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Originally published here. Reprinted with permission from the author.
June 24, 2015
This has been a deeply painful week.
While our Wednesday night Bible Study was discussing the two feeding stories in Mark 6:33-44 and 8:1-10, and exploring the fact that these two stories demonstrate that Jesus' compassion and miracles were available to both Jews and gentiles....leading us toward an understanding that we are called to include ALL people in the embracing love of Jesus....even as we were doing this, Dylann Roof was murdering 9 of our brothers and sisters in Christ as they prayed and studied the Bible.....because their skin was a different color.
This was not an anomaly....the result of a lone individual's mental illness. I grew up in South Carolina, and the undercurrents of racism have always been present in both subtle and not so subtle ways. This does not mean that everyone in S.C. is a racist. It DOES point to a systemic issue that needs to not be kicked to the curb. From the continued flying of the confederate flag to the kinds of subtle racist, bigoted humor that passes unchallenged in politer society...and the raw hatred that echoes among those who embrace neo-fascist ideals.....these things function as the slow burning embers of a low fire. And when that fire bursts suddenly into flame because a spark has caught in the mind of a Dylann Roof, we should not be surprised.
This got highlighted for me this morning when I received a text from a close relative in S.C. The humor in the text was directed, in what I consider an inappropriate fashion, at Caitlyn Jenner. I told my relative this and requested that they not share this kind of humor with me again. What I got back was a lecture on "political correctness." Now this relative would never assault a transgender person. They would never advocate violence toward people different from them. But they fail to see that certain kinds of humor are a sharp weapon in the battle to make those who are Other less that themselves. And when the embers burst into flames as they did in a rash of violence towards transgender women in Washington D.C. last year, they will not see that they helped blow on the coals.
Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clemta Pinkney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myara Thompson. These are then names that should be remembered; but the name of their killer will, unfortunately, be heard more often in the coming days than theirs.
Though Charleston is but the latest in a string of racially motivated murders, it is, finally, not about race, or gender, or religion or ethnicity for those of us who seek to follow Jesus. These are the painful expressions of a larger issue. That issue is this: "Who gets to set the table in the House of God?" Jesus claims that authority for Himself and Himself alone. He spends a HUGE chunk of time in the middle of Mark trying to make it clear to His disciples that His table has room for everyone. It took Peter years to get this, and he still crapped out on at least one occasion.
What would happen if, instead of trying to deal piecemeal with each new group of "outsiders," we trusted Jesus and said, "this is Christ's table and all are welcome here." We cannot say this about the Communion Table unless we are also willing to say it about all the "tables" in the life of our culture. The only requirement for a seat at the table is that we don't get to decide who else is welcome here.
Christians have always been called to a "counter-narrative," a different story about how the world is and who matters. That story is based on the life of Jesus and His inclusive welcome. By claiming that story we affirm that no matter who you are, regardless of your race, gender, ethnic group, or whatever other catagories the world uses to separate you out.....in our eyes as Christians your defining characteristic is "child of God."
I grieve with my brothers and sisters in Charleston. May they move into the glory of the Kingdom in heaven, even as we labor to see it come here on earth.
Rev. Stephen Price is a practicing psychotherapist, Biblical theologian, and interim pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, MD.