Pastoral Word Regarding the Massacre of African American Worshippers
At Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina
On June 17, 2015
The expression “Massacre or Slaughter of the Holy Innocents” traditionally has referred to the enraged and wanton murder of the babes in Bethlehem initiated by King Herod in his fruitless effort to track down the young child Jesus so that he could destroy him and thus alleviate the threats he felt Jesus posed to his throne. This reference and expression also became in vogue after the murder of young school children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. When one reflects upon the fact that the word innocent refers to being free from evil or guilt or lacking the intent to injure, irrespective of age, I submit to you that the massacre of nine worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 by a deranged, young, hate filled white racist and terrorist, whose sole purpose in attending Bible study at an historic black church, was the premeditated and conscience- less murder of African Americans is yet another latter day example of the slaughter of the Innocents.
I further assert that this latest barbaric incident of racial hatred is part of an ongoing saga of disdain and disregard of Black life that has been institutionally practiced and culturally engrained in our country, which has become adept at explaining away and failing to confront the anti-black phobia, paranoia and cancer that is destroying its very soul. From the murders of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri to Eric Garner in New York City to Freddie Gray in Baltimore to Walter Scott in North Charleston to innocent black teenagers being assaulted at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, to the slaughter of the Innocents in Bible Study this week in Charleston the ugly truth is that violence against African Americans is not a regional issue, but runs through the veins of this country from sea to bloody sea.
Further, when legal systems of this nation send the message over and over again that African Americans are the enemy and that their lives really do not matter, then it creates a climate for the birthing and emergence of a new generation of vicious racists such as the cold blooded young terrorist Dylan Roof. With all of the possibilities that a young person could think and dream, whence comes this unwarranted hatred of African Americans except from the context and climate that sends the message that Blacks are sub-humans deserving only destruction and that one can murder them without fear of incrimination?
The twisted mind that conceived of quartering, lynching, hanging, raping and bombing is not simply a relic of history books, or an image viewed on old black and white television footage, but has made its way into the Internet age and is being updated and downloaded at this very moment.
There are some deeds that are so brutal that they awaken in all persons of decent conscience and goodwill the common humanity and the “imago dei” that we all share. Thank God that violence against Innocents has not become so commonplace that we are unable to be touched, moved, shamed and pained by outrageous acts against each other. Those of us who feel most moved with sorrow by what happened in Charleston, South Carolina are encouraged by the interracial and interfaith revulsion to this latest massacre of Innocents. However our prayer and hope is that this event will not quickly become yesterday’s news. There is an ongoing fight and struggle that must be waged to overcome our historic and ongoing warfare against our institutionally protected and culturally engrained legacy and lifestyle of racial hatred. That fight and struggle must continue to be waged everyday in every way and every place where racism raises its Medusa like head, whether in our families or among our friends or professional associations or in our churches.
For example there is a need for those who share the sorrow of Blacks in South Carolina to join with the fight to ban the public display and affirmation of the Confederate flag as a viable symbol and representation of America. For those who claim this flag as a symbol of their heritage, I have four very shocking News flashes to bring to them. News Flash Number One—THE CIVIL WAR IS OVER! News Flash Number Two—THE CONFEDERACY LOST!! News Flash Number Three—PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT FREED THE SLAVES AND ENDED SLAVERY FOREVER!!! News Flash Number Four—THE DIXIE THEY LOVE TO SING ABOUT IS NOT COMING BACK!!!! Why would anyone in their right mind want to hold on to a flag that represents a lost war, a lost cause, and a dead way of life as a rallying symbol for their future? The Confederate flag is the Swastika in the eyes of African Americans and it is hypocritical for any state to claim it cares for its Black citizens while it popularizes such a repulsive symbol representing a past that is gone forever.
Let me end this word with an illustration I have used before. Many years ago when I was a teenager, I used to hear a preacher respond to the preached word by yelling, “Preacher hold your hope.” In this dark season when so many of us are struggling with anger, bitterness, cynicism, and pessimism, I hear the words of that preacher ringing in my spirit from my childhood, “Preacher hold on to your hope.” As we stand at this Calvary moment, that preacher’s praise is a contemporary word for us—“Hold on to your hope.” Release, your fears, but “Hold your hope.” Release your bitterness, but “Hold your hope.” Work through your anger, but “Hold your hope.” Cry when your must, but “Hold your hope.” No matter what unexpected tragedies and trauma shake us, “Hold your hope.” When it seems as if our living and serving and trying to do the right thing are all in vain, “Hold your hope.” When our hearts seem on the verge of breaking, “Hold your hope.” As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has reminded us, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”
“Hold your hope” in light of the awe inspiring examples of Christian witness demonstrated by the families of those whose loved ones have yet to be buried, but were able to summon a strength that can only come from God and say with sincerity to the unrepentant murderer of their family members, “I forgive you,” and “God have mercy on you.” While the demand for retributive justice, the precedents of history, and the fundamental nature of human reason called for expression of anger and vengeance on behalf of the dead, these grieving women and men, boys and girls have demonstrated the depth of their faith and identity as true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Hold your hope ” because the devil is a liar. “Hold your hope” because we shall overcome. “Hold on to your hope,” black and white together. “Hold your hope” because we are not afraid. “Hold your hope ” most of all because God is on our side and that same God will see us through.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever inn the path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand
True to our God, true to our native land.
William D. Watley, June 21, 2015