Jun 182015 10 Responses

My Fear of the Church’s Response to the Charleston Shooting

Imagine the outrage had the shooter been a dark-skinned Muslim who stood in a Bible study and said, “I must kill Christians.” The Church would stand united. We would make it abundantly clear that we are on the side of Christians in standing against Islamic terrorism.

But Dylann Roof wasn’t dark-skinned and he didn’t come to kill Christians. He was white and according to reports, he stood up and said, “I must kill black people.”

My fear is that this might change the response of the Church. It won’t change what is said, but it will likely change the passion behind it. The outrage will quickly fade. The resolve to take action will give way to a passivity or denial.

Denial is the most relevant word in the part of the world in which I pastor when it comes to the power of racism. Rightly seeing the improvements which have been made in the last fifty years, many people wrongly conclude that the issue of race has become a minor nuisance. What they fail to see, either by intentional ignorance or a limited experience, is the role racism continues to play in the lives of their neighbors. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past)

While we can never allow one situation to define all of society, say this out loud: “A white man in a state with the Confederate flag flying at the state capitol, walked into a traditional African-American church and declared he must kill black people before killing nine people.”

Clearly Roof was deranged. If the situation happened in a vacuum, it would prove nothing. Yet it didn’t happen in a vacuum. This shooting took place in an America which is deeply divided—economically, socially, geographically, and in almost every category possible.

Some may object by pointing out that the situation could easily be reversed. A black man could have killed people in a predominantly white church. It’s a true statement. However, how often does a black person kill someone simply because they are white? While it is obvious I could be a victim of violence, what is my chance of being a victim BECAUSE of my skin color? Not much. I’m far more likely to be killed because of my profession, a random occurrence, or because of a blog post than because of my race. (And, to further my point, the most violent responses I receive from my writing is when I write about racism.)

There were many factors into what happened on Wednesday night in Charleston—mental health, drug-abuse, a culture which is not doing an effective job of raising boys into men, an incessantly antagonistic stance against people of faith—but we cannot downplay the role of racism. And the centrality of racism cannot excuse us, especially the church, into an apathetic or passive response.

Thankfully we have a model for how we should respond. The passion we would have if an Islamic terrorist were to kill a Christian should be the same passion we have when a white kid walks into a black church and kills innocent people. We should be outraged. And the outrage should give us the energy necessary to act. (See: A Christian Response to Islamic Terrorists)

But how can we act?

We can do everything in our power to expose, confront, and eliminate racism WITHIN us and AROUND us. As we fight against racism, we are making preemptive strikes against future acts of violence.

Notice, it starts within us. No matter their race, every person has aspects of racism within them. The most dangerous person is the one who knows they are racist and they love it. They desire to be racist. But the second most dangerous person is the one who believes they do not have the ability to be racist. Their ignorance will cause them to justify their own evil acts. What we should desire is to be is someone who is aware we have latent racist tendencies and we seek to expose those mindsets and change them.

In order to find the racism within us, we need two things:

1. The humility to be truly introspective. It is not easy to search your own soul and honestly admit things you are doing wrong. It takes humility. (See: What a White Man Knows About Racism)

2. The community to help us see life from other perspectives. If the only voices who speak into our lives are just like us, we will never see life from another perspective. We need people who are different than us.

Only as we begin to confront the racism within us, can we have the credibility to also fight the racism around us. We must be careful in confronting racism around us, but we can’t be so careful that we are silent.

There are two pitfalls to avoid:

Many people confront their own racism and become uber judgmental against the racism of others. It’s an unhealthy and unproductive approach. We can’t judge others into change. While we should boldly speak against racism, we should confront the actions of others while empathizing with their humanity. Because we are aware of our own racial tendencies, it should give us compassion as we confront others for their wrong ideas.

Others are so afraid of becoming judgmental that they refuse to speak up against injustices. We must have enough courage to speak truth even when it is unpopular. We must be willing to have others judge us as hypocrites rather than allowing others to suffer as we stay silent. (See: 10 Reflections on Ferguson from a Pastor of  White Cops and Black Men)

Having a daughter with special needs, there are moments in which someone says something or does something which is not fair toward her. In those moments I have to stand on her side, but what I love the most is if before I say something, one of my friends says something. They can kindly speak to the person and point out the pain their comments or actions can cause. It saves me from having to do so and it assures my family that we have some on our side.

Whenever we see or hear racism, we must have the courage to speak and act so that, in part, others will know they are not alone.

My fear of the Church’s response to the Charleston shooting is that because it was about race rather than religion, the Church will responded apathetically or passively. My hope is that the Christian church will view this shooting within the larger narrative and passionately look internally and externally to confront the issue of racism.


