Hate Crime, Love the Criminal
They gathered in the church to read the Bible and pray. How could they have known that the young man who joined them that day was carrying a weapon? And although they offered him hospitality, Dylann Roof responded by shooting them dead.
Often, Christians are killed for their faith, but not this time. These believers lost their lives because of the colour of their skin. In this case, arguably, the primary issue isn’t gun control. It’s Race. Capital R.
It’s no great surprise that last week’s gruesome act took place in Charleston, South Carolina. The southern states still carry the legacy of a deeply racist past into the present. Consider this. Although the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was signed in 1865, abolishing slavery, it wasn’t until Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 that public schools were officially desegregated.
I still remember when I moved to California with my new American wife in 1995. In October that year, the black American football star, O.J. Simpson, was found ‘not guilty’ on two murder counts. At the American Red Cross, where I worked, the nation’s racial divisions were never more clearly exhibited than in that one brief moment when the verdict was read out. The African-Americans cheered; the whites stood in stunned silence; the rest didn’t know what to think.
There has been a heap of legislation in the past 250 years and much progress has been made. There are no more slaves with bent backs on the plantations, no more lynchings. Yet there are still Dylann Roofs, who commit what is known as a ‘hate crime’. Why? Because legislation – for all its benefits – cannot change the human heart.
And if hatred is the cause of this violence, then only love can drive it out.
In Ephesians, Paul teaches that the church is a union of Jew and Gentile – all races are included. That’s the story Christians proclaim to the world – that through Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s love extends to and has the power to unite all people, whatever ethnicity or race. It’s this compelling narrative which we are called to live out in our daily lives, and into which all in society are invited to participate. Those nine African-Americans did just that by welcoming a young man of a different skin colour into their gathering. Paul wrote, ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’ May that be their epitaph.
Richard Collins works with Living Leadership, a charity which provides training and support to church leaders around the UK. He blogs at Mirth and Melancholy.
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