I find it to be a powerful article written by the Rev. Waltrina N. Middleton in the most recent issue of The Christian Century. Her cousin, the Rev. DePayne V. Middleton, was one of nine members of Mother Emanuel who was gunned down and murdered by Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina five years ago. Three survived. As you recall the story from your memory, that night on June 17, 2015, Dylann was offered “one of the most humblest and beautiful offerings one can extend to a stranger: a seat at the table,” as Middleton shared.
This hospitality and love arose out of Mother Emanuel’s rich tradition as a congregation and each individual’s faith. Treated as a guest, without any thought of racial profiling or judgment, Middleton’s cousin reportedly shared her Bible with Roof and as a result was one of the first to fall to his murderous act. Just moments prior to the shooting, thirteen people were singing, studying the Bible, and closing the study by standing together, holding hands, in a circle of prayer.
Like the other eight victims, “Dep” as Waltrina called her, did not get to go home that night. Four daughters were left without a mother. They knowingly did not get to have one last meal with their mother, while Roof was treated to a meal from Burger King before he was ever taken to jail. Twelve people who had gathered for worship were targeted for the color of their skin. Unimaginable grief fell not just upon their families but the community and the nation as well. A problem too often ignored and normalized, a rush to push a narrative of forgiveness, all the while the wound is wide open and the situation calls for nothing less than lament.
Several years ago, I visited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama where on September 15, 1963, four beautiful young girls, dressed in their Sunday best, were killed when a planted bomb exploded, courtesy of the KKK. Even now with the bronze plaque and the park of statues across the street, I question whether we had moved too fast in pushing the narrative of forgiveness without allowing us the needed time to lament, to do some deep soul-searching and truth-telling, reconciliation, and healing that might have prevented the tragedy at Mother Emanuel.?
Yes, forgiveness is a Christian response but so is lament. Middleton writes: “We can be committed to love and radical hospitality, to welcoming the stranger into our midst, to extending a seat to join us at the table – while also maintaining our right to be angry and to righteously resist the violence against our humanity.” Speaking for myself, as a white person, I tend to be more comfortable with the idea of forgiveness, as difficult as that might be to extend to someone who has wronged me. But then, have I really considered at what cost?
Even now, we continue to witness a racial divide because of our failure to name the sins of this brokenness and allow opportunities for grief work. Middleton shared her story, no doubt, in light of what we are experiencing since the George Floyd killing. Folk are already growing weary of the protesting and marches, not even seeking a stage of forgiveness but simply as a measure to appease those in authority. But the work of lament is what is needed now if we are ever to see ourselves seated next to one another. Forgiveness will come in due time.
See you Sunday,