A Response to the Shooting at Emanuel AME (Charleston, SC)

This response was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 21, 2015.

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Let’s pray.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.

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The latter part of this past week, I was in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the New England Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. It is a time when all the clergy and lay members gather to celebrate what God has done in our midst and what, with God’s help, we hope to accomplish in the next year as The United Methodist Church in New England. As a Church nerd, I really enjoy Annual Conference. But the mood of the first day was dampened by the news that a hate-filled man had entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people and injuring three others during a prayer meeting and Bible Study. The Annual Conference—the annual meeting of the regional church—was quick to respond, adopting “A Resolution Condemning the Murder of Nine Black Individuals at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.”[1]

The Resolution reads, in part:

WHEREAS, this evil act against God and humanity is not isolated in one person, place, or time, but is part of the history and reality in which we live and participate; and,

WHEREAS, we are called, not only to condemn this act of heinous crime, but to respond to the higher call of our baptism “to resist evil in whatever form it presents itself,” further,

WHEREAS, United Methodists affirm our common Wesleyan heritage with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and our shared calling to acts of mercy and justice with all Christians,[2]

The Resolution calls upon “the pastor in charge, lay member [to Annual Conference], and lay leader of every local church within the bounds of the New England Annual Conference [to] develop a statement of condemnation or letter specifically affirming the New England Conference’s Resolution;” and, asks each church to then send the statement to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to the Rt. Rev. Richard F. Norris the Presiding Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church 7th District, and to Rev. David Calhoun our District Superintendent. As the resolution was being discussed, I went back to find Joanne Woodward, our lay member to the Annual Conference, and let her know that I would be drafting the letter to be presented this morning in worship. “Such an extreme act of terrorism and…racism demands a response by this community.”[3]

Violence, hate, and civil rights violations go against the long heritage of United Methodist commitment to justice for all persons. Today, it is increasingly apparent that such commitment must be translated into action in new ways, for Jesus has called us to rise up and minister to a broken world that it may heal and that we may one day live in a world free from violence where “Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain any more, for the former things have passed way” (Revelation 21:4).[4]

Chandra, the kids and I travelled home late Friday night. I worked on and wrestled with the content of the letter most of the day yesterday. It reads:

To the Rt. Rev. Richard F. Norris and the people of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church,

We, the people of Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, were distraught to hear the news this past week of the horrific massacre of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson, and Rev. Daniel Simmons during a prayer meeting at the church. Know that as you cry and grieve, you are not alone. Jesus is Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23). God is with you; and though we are separated by many miles, we stand in solidarity with you too. We are one body in Christ Jesus our Lord; and, when “one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, all the parts suffer with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26, Common English Bible). Our hearts break and spirits cry with you.

Hatred, violence, prejudice and racism are sinful, evil acts of a broken and lost world. As we stand in horror at the destruction evil can bring, we cannot help but cry with the Psalmist who asks, “Where will my help come from” (Psalm 121:1b)? As those who seek to follow the Way, our help comes from the One who refused to allow labels and social constructs to keep him from being with people: even those whom society deems unworthy (Mark 2:13-17). We find our help in the name of the One who calls us to lay aside our weapons (John 18:11), love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-47). We find our help in the name of the One who came to show us the way that leads to life (John 10:10b). We find our help in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Church must resist and actively stand against evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; therefore, in memory of the nine martyrs and in honor of the three survivors of the shooting, we the people of Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, commit ourselves to the Way of Christ: the only way in which lasting and eternal peace will be found.

We commit ourselves to honoring the sacred worth of all people regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, politics or other opinion, national or social origin, age or other status. We understand that “racism plagues and cripples our growth in Christ, inasmuch as it is antithetical to the gospel itself.”[5] Therefore we seek to work toward a world where all are honored as persons of sacred worth, created in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27).

We commit ourselves to working to end violence in all its forms. We deplore acts of brutality and fighting. “Acts of…violence should not be acceptable occurrences in any community: suburban, urban, or rural.”[6] Acts of violence—instigated by individuals, people groups, or nations—are sinful, and therefore incompatible with Christian teaching. “In the name of Christ, who came ‘and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near’ (Ephesians 2:17) and challenged all his disciples to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9),”[7] we recommit to being agents of reconciliation that the prophet Isaiah’s vision might come to pass: a time when all people “beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation [however one defines it] will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war” (Isaiah 2:4, Common English Bible). We reaffirm[8] and declare that our facilities are “weapon-free zones: places of safety and sanctuary.

We commit to loving all people: even the bigots, haters, and aggressors. We are called to love the world—everyone and everything in it—with the same love that God has for it. This Love—the love of God found in Jesus Christ—will save the world (see John 3:16). Christ’s mission of outreaching love—a mission that made God’s love real to those who were far from it—is ours to carry on; therefore, let it be known, that we will seek to demonstrate and offer God’s love to all people trusting that the Holy Spirit will work through our reaching to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

We commit to living life in such a way that others might find abundant life in Jesus Christ our Lord. The songwriter reminds us that in the face of evil, as we find ourselves in the throes of a broken world, that

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.[9

The love of God found in Jesus Christ is the only thing that can heal our broken world. We may not all be able to “preach like Peter” or “pray like Paul” but we can all—each and every one of us—share and “tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all.”

Brothers and sisters, we stand with you. And commit to living our faith anew that the love of God found in Jesus Christ might be a beacon of hope in this sin-sick world: that in living and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, racism, violence, prejudice and hatred might cease to be. May God, through the inspired work of our hands and the pleading of our hearts, make our prayers come true that God’s kingdom of peace and love might come “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Amen.

Signed: Rev. Jacob W. Juncker (Pastor), Joanne Woodward (Lay Member to Annual Conference) and David Henriques (Lay Leader)

[As part of the offertory, the congregation was invited to come forward and sign this letter which was on the altar.  Most did; I’m sure some didn’t.  Nevertheless, on this day, Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, vowed to help make a difference to end hate, violence, prejudice and racism.  Lord help us! The letter will be sent on Monday, June 22, 2015.]

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Let’s pray.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class, Father Forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
 Father Forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father Forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
 Father Forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
 Father Forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
 Father Forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God, Father Forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)[10]


[1] “A Resolution Condemning the Murder of Nine Black Individuals at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Caroline on June 17, 2015” of The New England Annual Conference, June 18, 2015, can be found at <http://neumc-www.brtsite.com/files/fileshare/south+carolinea+sate.pdf>. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[2] “A Resolution Condemning the Murder of Nine Black Individuals at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Caroline on June 17, 2015” of The New England Annual Conference, June 18, 2015.

[3] “A Resolution Condemning the Murder of Nine Black Individuals at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Caroline on June 17, 2015” of The New England Annual Conference, June 18, 2015.

[4] Resolution “3421. Grieving and Repenting From Acts of Hate and Violence” in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church—2012 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), p480.

[5] “A. Rights of Racial and Ethnic Groups” in “Social Principles: The Social Community” in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2012 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), ¶162, p117.

[6] Resolution “3426. Gun Violence” in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church—2012 (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), p492.

[7] Resolution “3426. Gun Violence” in The Book of Resolutions, p490.

[8] Resolution “3426. Gun Violence” in The Book of Resolutions, p490.

[9] “There is a Balm in Gilead,” The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), No. 375.

[10] “Litany of Reconciliation,” ChristLutheran.org <http://christlutheran.org/2013/09/11/litany-of-reconciliation/> Accessed June 21, 2015.