What follows is an e-mail I sent to my congregation on June 20, 2015 in response to the murders at Emanuel in S.C.
Dear Emmanuel U.C.C. Community,
The country is rocked by the shooting at Emanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church, known as "Mama Emanuel." While people immediately took to Facebook to post opinions, turned to media to find answers and intensified conversations about racism, gun control, flags etc, I have been faithfully quiet, trying to digest it all.
When events like that at Emanuel take place, I am not shocked. Perhaps it's because I'm the son of a NYPD cop. Perhaps it's because I'm well-too aware of what takes place in the world: a gay friend who was attacked with a pipe on his way to a nightclub, black friends who were pulled over by cops as they were riding their bike, the daily anti-Muslim comments I hear/read, people who cautioned me about moving to the south because it's the "Bible-belt" and I may not be safe.
Yet, the truth is that we are living in the safest, most peaceful time in human history. It doesn't feel that way, because the media and Internet are able to immediately report upon all things at all places. So when bad things happen, they make the news.
When horrible events like that at Mama Emanuel take place, I am not so much shocked, but actually surprised that they don't happen more often. Here's why- humans are capable of doing the most horrible, heinous things we could ever think of. The fact that we don't, all the time, is something to be celebrated, because the truth is that anyone, at anytime can recreate what took place in South Carolina, or Sandy Hook or Oklahoma
We could live in fear; or we can live. When you see photos of me and my friends Tonya and Travis out and about in Sebring, we may be smiling, but we are also well aware that 50-100 years ago us being seen in together in public would not have happened. We also know there is always the possibility that we could be hurt. But we go out anyway.
In regards to the shooting at Emanuel, I believe there is a complexity of issues all interwoven.
Upon learning a bit more about the shooter, Dylan Root, it is apparent that he is someone living with the reality of mental illness. Mental illness is a topic we as a society have yet to fully discuss or understand, even though it affects almost every family.
I believe Root's mental. illness manifested itself in extreme prejudice and hate for the black community. So much so that it led him to plan out and carry through his race-based act of specifically going into a well known, historical black church and attacking the members there.
A wounded man who further inflicted wounds upon others. I'm not trying to justify or make excuses, but to talk about the complexity taking place.
How could he do it? Why would he do it? Are there answers? What's the solution to all the problems we as a nation are facing? Is it as simple as taking down a Confederate flag? Is it as simple as removing all guns? Is it as simple as talking about the reality of prejudice, racism and hate that exists in our country? Is it as simple talking about mental illness? Is it as simple as saying that if we hold a vigil and sing "Give Peace a Chance" that everything will get better?
It is not that simple. And there will be so much for us to talk about, to learn, to open ourselves up to, and to be honest about.
But for now, let us stand with the members of "Mama Emanuel" who have lost their religious leader and so many others; let us stand with the Charleston and national community that is dealing with shock, grief, fear, anger, numbness, rage, worry, hopelessness etc.
Let us continue to love one another and to hear the voice of those who are hurting.
Let us continue to seek out the wisdom of God, compassion of Christ and the healing of the Holy Spirit try to figure out what this all means and how can our nation heal before it gets worse.
In Christ; in love, Pastor George