The FBI has defined terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
As I sit down to write this column, we are just hearing of the nine tragic deaths in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of our extended Methodist family were murdered by a hate-filled, entitled young man while they prayed in church. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson are no longer with us because of a white supremacist with easy access to a gun living under a waving Confederate flag—always flying full staff on Capitol grounds in South Carolina, where antebellum (read: slavery) nostalgia is inescapable.
“He had that kind of Southern pride,” said a classmate describing the murderer. “He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that.”
We can make ourselves feel better by calling this an isolated incident. The act of a “mentally ill” person or “troubled loner.” But racism is not a mental illness. Hate is not a mental illness. It needs cultivation and care to exist. In fact, the reason an African Methodist Episcopal church exists at all is because of our own church’s racism.
My three-year-old son was sitting on my lap when I heard the news. We were sharing a bowl of cereal, beginning our day. I closed my eyes and laid my head on his, heartbroken and defeated. My white son, who is safe to pray and play just about everywhere in this country, who loves going to church and feels especially safe and happy there, is being raised in a nation that tells him he deserves more than others just because he is white. I promise to do my best to make sure he does not believe this, for it is one of the worst lies.
This country has a race problem. We need to address it before any more of God’s children die because of it, before we raise anymore killers.
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