10 Responses to My Fear of the Church’s Response to the Charleston Shooting
  1. Anonymous Reply

    I am from South Africa. And it is interesting what you say, because we have had black men walk into predominantly white churches and kill people attending that church. Because they were white. Not Afrikaans speaking whites – just white! I wonder if this reversal has something to do with America being predominantly white, and South Africa being predominantly black? Just a thought…

    I hang my head in shame that this person had a South Africa flag on his jacket.

  2. Vela Reply

    Powerful prose. Gives readers an insight into the heart of a man of God. Provides a template for readers when they have difficult choices to make. Thank you Kevin.

  3. forensicmommy Reply

    Great post as usual Kevin. I am a relatively new fan having found you earlier this year. I appreciate your tone and truthful and thoughtful posts. I agree with almost everything in the piece and correct me if I am wrong. You seem to think that black people can’t not be racist or that you are least likely to be killed due to your race by a black man. Please don’t underestimate the danger you could put yourself in with this flawed thinking. As a former magistrate I have seen up close and personal the hatred toward whites and others by blacks who would just assume take you out as go to sleep. It would mean nothing to them to kill a white person. As a woman in an interracial marriage and advocates for such, they come out of the wood work to express their disapproval. In this day and age, black women IR marriages and relationships have more to fear from black men than anyone other race. It is complicated but we are in a new day and time.

    I will not high jack your post, but I do want to let you know that the threat of black male violence based on race against white people is real even more so than from whites. White people may voice their opinions, but black men have come out of the woodwork to voice their disdain for black women marrying interracially. And in certain communities, they blame white people for everything bad in their lives and want to act like we are still living under a Jim Crow-esque society. There are lots of racially motivated crimes committed by blacks that don’t make the news as the liberal media wants to give them a pass. White guilt at its finest. Hate is hate.

    Our police are under constant attack because of the actions of a few bad/rogue/racist officers. I am also the mother of an autistic son so I totally get your other points that make you empathetic. I get it. I have an extra dose of fear because my son though biracial appears to be a young black man but he is moderately autistic and will always need supervision. If he were to come into contact with the police, it could be tragic or even deadly for him if he didn’t understand an order to put his hands up or a command being shouted to lie down on the ground. It is our worse night mare. I just pray for his protection.

    So while not even remotely giving this racist piece of sub human scum (Roof) a pass, I have another view of blacks in our society and know first hand how racist and violent some of us are as well.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sorry, I did not mean to imply that racism is only an issue for white people. I do not believe that. I was trying to say that in my setting it is very rare for a white person to experience violence because of their race, but is more common for a person of color to have such an experience. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. And clearly it is a common occurrence in other locations. Racism, being an issue of the heart, is something we are all capable of experiencing.

      • forensicmommy Reply

        Absolutely no need to apologize. Thanks for the clarification.

  4. Salina Smith Reply

    So true in what you wrote! We are all “every person has aspects of racism within them.” Here is my confession: I am Chinese. When I first came to this country 50 years ago, I had racism within me. I thought the Americans are generally not motivated, acting entitled, being lazy and looking beautiful! And I worshiped their beauty, but looked down on their characters/moral, willingness to work hard and their abilities to discern. I was called a banana, yellow on the outside, white in the inside. Jesus changed all that for me. I am the biggest sinner of them all as Paul put it. Now I am white as snow 🙂 You are right, the change is from the inside out and not from the outside in. I hear your passion for injustice and pain for inactivity. Pray that each of us will hear, read and reflect within ourselves: Not what others should do to change themselves, but what I can do to change myself for others. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit and in the powerful Name of Jesus, Amen!

  5. Cristy Smith Reply

    I appreciate this thoughtful response to a horrific situation. I would like to point out one concern though: racism is not a mental illness. This is an important distinction because implying that this shooter was mentally ill devalues the power of socially prevelant racism. It makes it easier for folks to use their denial arguments, as you point out so often happens. Consider that we don’t hear mental illness brought up in most discussions about global terrorism–it seems easier for us to understand evil choices born of evil ideology create attacks when the perpetrators look and have a belief system very different from ours. Yet when the killer is our neighbor, we jump to the assumption of mental illness. I wonder if this is an attempt to distance our own racist tendencies from the actions born of those same evil seeds.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Cristy, I wasn’t trying to imply that racism and mental illness is the same. It seems as though terrorism at its worst is when the people are not mentally ill. With the information I had when the article was written it did sound as though the shooter had a past of mental issues. It seems as though that was an aspect. Obviously in a situation with this type of violence, more than one issue is at play. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

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