A dark cloud hung over our nation this week after the horrific news of the deaths of nine people during a prayer meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. No response can rectify this tragic loss of life, but followers of Jesus can choose to stand with families and communities in Charleston by seeking to respond in acts of love and solidarity. For some white Christians, we question what actions we might take in response to the racial hatred expressed in this appalling crime. Here are some possible ideas, shared in the spirit of seeking to encourage the body of Christ to come alongside of our brothers and sisters and the community of Christians in Charleston who have experienced this significant tragedy and loss.
1. Pray for the family and loved ones of those who were killed. Pray by name, asking for God's mercy and comfort. Petition the heavens that God might be especially present during this time of great need for the family of the victims and for all victims of racial violence:
Clementa Pinckney, 41, the senior pastor of the church
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, an assistant pastor
Tywanza Sanders, 26
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Susie Jackson, 87
Cynthia Hurd, 54
Myra Thompson, 59
Daniel Simmons, 74
DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Learn about their lives and commitment to the Christian faith. Pray for their community. Pray against racism, violence, and hatred.
2. Reach out to the pastor, leaders, and members of an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), or other African-American churches, in your community by writing a letter or calling to express your concern, love, and solidarity. This was modeled by Senator Mike Johnston who felt convicted in the middle of the night that he needed to make an intentional effort to reach out. He wrote a letter affirming his refusal to "stay silent after this abomination." And he shared these words:
"I drove here to reaffirm the overwhelming supremacy of love. And to stand with millions of other white men who are proud to call you brothers and sisters, and who feel compelled now to right the wrongs of generations past by ensuring that these lost loved ones you will not grieve alone, this hollow hatred you will not face alone, and this righteous justice you will not seek alone."
3. Intentionally listen, regardless of your own discomfort or disagreement, to the cries of the African-American community in response to this tragedy and other racial injustices being perpetuated across the United States. Read op-eds and open letters from the black community. Listen to African-American and other voices of color expressing anger, frustration, and grief at their experiences as non-whites living in the U.S.
4. Commit to learning about the realities of African-American history and present day injustices affecting communities of color in the United States. One place to start is by following #CharlestonSyllabus recommendations on social media which include numerous books and other resources such as Race: A Theological Account by J. Kameron Carter; A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James M. Washington; A Just Forgiveness: Responsible Healing without Excusing Injustice by Everett Worthington; the book I co-authored called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, and many others.
5. Host a worship experience at your home church community focused on intentionally grieving and lamenting the shooting in Charleston and what is happening right now in our nation around issues of race. Read about what five pastors are planning to incorporate in their services this week at Christianity Today's Leadership Journal.
Close your service with this powerful prayer from April 26, 2015, written by the late senior pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Pinckney, who gave his life while ministering the Gospel:
"Lord of all the names that we call you, we invite you into this space today.
We pray that you would fill this place, Emanuel, with your love.
May we remember that the name Emanuel means 'God with Us' and so we invite you and we welcome you into this place.
And God we pray that you would make 'Emanuels' of all of us, that we may be filled with your love, for we know that only love can conquer hate, that only love can bring all together in your name.
Irregardless of our faiths, our ethnicities, where we are from, together we come in love. Together we come to bury racism, to bury bigotry, and to resurrect and to revive love, compassion, and tenderness.
We pray that you would bless and empower all who are here to reach and to feel the love and to share the love.
We ask all now in reverence and holiness, may we together say, Amen."
These are only small steps to begin to engage. White Christians must stand up in solidarity next to our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ in Charleston and around the country. We must be willing to use our voices to turn the attention of our nation to the racial injustices that continue to be perpetuated and to declare loudly and boldly that all racial violence and hatred must come to an end.