Like most Americans, I feel like the last couple of weeks have been something straight out of a dystopian novel. It started with two officer involved shootings that immediately exposed the deep rifts in our society, race against race, group against group. The crime scene tape was barely up before the social media wars were in full swing. The law enforcement profession I love and the heroic men and woman I’ve worked with my entire adult life were being maligned with blanket accusations of systemic racism and institutionalized cruelty. You couldn’t turn on the TV or computer with an immediate blast of anger and division. As a Christian and a police officer, I felt the intense internal struggle between lashing out in rage at all the idiots who know nothing about police work, my colleagues, or me, and the gentle tug of the Spirit to be silent and follow Him. Rage and disillusionment were winning out.
Then Dallas happened.
At the height of the tensions, a hate-filled racist ambushed and assassinated five police officers and wounded seven more. A catastrophic fissure had been ripped through the soul of our country. So many families are suffering through the unimaginable loss. The country and law enforcement community were rocked again.
As I prayed for the families of the fallen and Dallas PD, I was reminded of Charleston. A little over a year ago the racial and social tensions seemed to be nearly as inflamed as today, the Ferguson Riots and Freddy Gray’s death still fresh in everyone’s memory. At that time another deranged little racist named Dylan Roof, also hoping to start a race war, entered the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, sat through a bible study and prayer, and then systematically slaughtered nine African American Christians. As the details of the murders were released, it seemed that Roof’s plan of mass civil war might loom just around the corner. But something happened that Roof could have not counted on. The nine victims, their families, and their community were actually Christians, true followers of Jesus Christ. The Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, who was one of the victims, had thoroughly saturated his congregation with the Word of God, and, as promised, it did not return empty. Within twenty-four hours of his arrest, in a miraculous and astonishing move, the victim’s families stood before the murderer of their loved ones and publicly pronounced, “We forgive you.”
The wicked plans of more racial schisms, ever-increasing hatred, and orgies of violence evaporated like the foul vapor of Satan’s breath with three simple words and the Spirit behind them. Charleston didn’t burn. To the contrary, the people of Charleston rallied around those amazing families at that blessed church, and the city began the process of healing and reconciliation.
Now as our nation, friends, and neighbors are once again bombarded with the negative, warlike voices from what seems like all sides threatening to tear us apart, we need another Charleston moment—a jolt of Truth in the midst of chaos where the Christ-like actions and words can once again extinguish the division and hate. And that can only come from Christians standing up and acting like, well, Christians, where faith and allegiance to Christ takes precedence over stirring discord and divisiveness over social media or in our personal lives.
Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31-32) and to bless those who curse you (Matthew 5:44). There doesn’t seem to be a lot of neighborly love going on right now, especially in my own heart. The war in my spirit is still fierce and quite dynamic at times. The lure to fight the voices of hate and rage with my own anger (cleverly disguised as righteous indignation) is a seductive thought, but the call of Jesus Christ requires that we surrender our own hurts, frustrations, and grievances at the foot of the Cross, regardless of what we feel or think about it.
The issues in our country are real and not likely to disappear any time soon. The wounds and anguish many feel right now are equally as real. But perhaps, with God’s grace, we can defend what we know to be right and true without contributing to the madness that seems to be gripping the world right now. Or, perhaps still, we can follow the template laid out for us by Jesus Christ and His followers in Charleston in dealing with those who have caused us harm— we could chose to speak some of the most difficult words in any language: “I forgive you.”
We need another Charleston moment. I desperately need another Charleston moment.