Like many pastors, in my sermon this Sunday, I preached about the massacre of nine women and men on Wednesday evening at a Bible Study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
But as I remembered the events of that tragic night with our congregation, there was one line that after the sermon was finished, I realized I forgot. The one line Dylann Roof wanted us all, above all, to remember. A word he left one person alive, intentionally, to share.
“You are raping our women and taking over our country.”
Maybe, I didn’t want to speak such a word myself
Maybe, I didn’t want to remember.
But unless we remember Dylann’s word that he wanted above all us to remember, to put it in our mouths, and taste its hate, we will not have to look at what racism is doing to our country, our souls, ourselves.
Unless we can name such words and sit together with the horror of such words, we will not also have to see how our country has made peace with such words. How such words are born from our nation’s history. How such words continue to live and move among us, our institutions, our society today.
An uncomfortable word? For sure.
A despicable word? Yes, that too.
A word that runs in the face of all our pride in being “the greatest nation on earth”. A word that reminds us how far we fall from such self-congratulatory praise.
A word that calls us to repentance.
To humility. To change.
And I would be the first to admit, I do not want to change.
I do not want to be changed.
But it is change, that Wednesday night’s act of terrorism in Charleston calls us to.
It is change that Pope Francis’ Papal Encyclical on Climate Change calls us to. The encyclical was supposed to be the headline on Thursday, not the massacre in Charleston. The headline that had been carefully prepared for months. A passionate call by Francis not to just faithful Roman Catholics, but to “all living people on earth.” A call to change. To transformation. To have our hearts broken open by the suffering of the world and to make such suffering our own.
Yes, the suffering caused by our country’s love affair with guns and individual freedom at the expense of the common good.
Yes, the suffering caused by the peace we have all made with the senseless violence that wounds our country each day.
Yes, the suffering that we inflict and continue to inflict against our planet, our very lifeblood, that threatens the very survival of our planet and species.
Yes, the suffering caused by a privileged world and position of the few of us “great nations” against the poor of the world.
No, I do not want to remember such suffering.
No, I do not want to change.
And the future of our country, our souls, our planet requires that we do.