This week, the eyes of the nation were once again riveted on South Carolina as a young gunman opened fire on a prayer meeting at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. The unspeakable loss of nine precious lives reminds us that chaos and hate are strong in our fallen world:
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Susie Jackson, 87
Ethel Lance, 70
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74
Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45
Myra Thompson, 59
We grieve for their families and this senseless loss of life. We pray for justice. Our hearts hurt.
We ache for unity in our communities. But with so many forces – political calculation, media sensationalism, deep cultural assumptions and more – bent on dividing us, is reconciliation even possible? The answer: it simply must be! I recently heard it said that “Bold leaders have an unreasonable commitment to something that isn’t but should be.”
Will we determine to be those kind of leaders in our own spheres of influence?
There is no doubt it will be a difficult task. As the fog of grief lifts, the relative comfort of inertia and the poison pills of personal agendas and political grandstanding will be as strong as ever. But we can do better if we determine that we are stronger than the culture of cynicism and division in which we swim. If we understand that centralized government “solutions” will never ultimately fix things and instead truly commit to follow the second great commandment: to love our neighbor as ourself.
Love grounded in an ennobling belief in the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. Love that enables us to put down personal dogmas and sets us free to risk engaging in respectful, authentic conversations with people who may see things differently. Love that empowers us to extend and inconvenience ourselves for the sake of our neighbors and communities. Love that does the simple but often hard things like inviting someone different than you to share a meal.
Love that springs from the nourishing common ground on which we stand to say that we believe in the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. That we fight not for our own rights, but for the well-being of others. For the chance of every individual to realize their fullest God-given potential.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully expressed from his Birmingham jail cell, “…by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.” Unless we put this truth into action in every realm of our community life, this Charleston shooting will be just one more tragedy in the cycle of destruction and mistrust that is ripping our communities apart.
As we remember the victims in the Charleston shooting and pray for their loved ones, let’s also pray for leaders with the heart to speak truth and the courage to lead us toward a better way.