Yesterday, heinous aggression and hatred walked into consecrated space and took away the most sacred gift that we have: life. The culmination of being raised in an atmosphere of disrespect for human life manifested itself in the heart of a young man. Broken and confused, he walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and took life from his fellow brothers and sisters. One made in the image of God destroyed others made in the image of God.
I sat, and in a moment the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama came to my mind. On September 15, 1963, the culmination of being raised in an atmosphere of hatred manifested itself in a bomb that destroyed innocent lives.
As I sat I was reminded of words Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the funeral of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, and Cynthia Diane Wesley, three of the four children who were murdered at Sixteenth Street Baptist.
“They died between the sacred walls of the church of God and they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.”
So, how can we respond?
As our bishops and deputies gather to share in the 78th General Convention, I would urge that you take time and focus on “those things that break the heart of God.” Loving as God loves is not without challenge. Loving as God loves will stretch our lives to such a degree that only a Holy God can make possible.
As a young girl, in times of hardship, when revenge and anger seemed like the best answer, my parents would lead us to pray. And they would keep saying, “Let us pray.” There were times that they even had to remind each other that the avenue of lasting change is always paved with prayer.
As we cry with Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, may we find in our prayers the voice and the actions that we so desperately need. May we not only love through social media outlets, but in thought, word and deed. Oh, “that our hearts would break with the things that break the heart of God.”
So as we pray, what shall we do? We raise the bar on what we will and will not stand. Silent, passive indifference – “because it’s not happening in my neighborhood” – is not what is needed from God’s people. Our baptismal vows call us together as the Body of Christ to renounce destructive actions and agendas no matter their origin.
We are far from powerless. I urge us to embrace the God that we are to present to those around us.
Pray, yes. Act, yes. Let us live into the reality of our lives as God’s people. Reconciliation is hard work. The best place for the Church to start is in prayer, with a willingness to be changed.
I remember the news in 1963. I was nine years old growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee. I kept looking at the television and thinking, “We go to church too.” I recall praying, asking God why such things happen in the world. I am still living with this question, especially today as we pray for Emanuel, but I have found what my response is to be to such atrocities. I am to use my resources and energies to challenge wrong and promote equality in thought, word and deed.
And my heart is to “break with the things that break the heart of God.”
The Rev. Dr. Dorothy White is the chaplain of St. Catherine’s School, Richmond, Va. She was ordained an Episcopal priest by the Diocese of Virginia earlier this year. She has spent more than 30 years in ministry, 20 of those years as an ordained Baptist minister.