“SMH” or “shaking my head” is a common phrase used in social media these days. As ill-equipped as it is in capturing my feelings when I heard of what Dylan Roof had allegedly done, all I could do was shake my head. I was and still am deeply saddened that he preyed on his victims in their most vulnerable place. Everybody knows to keep their doors locked in order to protect themselves and their families. However, the Christian church is not supposed to close its doors, we are called to welcome all:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28
Dylan Roof took advantage of this divine open-door policy when he waited inside that South Carolina church for an hour before he began his shooting rampage. Dylan Roof is a conniving coward, a murderer and a despicable human being. He has committed one of the most appallingly racist crimes in almost 50 years.
Upon hearing about this tragedy, I instantly imagined myself at a 1970s Black Panther gathering. What would they say? How would they react? I can imagine that the outcry for vengeance would have been deafening and that “Kill Dylan Roof” would have been the rallying cry. Seething with anger and frustration, my own voice might even have been the loudest. Then I sobered up and I remembered that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I still wasn’t sure about exactly how that should affect my response, I just knew that lynching Dylan Roof, as fitting a punishment as that might seem, was not the answer.
Thankfully, the power of the Gospel was on full display when one of the family members of Ethel Lance, a victim in the shooting, had an opportunity to address Dylan Roof at his bond hearing. Speaking on behalf of her family and fighting through tears, Ethel Lance’s daughter said “I forgive you” and she pleaded for mercy on Dylan Roof’s soul.
Upon hearing that I remembered one of the reasons that Jesus’ message was so difficult to deal with. We all have moments where we bask in our self-righteousness and condemn others. For me, this was one of those moments. The hardest part of Jesus’ message is that God is willing to be merciful toward people like Dylan Roof as well. I thought to myself, are you kidding me? That Guy? Yes and yes. In our human hearts we have limits as to what we are willing to forgive. If Ethel Lance’s daughter stepped into that courtroom and cursed Dylan Roof out, we all would have cheered and not thought twice about it. “That’s the least he deserves,” we’d say. However, I believe that God was working through that woman to deliver a much better response.
The response of Ethel Lance’s daughter is better because it is actually impossible to heal from the effects of racism in this country without that type of spirit. Jesus said:
“…if anyone slaps you on the right check, turn to him the other also.” -Matthew 5:39
The lesson here is to resist the urge to repay a wrong with a wrong and to respond with a heart that is willing to go the extra mile to seek reconciliation whenever possible. Dylan Roof allegedly committed this mass murder to start a race war, yet we saw the exact opposite. We witnessed a beautiful coalition of people, from all walks of life and from many races, mourning as one. The problem with taking up arms and trying to retaliate is that it continues a cycle of violence and bitterness that will continue on forever. Blacks feel especially justified, and rightly so, in their condemnation of the racist history of America and its modern-day manifestations. In so doing we are heavy-handed and at times downright hateful in our approach. As a result, hate groups were able to manipulate a disaffected and mentally weak person into committing a heinous act. We have witnessed the plot of the movie Higher Learning in real life.
So even though it’s a tough pill to swallow, Jesus’ Gospel message of mercy and forgiveness means that despite the fact that Blacks are in many ways victims of America’s racism, we must be willing to reconcile. I’ll be the first to admit that this is one area in which God is still working on my heart.