America's heart is broken because of the heinous racial murders and devastating church burnings in southern states. As a white southern Christian transplanted in New York City, I recognize the sociology of white supremacy leading to these devastating crimes and stand firmly against the actions of the perpetrators.
What would drive Dylann Roof to murder nine African Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina? The white male culture of the South contributed, baptizing him into a militarized masculinity in a still-racially-divided region. Dylann's father gave him a gun for his 21st birthday -- a rite of passage for a white Southern man -- and then he consciously chose a path of violence and bloodshed. While some claim that Dylann Roof is mentally ill, the truly frightening possibility is that he is sane and sober -- that he was raised under a white supremacist culture and is acting out his racism in the most violent of ways.
We have witnessed yet another eruption of racism in a swath of suspicious church burnings across the South. Burning churches is an act of destructive cowardice. A church is supposed to be a space for grace. Through slavery and segregation, the church was a sanctuary of safety for African Americans, but white supremacists have historically burned black churches to exercise social control. In 1822 white supremacists burned down Emanuel AME church in Charleston after executing Denmark Vessey, one of the church's founders, and five other organizers of a slave revolt plot. Black churches were also bombed and burned during the Civil Rights Movement. On Sunday, September 15, 1963, members of the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The explosion killed four little girls who were putting on their choir robes, preparing for morning worship and a sermon titled "A Love that Forgives." Through vigilante violence white racists are violating spaces of sacred community, unveiling a moral contradiction in the heart of America -- white supremacy.
As a Southern white man I discovered racism in my own heart and hometown. After moving away from Mississippi and meeting my wife, I brought her home. Whenever she heard racist comments, she would fearlessly and forthrightly challenge them. She gave me the courage to call out my community on racist remarks, but most of all to call out the racism in my own heart.
In this moment of national mourning, we have the opportunity to grieve the loss of lives and churches, and unite in resolute opposition against any more lost life. Prophetic grief transforms our sadness into seeking faith-rooted justice for all. It is critical in this moment that whites step up and confess the sin of racism in America and condemn this deadly disease. As pro-reconciliation/anti-racist whites, we must repent by dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, communities, families and hearts, and by becoming humble, supportive allies in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, accountable to those who suffer most.
Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan is one sign of real hope, convening consistent conversations for change. Pastored by Rev. Dr. Jacquie Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church is a welcoming, multi-cultural congregation that has skin in the game for social justice. Every month Rev. Dr. Lewis and I gather a group of clergy and young activists from #BlackLivesMatter and the Justice League NYC for a lunch conversation. Our open table conversation has two goals. First, we want to develop a new public theological language related to #BlackLivesMatter and the trauma of racism in America. Second, we seek to develop specific strategies for increasing the engagement of leaders of faith and moral courage in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Open and honest conversations in our congregations are an important first step for change.
Among the changes our nation needs is the retiring of old symbols of hate and creating new symbols of hope. Having grown up in Mississippi, I'm glad that Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina signed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. Gov. Haley and the South Carolina House were inspired by Bree Newsome, a thirty year old #BlackLivesMatter activist, who climbed the flag pole and brought the Confederate flag down. It's time to remove this symbol that means oppression and hate to so many, and embody an America committed to justice for all citizens, actively building the "beloved community" espoused by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. My home state of Mississippi remains the only state incorporating the Confederate flag into its state flag, adopted in 1894 long after the Civil War. I called Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi and asked him to follow the example of Gov. Haley and remove a symbol of oppression and embrace a new symbol for a New South. Let's keep the prophetic pressure on these Southern states to bring down the confederate flag.
Prophetic actions like this, coupled with a strategic faith-rooted organizing strategy for dismantling systemic racism and economic injustice, are our great hope: "We have a new demographic emerging that is changing the South. The one thing they don't want to see is us crossing over racial lines and class lines and gender lines and labor lines. When this coalition comes together, you're going to see a New South," says Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Senior Pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and President of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP. Rev. Dr. Barber is calling on faith-rooted activists to join him in mobilizing faith-rooted moral movements for racial and economic justice in state capitols around the country. On Monday July 13th, Rev. Dr. Barber led a Moral Movement Mass March in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the first day of a U.S. District Court trial about the constitutionality of the state's voter ID law.
North Carolina is our Selma. Fifty years after Dr. King led the Selma to Montgomery March during the Civil Rights Movement, Rev. Dr. Barber led the Moral Movement Mass March in Winston-Salem. Voting Rights are under attack and churches are being burned; It's time for a national mobilization. The growing Moral Movement is a concrete opportunity for faith leaders to join the struggle to dismantle structural racism and build an inclusive economy for all.
As a Christian white man, it is important I follow the lead of my African American colleagues and friends in this growing multi-faith movement for justice, and I call on my fellow white allies to do the same -- conversing, creating and advocating -- as we discern creative ways the church can bear bold witness in this urgent moment with a spirit of humble solidarity. Together we can mobilize for a prophetic, interracial and intercultural future. #BlackLivesMatter, and all Christians need to have skin in the game.
This is the part of a series of posts by Auburn Senior Fellows of different faith and backgrounds who proclaim that when #BlackLivesMatter we will all be free.
See also I am Black, and Black Lives Matter, by The Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. ; and I Am Gay and I Am Black Lives Matter, by Bishop Gene Robinson; I am a Muslim and I am Black Lives Matter, By Linda Sarsour