The shocking news about the shootings in Charleston, SC, has impacted all of us. We have dealt with tragic shootings in schools, in malls, and in homes, but to learn that a gunman murdered nine persons in the midst of a local church's prayer service – well, that was a shock. We have become too used to violence, guns, murders, and malicious hate in our country. We are almost vaccinated against noticing the nightly news with its parade of stories of more killing. Sadly we are no longer shocked by such stories.
'God forgives you and I forgive you.' What a wonderful testimony of faith!
But for most of us this was different – a church, a prayer service, in the midst of reading the Bible and praying for the people of their community – and yet, even there, violence erupted in a most heinous way.
In other parts of the world, sadly, Christians expect such dangers and have suffered such violence. But here in the U.S., we have always thought that some places were "sanctuaries" and "houses of God" where violence should not happen.
At this point, the suspect has been captured and arrested, but I have no idea what could have motivated such an evil act. Racism? It certainly seems like it. Hatred of God's people? Possibly. Mental derangement? Likely, but I hope that is not considered an excuse. Probably we will never know or fully understand what caused a young man to do such a thing.
Already we see amazing signs of grace as some of the families of those murdered have said to the alleged killer: "God forgives you and I forgive you." What a wonderful testimony of faith!
So what can we do? We can pray, pray for the people involved and their families, pray for the community of Charleston, and pray for all Christians everywhere who start out going to church but end up in harm's way. I would like to think that this will never happen again, but I fear that we have crossed some thresholds of hatred, racism, intolerance, and loss of civility in our nation which means violence will be our on-going pattern. I hope not, but it seems to be so.
At the root of it all? Seeing another person as anything less than a person. That is the evil which underlies racism, and pornography, and abuse of power, and sexual abuse, and just plain old poor manners. When we look at any other person and see something less than a real person, a child of God, a person of sacred worth – whenever we see any other person as an "it" or object – that is the underlying cause of all prejudice, division, discord, and ultimately violence. You can't shoot another person without "objectifying" them and seeing them as something less than a real person. It all starts at that most basic level.
So, let's pray for Charleston, pray for the victims and their families, and pray for an end of violence. But let's start by praying for ourselves this prayer: "O God, forgive me whenever I regard another person as anything less than the valuable human being you have created them to be. Forgive me whenever I look at another person through the filters of race, or class, or politics, or religious differences, or any other barriers. Forgive me, Lord, and help me to see the other as Your child. Amen."