Friday, June 19, 2015

What should we do with the South Carolina church shooter?

Yesterday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was asked on the Today show if the 21-year-old white man who shot and killed 9 black men and women in a historically black church in Charleston should be executed by the state.

"Absolutely," she said.

I have a problem with that.

To be clear, I would have answered as Haley did.  If any crime deserves the death penalty, this does.  A man comes to a church prayer meeting, sits for an hour listening to a discussion of the Scriptures, then suddenly pulls out a gun and tells the people who have welcomed him into the house of God, "You've raped our women and you're taking over our country," and "I'm going to kill you all," then opens fire.  He reloaded five times.  It's hard to comprehend such cold-blooded evil.

Here's the problem I have with executing this young man: It's too easy.

These are strange, difficult times we're living in.  Every time we turn on the news, we see yet another violent incident with race involved. For many white folks like me, it's confusing: Shouldn't we be beyond this?  As we watch black crowds demonstrate, we grumble on social media, "Why does everything have to be about race?"  It's disturbingly reminiscent of the mid-nineties, with the LA riots that followed the Rodney King verdict, which culminated in the OJ Simpson verdict. The only difference is that in those days, social media hadn't yet been invented (thank God for that much, at least).  The mid-nineties were only a few decades removed from the Civil Rights struggle of the sixties, with its televised scenes of marches, police dogs, fire hoses, and assassinations.   It's almost as if we can count on a series of events, once a generation, that expose once again the racial divide in our country.

Why do our black neighbors complain about discrimination?  For the same reason that a man with a broken leg has a limp: There's a wound that hasn't yet healed.  White people like me would rather not think of such things.  We like the idea that racial issues were sown up in a neat, tidy package when Dr. King overthrew Bull Connor and his ilk with biblical non-violence, and LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act.  We're comfortable condemning the racism of our grandparents, thinking it has nothing to do with us.  But we must confront the facts: A group of people were captured and brought to this country against their will, enslaved for centuries, then upon their emancipation, were subject to a series of laws that disenfranchised them in ways almost equal to slavery.  A nation cannot inflict such injustice upon a group of people, then criticize them for not getting over it as quickly as we'd like them to.  Of course, very few of us today are directly responsible for the racial divide we live with.  I'm not saying we should live in a constant state of White Guilt.  But we can at least acknowledge the problem.  We can at least listen.

The real problem is that we--all of us, black, white, brown and otherwise--hate to face our own sins. God knows this about us, and He refuses to let us off lightly.   If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, says 1 John 1:8.  We want the evil in our hearts--in our nation--to be easily destroyed.  Just put this sick nut to death, end of story.  That's too easy.  We have to own up to the evil in our own hearts.  We have to admit that, deep down, we're not good.  We're twisted, destructive, irredeemably wicked.

Unless...

Unless there's a moral force out there righteous enough to incinerate the evil.  Of course, since the evil is bound up in you and me, that's bad news for us.  Sin is destroyed, but so are we.

Unless...

Unless the One possessing such righteous hatred of sin also loves us with an incomprehensible love.  Thank God, He does.  And so the one who is unimpeachably just is also willing to be our Justifier.  And so the destroyer of sin destroyed Himself in order to rid us of sin.  And so, as 1 John 1:9 goes on to say, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Granted, while that makes us individually right with God (Hallelujah!), it doesn't solve the racial divide in our nation.  I don't know how to do that. I have an inherent skepticism that legislation alone, no matter how well-intentioned--can do the trick.  But I believe the Gospel shows us the way: The healing begins is in us admitting we have a problem, and listening.  We're commanded by Jesus to love our neighbors.  If the demonstrations of this past year tell us anything, it's that a group of our neighbors are hurting deeply.  Instead of telling them their pain is illegitimate or inconsequential, instead of denying responsibility for their pain, the love of Jesus demands that we at least listen to what they are saying.  

So whatever happens to this man in South Carolina, executing him won't solve the problem.  Once this current spasm of racial unrest ends, in a year or two or three, we can count on another one in another twenty years or so.  Only love will heal the wound: the love it takes to listen to people telling us things we don't want to hear.  

2 comments:

Onesimus Venzant said...

Well, well, well. I am feeling your words deeply, Brother and Pastor Jeff. As you can tell, this is more deeper than an act of a hate crime. Media again, chose to not recognize that the people who were killed are Christians. They identify the victims by the color of their skin. In all honesty, Satan has his hands in this. It is a hate crime against Christians.

There were a couple of other incidences that happen with other churches. It is not an attack against color, but an attack against Christians. It is the serpent's most oldest game in the book, "Divide and conquer." There are a lot of leaps and bounds for the colors in Christ that are coming together. If we come together under the Christ no matter what the differences are, we would be a force to reckon with. Now the challenge is, are the so called black Christians will play satan's game or be righteous with Christ.

Personally, I am struggling. All the hate talk that has come up with this incident sounds attractive but I am aware of the enemy's hand in this. And you know what, even back in the days of slavery, people were more against the slaves learning about Christ then anything else. Hummm? Pray. Good to read your message.

Jeff Berger said...

Thank you, Onesimus. Good to hear from you, brother.