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Weeping, Walking, and Hoping after Charleston

June 19th, 2015 Comments off

The rain is relentless and it feels as though all of creation is weeping. Weeping for the 9 lives that were taken and the families they leave behind. Weeping for a church that has lost its shepherd and many of its dearest and most faithful servants. Weeping over a hatred and evil so strong that it could persist even in the face of kindness and warm hospitality from the very people it targeted. Weeping over this man who may have acted alone but is not alone in his racist beliefs. Weeping for our African-American brothers and sisters for whom this story is one they’ve heard and experienced too many times before.

As we continue to grieve what happened in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night, we must consider how this event is situated within the painful history of not only that city and state but also our nation. We must also consider the history of our churches. African-American churches and denominations (such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, of with Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston is a part) have served as a vital, vibrant place of community, nourishment, and refuge for African-Americans throughout the past centuries. While there is much beauty and strength to be admired in these churches, we must also remember that their establishment came, in part, because African-Americans were not (and too often still are not) welcomed in predominately white churches. This has unfortunately been the case in the history of our own denomination of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Last week, Pastors Dave and Dan attended the P.C.A.’s General Assembly (GA) in Chattanooga, along with hundreds of other pastors, elders, and denominational leaders. GA offers an opportunity for church leaders to learn and grow through seminars and worship services, to reconnect with old friends and partners in ministry, and to address a wide variety of topics pertinent to the denomination. Last Thursday night, the final business meeting at GA included an important discussion about racial injustice. One of the founding fathers of the PCA stood to confess his own inaction during the Civil Rights movement as a pastor in Mississippi. This led to a time of corporate prayer, unprecedented in its length and tone, in which (mostly white) PCA pastors and leaders prayed in repentance, confessing both actions and inactions that have hurt racial minorities, especially African-Americans.

A decision was made to defer the approval of an official resolution on civil rights remembrance and repentance until the language of the statement could be perfected for next year’s GA. However, many in attendance affirmed that repentance couldn’t and shouldn’t wait any longer. Some 200-300 elders signed the following statement:

We the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA (the undersigned) understand that repentance is not merely a statement, but steps of faithfulness that follow. Allowing that more time is needed to adequately work on such a denominational statement, but also the need for action now, we recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period. We commit ourselves to the task of truth and repentance over the next year for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. We urge the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek truth and repentance for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities. (To read more about what happened at GA on Thursday night, click here.)

This is a small step, but also a significant one. And the shooting in Charleston this week is a fresh reminder that we need to continue to take “steps of faithfulness” to pursue healing, relationship, love, and justice.  What can we do now to take such steps? A few suggestions for walking forward:

  • Lament, pray, grieve, and hope together: Talk and pray about what you’re thinking and feeling after this week’s events, and create space for others to do so as well. Cry out to God from the depths of grief and anger (Psalm 130). A prayer vigil will be held on Friday evening at 6:30pm at South City Church – consider attending this or another similar gathering.
  • Learn: Media outlets are offering many helpful articles right now on things like the history of the A.M.E. church, the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and other aspects of racial history in our country. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and understand how this week’s shooting is situated in this history.
  • Love one another: As members of God’s family, we have been loved with a love that overcomes all boundaries and all brokenness (Ephesians 2). We, in turn, are called to love others. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi’s well-known prayer, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” How can you sow love today? Perhaps it’s a kind word or a smile. Perhaps it’s an act of generosity or care for a neighbor or a stranger. Perhaps it’s picking up the phone and reaching out. Seek to do so, especially, for those who may be on the margins of our community or who bear the wounds of the hatred of others.

The sun will come out again. We have the hope of a day when every tribe, tongue, and nation will gather together to worship before our King (Revelation 7:9-10). On that day, our voices will join with those of Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Daniel Simmons Sr., and DePayne Middleton Doctor. Until that day, let us as individuals and as a Crossroads church family continue to take steps of faithfulness towards making God’s multi-cultural Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

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