture love or instead continue to let the same evil that compelled this shooter to pull the trigger, to live on in your soul.

I hope you will choose love today and tomorrow and for the rest of your life.

Every church in America should be talking about this shooting on Sunday. But you know what? My real fear isn’t that churches will ignore the shooting. My fear is that churches will underestimate it. I fear that it will alter one Sunday’s plans and nothing else. I fear that the words will be reduced to one lone shooter, to one silent moment, to one prayer. I fear that it will change nothing, that no one will make a declaration to kick racism out of the pews. My real fear is that this moment will slip by just as so many others have, that white churches will refuse to see their own reflection.

That is a fear of black Americans because white supremacy is deadly. And people who look like me are its victims.

And despite this reality. We are still here. We still speak truth to power. We will mourn and cry and lament and wail. But we also fight. We resist. We refuse to be erased. My words here will be joined with hundreds, maybe thousands of other black writers who will declare that we won’t lie down, we won’t hide, we won’t go away quietly. You haven’t heard the last from us. We fight on.

Austin Channing Brown works speaking, training, facilitating dialogue or planning strategies in reconciliation. She is the multicultural ministry specialist at Willow Creek Community Church’s Chicago Campus. This first appeared on her blog, austinchanning.com.


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