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Category: News & Current Events / Topics: Choices and Decision Making Christian Life Forgive, Forgiveness Grace Tragedy

Responding to Charleston

Living the gospel following tragedy

by Scott Ridout

Posted: June 26, 2015

How should we respond to the murder of nine innocents at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina…

Scott Ridout is president of Converge Worldwide (formerly Baptist General Conferece).  The following message was sent to pastors and leades in the denomination on Sunday, June 21. 

Service honoring the nine victims

All of us are aware of the great tragedy of the senseless deaths of nine prayer warriors in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week. (I want to commend our law enforcement officers, who very quickly and effectively apprehended the suspect to keep others from more harm. We are grateful to all of you who serve us so well.) Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney was both a strong leader in the church as well as a leader dedicated to the betterment of his community and the state of South Carolina. Another senator described him as the "moral conscience" of the South Carolina Senate. His life was indeed a great loss to family, church, community, state and country.

The other victims—Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd and Myra Thompson—were faith-filled brothers and sisters in Christ who were godly influences in that community. Each had his/her own story and dream of being used by God to impact people with the gospel. They had gathered Wednesday evening to seek God's intervention in their lives, in their community and in the work that needed to be done around the world. While we grieve over the lives of all people because each has intrinsic value in the eyes of God, the death of these God-loving believers hits extremely close to home.  

When the unconscionable happens in our country or community, we have a choice to make. Many response options exist as a result of this tragedy, but three will be prevalent. The first option we have is to close our eyes. This tactic is evident when we take a posture of fear ( I don't know what to do), ignorance (If I ignore it, maybe it will go away or someone else will deal with it) or helplessness (It is so big and there are so many issues, why even try?). There are so many things I could say about this tactic's self-protective nature, its impotence or its foolishness.  

The second option we have is to repay the evil. If you followed the story, you know this was a racially motivated hate crime. It was racial targeting. The shooter sought, intentionally, to kill African-Americans. He had an agenda to "start a race war." I believe the church may have been chosen intentionally (to see the historic significance of this Emanuel church in this work, click here). He did what he did to foster fear, build mistrust, expand hatred and widen the already existing divide. It would be very easy and even understandable to promote hatred or revenge in response to his actions.

Memorial outside the church

The right option is to proclaim and live out the power of the gospel. This counter-intuitive, counter-cultural response is the only option for the church. We all know that the world is not as it should be. Our systems are broken, our people are fallen and our world seems unfixable. Racism is alive and well. Hatred is evident everywhere and evil is prevalent in many parts of this world. Awareness of individualistic intolerance of people who don't think, act, believe or look like us seems to be growing at an alarming rate. Yet we should not be surprised. Wasn't it Jesus who said, "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33)? 

To respond to hate with hate or with apathy is not acceptable. We must turn our hearts and minds to the core of our faith and lead/live out of our convictions. We believe in a God who teaches us to love those others choose to hate, because that is what he does. We believe in a God who is greater than our circumstances and powerful enough to overcome any crisis we may face. We believe in a God who is by nature a redeemer. He takes what is broken, fallen and seems unfixable and has the power to make all things new. We believe in a God who is in control over all things. We believe in a church whose purpose is to advance the message of God's love, justice and redemptive agenda to a lost and dying world.  

Although the emotions behind this event are strong and the challenges to win the fight against racism at times seem insurmountable, to give up on trusting in the power of the gospel to transform our culture is simply not an option. I find hope in the words of the apostle Paul, as he wrote from prison, "Do not grow weary in doing what is right, for in due time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up" (Gal. 6:9). God is at work in this world through the work of the church.  

The world does not need more hate, it needs hope. The only unfailing hope for our world is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hope is found in Christ. Our hope is not in better government, although we should strive for that. Our hope is in our God of justice and mercy who challenges us to live out both (Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God"). Our hope is not in better education on the issue of racism, although the church should lead the way on that. Education will never soothe our pain or settle our hearts. People need more than an informed perspective, they need salvation and the transformation that comes from the power of God working in our lives.

We must call for reform, yes. But as the church we must first call for repentance. Retaliation will never bring the peace that comes from reconciliation with Christ. While churches should work to improve our laws and systems, God has placed our churches in this world to point people to the only solution for this problem, surrender to the Lordship of Christ in our lives.

Converge exists to start and strengthen churches together worldwide. There has never been a time where the need for more strong Christ-centered, biblically faithful, influential churches in our world. We start churches because so many people are living life without the hope of the gospel. We strengthen churches because with stronger churches come stronger disciples of the gospel we affirm. And we start and strengthen churches worldwide because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope not only for this country, but for the whole world.  

We do this work together because Jesus came to tear down the walls. "He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility... his purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God in the cross by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to you who were near" (Eph. 2:14-16). Although this passage specifically talks about the hostility between Jew and Gentile, the work of Christ applies to the hostility of all men toward one another. We believe God has blessed Converge with great diversity and placed our movement at the forefront of this conversation to be a leading voice in the reconciling power of the gospel. The gospel message of our lives, pulpits and churches must be one of restoration and reconciliation?God with man and man with man. We believe we are better together.

It is time for the body of Christ to stand up and demonstrate what we really believe. I hope you will take time to call your congregation to pray about this tragedy. I hope as well that you will teach a biblical response to the catastrophic effects of racism in our communities with your congregation in weekend services. Pray about it, yes. Speak about it, yes. But do something more. Reach across the divide and develop dialog, partnership and friendship with churches and pastors of other cultures and ethnicities. Show the reconciling nature of the gospel in how you live.

This was the response of several family members of the victims. In the midst of the process of justice, many family members spoke words of mercy and forgiveness. They leaned into the validity of their faith and into the power of their Savior to help, heal and make whole their broken lives and dreams. Their faith has been tested, and they will discover without a doubt that their Savior can be trusted. Will you do the same?

Don't just do church, be the church. Live the gospel.

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Posted: June 26, 2015   Accessed 101 times

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