Love is the Light in the Darkness: Living in the Wake of Charleston


IMG_1007I’ve chosen to remain somewhat silent since the murders in Charleston, South Carolina. Mostly because what can I say other than, “Sorry?” Not because I’ve ever been an advocate for the KKK or racist ideology, or because I’ve proudly flown the “Stars and Bars” (I haven’t, I grew up in Kansas, so I never understood the infatuation with the losing side’s flag), or because I personally had anything to do with the murder of nine innocent African-American brothers and sisters in Christ. My silence – really, my shame – is that another white person killed black people and there’s very little we’ve done to stop this sort of thing.

Now, at this point some might interject and say, “But Roof is an individual and chose his actions. How can you hold all white people responsible? That’s actually racist!” And to a certain extent such sentiments are correct; what Roof did was the act of an individual and certainly not all white people are to account for his actions. That we don’t have to, however, is part of the luxury of being white in America: We (white people) can claim individuality in a way that others, especially black Americans, cannot.

When we see crime and murder rates within urban centers in America the common cry within white conversations is, “Well they need to get their society together.” When we perpetuate the myth of the absent black father, we always view it as a “black problem.” When riots broke out in Ferguson and later in Baltimore, we blamed the entire black community. When violence occurs within the inner city, the question goes, “Well why don’t they protest that?”

See, when a white man walks into a church and murders nine African-Americans in cold blood, we see an individual person and blame him. But if a black man walks down the street and murders anyone – black or white – we blame the entire race. Or consider that we might blame Al Sharpton, or rap music, or “race baiters,” or the “thug mentality,” or “black culture”  in general. But with Roof we’re not allowed to blame the implicit white supremacy that still exists in the South America World. We can’t blame country music that proudly promotes the “Stars and Bars,” or that such a monstrosity hangs from multiple institutions. We can’t blame the fact that, as a white male, his upbringing undoubtedly left him with a sense of entitlement to a better life and that when that better life wasn’t achieved, he sought to blame someone. That blame, of course, was passed onto non-white people (other than Asians apparently), which is quite typical. We’re not allowed to blame the culture when it comes to Dylan Roof murdering nine human beings, but it’s quite alright to blame all black people whenever a riot breaks out (even though no one dies).

The above only begins to explain why I’ve tried to remain silent in the wake of Charleston. Mostly because Dylan Roof doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He wasn’t raised to love other people, to respect people of all races and cultures, and then because of some medication flipped out and decided to go on a racist shooting spree. His actions result directly from a culture steeped in racism, so much that it’s a battle just to remove the symbols of racism – a flag, street names, monuments to men who fought to enslave other human beings – much less to remove the racism itself. His actions result from a culture where it’s okay to mock African-Americans for “their” culture, to call them thugs, to say they’re less-educated, and so on.

While I grew up in Kansas, I’ve lived in the South for nearly a decade. I’ve learned that when white people in the South get together, in private, horrible things are said. Simple, seemingly innocuous comments even exist within liberal circles. The, “Well they can’t really help it, so we have to help them.” A comment of hate laced with love, a deeper poison than some guy yelling the n-word. I’ve heard a guy speak about his church and just a few sentences later speak of how while Hitler was wrong for what he did, he wasn’t all that wrong in his thinking (had I not objected or said anything, the group would have just gone along without batting an eye). Racism is not only alive and well, but I’d submit that it’s getting worse, especially with younger generations in the South.

What’s worse, what’s sickening beyond all reckoning, is that Dylan Roof’s upbringing occurred in the so-called “Bible Belt.” In a place where Christianity is supposed to be its strongest in America, it remains one of the most anti-Christian places on earth. It is a place where Christ is rendered great lip-service, but the cry to “become all things to all men” falls upon deaf ears. After all, if a piece of cloth holds a symbol that offends another Christian – especially because that symbol stands for oppressing the entire race of that Christian – why not just remove it? Why fight it? Because of your “heritage?” But what is your heritage before the cross? Your “heritage” means absolutely nothing to a God beyond cultures and borders.

Perhaps if these so-called southern Christians recognized that they have far more in common with a Christian from Kenya than a nominal Christian next-door, our nation could begin the process of healing. What heritage is so important that one would sacrifice healing and a relationship in order to preserve it? Such a recalcitrant culture is not the sign of Christ, but the sign of nationalism.

Of course some get defensive and argue, “But what about the American flag itself? The American flag flew over slavery as well, over the genocide of Native Americans, and currently flies over bombing innocent women and children overseas. Shouldn’t we take it down too?” But doesn’t that actually underline the point? Doesn’t it highlight that our hope and identity isn’t found in a symbol, in a flag, or even in a nation? The survivors of the shooting in Charleston didn’t turn to President Obama, or do their senators, or to the American flag, or to any government or national institution; they turned to Christ and they displayed love and forgiveness.

Ultimately it is in the bonds of love, and not the protection of some gilded and fictitious “heritage,” flag, or movement, that healing occurs. If we wish to eradicate hate then we must love, but love begins with sacrifice. That sacrifice might require giving up a Confederate flag, it mights require you to befriend people who are different than you, it might require you to not only recognize your “whiteness,” but to do all you can to remove the negative elements. No one is asking southerners to eradicate sweet tea, pulled pork, or banjos; but the love of Christ should require us to give up symbols of oppression. After all, if the victims of racism can continually forgive (which is a sacrifice), certainly those who perpetuate racism – albeit unintentionally in some instances – can learn to love and sacrifice that which separates them from their black brothers and sisters. Or at least one would hope.

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3 thoughts on “Love is the Light in the Darkness: Living in the Wake of Charleston

  1. Yet the display of the Confederate Battle Flag ain’t about heritage, they started flying the flag at South Carolina’s capital in 1962, during the Civil Rights Movement, thus making it a symbol of repression and a protest against allowing blacks equel rights.

  2. I’ve lived in the south for almost 40 years and I have been in private meetings with a lot of other white southerners and don’t hear a lot of the things you say you have heard.

    Joel, maybe it is the quality of those in the group you are meeting with, not the fact they are from the south. Since most of the time I am in Christian circles, maybe I am just lucky to have true heart-felt Christ following people in my circles but I doubt it’s that.

    I think you make a great point about the symbols of racism, specifically the rebel flag, I just with you hadn’t made it about southerners. Bigotry is alive and well in the North, in KS and probably everywhere in the US. It’s not a southern problem.

    Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator said, If there were some way that I could win this war without freeing the slaves…I would. Was he a southerner?

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