If one member [of the Body of Christ] suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. – I Corinthians 12:26
Last week, I had the opportunity to see the documentary Emanuel, a film about the Emanuel 9, killed in an act of domestic terrorism and white supremacy while in Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. The film offered historical context while focusing primarily on the family and friends of the victims, particularly their astonishing statements of forgiveness to Dylann Roof, who had entered the church, sat through an hour of Bible study, and opened fire during prayer. I also led a discussion group with a dozen other Lutherans after the film, in which we talked about the impact Emanuel made on us and the evil of racism.
Several teenagers were part of the discussion, and one said in a puzzled way, “I couldn’t understand how he could do this. They said he had a normal life and that all this hate grew in just a few months.”
Her statement clarified for me something that I had known but never quite internalized: it is not enough to be neutral or even to reject evil if we do not also affirm what is good. Being non-racist isn’t enough; we must be anti-racist. From the film, it seemed that Dylann Roof was raised neither to accept nor reject white supremacy. When he encountered it as a young adult, mere months before murdering nine Black Americans at prayer, he had no framework to help him reject it. This is particularly troubling to me as an ELCA pastor, as Roof grew up attending a congregation of the ELCA.
So what then can we (and here by “we” I mean white Americans, especially Christians, especially Lutherans) do? We can see that we have a moral calling to reject sin, death, and the power of the devil, as we say in baptism. But how? It’s not enough to avoid being racist. We must also affirm the God-given dignity and holiness of people of color, whose worth has so often been called into question. We must act as if we believe Paul’s words that “when one member of the body suffers, all suffer with it.” We must have the courage to tell the truth and listen when the truth is told, that we are captive to the sin of white supremacy in our communities and even in our churches, and that we need God to set us free.
I also ponder this question as a white mother of young white children. Each time I read “Martin’s Big Words” to my children and answer their hard questions about why white people wanted MLK dead, I hope they learn to reject white supremacy. Each time I offer diverse books and toys, I pray they recognize the beauty of the breadth of God’s children. Each time I commit again to the hard work of anti-racism, I do so longing for my dear children and the dear children of every color to see the future that MLK dreamed, of a beloved community formed of every race.
The blood of the martyrs cries out from Charleston: the lives of Clementa, Ethel, Daniel, Cynthia, Susie, Depayne, Tywanza, Sharonda, and Myra. We cannot afford to ignore it.
At the discussion I led, we closed with the Lord’s Prayer. I offer them here, again, in the hope that when we pray to be delivered from evil and see God’s kingdom come, we remember Emanuel.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.