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Can We Find Healing From Racism’s Hurt?

Can We Find Healing From Racism’s Hurt?

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As we probably all know by now, a terrible event happened in South Carolina.  Someone full of hate walks into a church in Charleston, sits in worship for most of the prayer meeting, then near the end, starts shooting people left and right.  In the end, nine people died.  The manhunt ended a few days later.  This terrible act once again has plunged our society to confront issues of race that never really went away.

How are we to respond now in the wake of this. What lessons can we learn?

1.  Continue praying for the victims and those immediately affected by this senseless tragedy.

As a friend said to me on Facebook, “we should also pray for this young man who committed this act.”  Jesus, as he was being nailed to the cross and killed, prayed for those who were doing it by saying, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing!”  May this man experience God’s mercy and saving grace.

2.  We need to use this experience as a time of introspection.  

We as humans have an incredible knack for refusing to face reality and accept responsibility.  We tend to point to other people or factors and detach ourselves from evil acts, as if the potential for it were only relegated to others.

It’s easy to think that events in Nazi Germany, the Jim Crow Era, and even the events in Charleston couldn’t be repeated if we were the ones present.  We quickly forget that Sin has infected everyone (Romans 3:23).

A South Carolinian by the name of Ed Madden wrote a powerful poem shortly after the massacre which highlights this very point:

“When we’re told we’ll never understand”
Someone says a drug-related incident,
someone says he was quiet, he mostly kept to himself,
someone says mental illness,
someone says a hateful and deranged mind,
someone says he was a loner, he wasn’t bullied,
someone says his sister was getting married in four days,
a newsman says an attack on faith,
a relative says his mother never raised him to be like this,
a friend says he had that kind of Southern pride, strong conservative beliefs,
someone says he made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that you don’t really think of it like that,
someone says he wanted to start a civil war,
he said he was there to kill black people,
the governor says we’ll never understand.
*
He is not a lone wolf,
he is not alien,
he is not inexplicable,
he is not just one sick individual,

he is one of us,

he is from here,
he grew up here,
he went to school here,
he wore his jacket with its white supremacist patches here,
he told racist jokes here,
he got his gun here,
he learned his racism here,
his license plate sported a confederate flag here,
the confederate flag flies at the state capitol here,
he had that kind of Southern pride,
this is not isolated this is not a drug incident,
this is not unspeakable (we should speak),
this is not unthinkable (we should think),
this is not inexplicable (we must explain it),
he is not a symbol he is a symptom,
he is not a cipher he is a reminder,
his actions are beyond our imagining,
but his motivation is not beyond our understanding
no he didn’t get those ideas from nowhere.
mental illness is a way to not say racism
drug-related is a way to not say hate
loner is a way to not say one of us
we’ll never understand is a way to not say look at our history
Look away, look away, look away.”

3.  Words and prayers are not enough; we must also be agents of change here on earth.  

As a Seventh-day Adventist, I’m proud to see that our church issued a statement by President Dan Jackson sending condolences to the members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where this happened.

However, are statements enough?

There was a petition that swirled around to remove the confederate flag from Government places.  Incredibly, a few days ago, our governor Nikki Haley had a press conference to announce that they would officially be taking down the Confederate Flag down from the South Carolina State Capital building and other government properties.

However, are petitions enough?

No. We must not only speak but be willing to act courageously and proactively right the wrongs of the past.

As Seventh-day Adventists, it’s hard to be agents of healing in this situation when we ourselves still operate the same inherited segregated structures that were necessary when these types of tragedies were much more frequent.  Our own color-coded reality undermines our witness no matter how nicely worded we try to excuse it.

Yet, I’m proud that the Lake Union Conference recognized this in their formal apology to the Lake Region Conference (one of five conferences that make up the Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota) for the racism that led to the establishment of the Regional work with their words:

“A simple, honest look at the segregated Church of the past, the segregated General Conference cafeteria, the Negro Department of the General Conference that was first directed by White men, the segregated hospitals that we know led to the death of Lucy Byard, the dismissive attitudes and actions… These and more issues were also major contributors to the establishment of the Regional work. That look, that review and recalling of history, takes a simple heartbeat in time for us to recognize the Church failed the Black community, specifically the many loyal pastors, teachers and members who stayed true to the message and mission of this Church in spite of its deep and many failures.”

Elder Don Livesay, the Union President who issued the apology went on to say the following:

“One could say that the White Church—the White members and leadership—merely reflected what was going on all around us. But God has not called His Church to reflect the evil of the world; God has called the Church to reflect His character, to treat each other in love—with the Golden Rule, in respectful ways, and to honor each other and all of God’s children.”

Words are good, but they’re not enough.  We need to take courageous action like actively removing a symbol of hate for many people, even though it represents heritage to others. We need to recognize where we as a church have failed each other and no longer be comfortable maintaining the status quo.

See the full apology here.

As Christians, we must fully understand that the Kingdom of God’s view on race is not so much concerned about co-existence as much as it is about reconciliation.  The church is supposed to be a microcosm of what God intends to do in the rest of the world.

4. Recognize that forgiveness is a powerful thing.

Charleston has also sparked a lively conversation about grace and forgiveness.

For example, Nadine Collier (the daughter of one of the victims) said as she fought back tears, “You took something very precious from me, but I forgive you.  It hurts me.  You hurt a lot of people, but may God forgive you.”

“On the one hand, [forgiveness] does call out the best in us. But it also can obscure the justice component, and it can feel like an easy fix for people,” said Howard Zehr, a professor at Eastern Mennonite University who reflected on the event.  “People think it’s forgive and forget, and it’s the opposite. It’s forgive and remember. The one common theme I’ve heard is that it’s a letting go, that this person is not going to control my life forever.”

“Forgiveness is a process: It’s something you commit to, but it doesn’t happen immediately,

Daryl Van Tongeren, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hope College who has also published works on forgiveness, said that the kind of forgiveness lifted up by the families of the Charleston victims has something to teach us all:

“Decision forgiveness is separate from emotional forgiveness.  It is possible that forgiveness that occurs quickly is likely decisional forgiveness: Making a commitment to forgive. This leads to future forgiveness, so it might signal that one is working toward forgiveness, which will likely take time. It’s important to note that justice and forgiveness are also separate, though related. Individuals can forgive while the justice process is being carried out. Moreover, forgiveness is not excusing, justifying, condoning, or pardoning an offense. Rather, one can offer forgiveness but still want justice to be enacted.”

At the end of the day, Jesus really knew what he was talking about.  “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing!”  Only when we tap into that power and experience it in our lives, our churches and our communities can we hope to see light at the end of this dark tunnel.  Let’s continue to pray for each other.

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Nelson Fernandez

Nelson is married to the love of his life, Sarah, and together have a son named Isaac. He serves as Associate Pastor at Miami Temple SDA, a multilingual, multiethnic, and multicultural church in South Florida. He loves ministry, Marvel movies, video games, Naruto, and serving the local church. He also runs his own blog about leadership, evangelism, and practical Christianity at www.nelsonsblog.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @nelsonblogs.

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