I want to talk about what happened in Charleston the evening of June 17.
The cold-blooded murder of God’s people, in God’s house, was an unfathomable act of senseless violence, committed by a young man whose stated intention was to “start a race war.”
In the days since the tragic news broke, we have tried to wrap our brains around the event, tried to make sense of the senseless. But there is absolutely nothing about it that makes any sense.
This sort of thing just doesn’t happen in South Carolina, my home state, the friendliest state in the nation. Why has it happened now?
Why has this person, barely a man at just 21 years old, done this horrific thing? Why did he walk into a church to kill innocent worshipers? Why that particular church? How could he sit with them for an hour, then execute nine innocent people who had welcomed him into their midst?
We might never know why or how.
But we do know this. His plan failed. Hate won’t win.
Rather than riots and fights breaking out, love and compassion broke out. Across our state, black people and white people of all ages embraced one another, wiping tears, lighting candles and holding hands in solemn remembrance of the nine victims. Hate won’t win.
Family members of some of the victims, at the murderer’s bond hearing, quietly spoke the most astonishing words to the person who killed their loved ones: “I forgive you.” Hate won’t win.
In Charleston, on the Sunday after the massacre, people left tokens of remembrance in front of Mother Emanuel Church while some strolled around downtown with handmade signs offering “Free hugs.” A white toddler approached an elder black woman and their embrace was caught by a news camera. Hate won’t win.
Our governor is leading a charge to finally remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House, an action that is long overdue. Members of our state legislature, on both sides of the aisle, have agreed that now is the time to retire the flag. For too long, its presence there has divided our people.
Over and over, in talking with friends and family about the massacre, the conversation focuses on the shared loss of good people, compassion for the victims’ families, disgust about the violation of a sacred place, the disbelief that such a horrid event has happened so close to home. Not once has anyone mentioned skin color – because it does not matter.
On Thursday afternoon, the day after those nine people lost their lives, my desire to find something good in all things led me to wonder what could possibly be good about this heinous crime. I’ve got to believe, I told a friend, that God has a bigger plan.
As I continue to read and listen and witness forgiveness and loving reactions to the evil that has been done, I wonder if this coming together of the people of our great state is part of that plan.
Many of us have long known that we are more alike than different. But now, in the wake of tragedy, it’s as if we are seeing one another with new eyes.
Conversations won’t fix everything and won’t bring back the nine precious lives that were snuffed out, but it’s a good start to the healing process. Hate comes from fear. Fear comes from ignorance. Ignorance comes from not understanding. Understanding comes from talking. Let’s talk so hate won’t win.