I sit at my desk, shocked and saddened by news of what happened last night at Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. It is yet another instance of that which is beyond comprehension – human violence in a house of peace.
Violence erupted at 176 different American churches, synagogues, or mosques last year, and each time it leaves us wondering if, in fact, the world actually has gone mad. There is, of course, undeniable evidence that there is a link between untreated mental illness (including continuing lack of access to it for those who need it most) and public attacks on innocent people (whether in churches, movie theaters, on campuses, or in the streets).
There are also some other undeniable realities in our world. Violence as a result of racism is a reality. It is also wrong. Violence based on religion is a reality. It is also wrong. We’ve seen it twice recently in the lovely, traditionally safe, peaceful city of Charleston. We’ve seen it in so many other places from Ferguson to New York to small town America to Syria to Yemen to Iraq to Pakistan to Libya to Algeria and sometimes to homes in our own neighborhoods. Occasionally the violence is done in the name of God. And always, every time, it is ungodly.
So, what do we people of faith say or think in response to all this? First of all, as tragic as it is, it’s also not new. Jesus was not naïve when he said, “There will be wars and rumors of wars.” In short, He confessed that some people are simply evil and will treat other people in unjustifiably wicked ways. It has been happening throughout human history. In fact, we can only locate thirty years in written history when a war of some sort has not been waged somewhere. And certainly even in those brief, few years it is illogical to assume that violent deeds were not done on individual bases. This world is not Eden. In truth, it never has been.
But Jesus also believed that good is stronger than evil. His story says, “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The simple fact that our hearts are broken this morning... and that our minds cannot wrap around something so tragic and senseless... and that the news is filled with accounts of this story... and that there is a national outcry... and that across lines of denomination and faith systems, we are praying as one people for an end to violence and a victory for peace... all of that points to the reality that goodness, decency, compassion, mercy, and morality are still far more prevalent than the senseless, godless acts that capture the headlines.
What we read about today is the exception, not the rule. Sadly, it points toward systemic maladies that have to be corrected. And it falls upon all of us children of God to be part of the company that brings healing to a broken world. And yet, the horrifying stories that occasionally stop us in our tracks are still the exceptions. Whether in Charleston or New York or anywhere else, most of the people we will ever meet are decent and kind and more gentle than threatening, and almost always we are safe, both in church, at work, in school, on the streets, and in the world.
So, let us pray for our sisters and brothers in all places where evil acts of violence have harmed gentle children of God. As we trust that the souls of those murdered in Charleston last night have gone to be with God, let us also pray that God’s Spirit might come to be with the world – even through us. Let us be part of the “light of the world” that brings hope and healing. Let us live peacefully so as to become, in Jesus’ words, “peacemakers” (sowing the seeds of peace that can bring a societal harvest). Let us continue to lift up the lessons and lifestyle of the One called “Prince of Peace.” And let us live above fear, knowing that though the exceptions are unspeakably disturbing, the rule is still that life meets us day by day with the potential and promise of goodness, and that Christ walks with us both in this life and the one to come.