A Christian Response to Charleston
On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, a young man filled with hate entered the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. This young man* was angry and filled with hatred for those who were not his “race”. He sat through most of the bible study and then decided to try to kill everyone he could. He killed nine people and injured a tenth. Among the slain was the senior pastor and a state senator.
This tragedy spurred a great outcry for more gun control and even morphed into a large boycott and refusal to sell the Confederate flag by several of the largest retail and internet stores. Normally, I would take some time talking about the bad through process about those facts. In this case though, I’m going to leave that for later.
Instead, I want to talk about the root cause of this tragedy, and maybe a policy or two that might have either prevented, or at least mitigated, the horror. Why should we be concerned about WHY this tragedy happened? Simple. If we can begin to fathom why someone would attack a bible study at a church, we might begin to figure out how to stop them.
According to some early reports, the young man was “hearing voices” that were telling him to commit this horrible act. The more that the police and media investigated, the more it looked like this terror was racially motivated. It appears that the highly charged racial unrest in the area fed into the twenty-one year old’s biases and anger. The charged racial unrest was sparked when a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man. The officer is currently in jail awaiting trial for murder, and the city was experiencing a major backlash of unrest. According to investigators, this was the trigger that pushed the man over the edge.
When this man committed to going on a killing spree, he had two different targets in mind. One of the targets was the church where he eventually would commit murder. The other target was reportedly a local college. According to one of the man’s friends, the young man chose the church, instead of the school, because the school had armed security. In South Carolina, state law forbids concealed carry of firearms in a church without the express permission of the pastor. According to reports, Emanuel AME is a church where the parishioners are disarmed.
I would suggest that evil is the primary cause of this tragedy. Hatred and bigotry hardened the heart of this young man. This bigotry fueled a fire that was fed kindling from the racial unrest that surrounded him. The fire burned bright enough to feed the evil that lurked in his heart. In the end, it was not a gun problem. It was not even a hatred problem. It was a HEART problem, a heart where darkness and evil took up residence. The only cure for that heart is the love of the Savior.
What about the church? Is there something that church could have done? Is there something that your church can do now to stop an attack like this? The data has shown time and again that an armed good guy – either law enforcement or civilian – will stop an attack with far fewer casualties. This has been born out many times here in America. I continue to be amazed at the number of pastors and churches that will not allow any of their parishioners to be armed, in spite of the growing number of attacks on religious institutions and the value of armed citizens. For more on the discussion of armed church members, read the article The Dichotomy of an Armed Christian on this website.
Another way that churches can help prevent these attacks is to have a dedicated safety and security ministry. By having a ministry in the church to help keep those who attend it safe, as well as assist with medical and other emergencies, the church can minister in those important, and oft-neglected, areas. Consider this attack. The young man chose this church because it did not have any security. His other target option had security, and he wanted a target that wasn’t going to fight back. A simple safety team might have prevented this church from becoming a target in the first place.
In the end, as Christians, we need to pray for Emanuel AME and those who call her home. They are hurting and devastated by this attack. We need to pray that the young man somehow, some where, come to meet Jesus, because He is the only one that can remove the darkness. And we need to pray for the city of Charleston. The racial tensions are still high, and violence is a clear threat on the horizon. We need to pray for peace from EVERY side. We are called to be part of His solution, not part of the problem.
As always, stay safe. Serve well.
*As you can tell from this article, I have a policy of never using the names of the mass murderers and criminals that target innocent people. The vast majority revel in the media spotlight, and enjoy their notoriety. I refuse to perpetuate that fame.