On Wednesday in Charleston, Carolina, a white man entered a historic African-American church and opened fire, killing nine people. This is by now old news. The story since that fateful day has been reported upon extensively, with all sorts of people offering their sympathies and sharing their views on what happened, why it happened and how to prevent it happening again. The first and foremost thing I would like to say is that I mourn this tragedy and my thoughts and prayers are with those who have been affected.
But like most who have taken note of the story, I have my thoughts and feel by sharing them I might help someone and if no-one I have helped myself. I have been close to visiting the USA but have never managed to succeed. One of the places I would have like to visit is Charleston, given the part it played in the American Civil War, something I once took a great deal of interest in. The church and its forbearers have also played its part, even before the Civil War, in its role in challenging civil rights abuses and racism.
It is now understood that the motive behind the killings is racist. It beggars belief in this day that people should be so filled with hatred that they would indulge such actions, but such is the case and one is left wondering to what extent racism has been eradicated. Not America of course, but one of my black friends here in the UK, whose views I greatly respect, assures me it does and being a white man it would be harder for me to understand. Even so, while I doubt if more than a tiny minority of racists would support what the perpetrator of this crime did, there are plenty of evidence throughout history of the appalling effects of racism, I also get what one commentator said when expressing the view that we should avoid over publicizing what went on as it may lead to unintended consequences like others deciding to do something on similar lines.
One of the more moving comments, I found had been posted on my Facebook page today. came from Canon Andrew White (Vicar of Baghdad): “I can not quite believe that I have been in the US and never really knew about the extent of the terrible tragedy in Charleston SC… I first got to hear about the extent of the tragedy by my friends on death row at the maximum security prison. The fact that this massacre could happen in a church as people were worshiping on a Wednesday night is reminiscent of the terrible massacres that have happened in churches in Iraq. The fact that this happened in a black majority church just adds to the reality that racism and indeed sectarianism are not just found in the developing world but also in the midst of Western society. The world needs to wake up to the fact that here in the developed West sectarian tragedy is in our midst. Do we truly recognise this is a problem in our midst. Are we all committed to ensure that we do not allow young people to develop such a hatred of the other. As we sat down with the men on death row today we held hands and prayed together that together we may work towards a different world where the love of Jesus reigns not the hatred of humanity.”
Sadly, this event is one in a long line, with a number of often indiscriminant mass killings having taken place in recent years and, it has to be said, especially in the USA. It seems that while for a few days they media is full of reports on what took place and all sorts of people have put forward reasons and solutions, life goes on as before until the next atrocity. Sometimes though I wonder if our more parochial view of the world means we ignore what is going on elsewhere, every bit as horrific. One incident that had being playing on my mind just prior to this event is the hanging of a Pakistani man, convicted of murder, where there is overwhelming evidence that he did not do the crime and the judicial process that led up to the execution was flawed, and yet hardly a word has been spoken.
One comment that has gone viral is that of well known US TV personality and cultural commentator, Jon Stewart: “I honestly have nothing, other than sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal yet we pretend doesn’t exist… What blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us and us killing ourselves. If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism… we invaded two countries, and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives…”
The issue of gun control is never far away, especially in the USA where the right to bear arms has been a constitutional right from the beginning, and which seems to be a far cry from the tight gun control we have here in the UK. On one hand we read of the likes of Britain’s own Piers Morgan, now forging a career as a TV personality in the USA, lamenting that this incident is yet further evidence why the USA needs tighter gun control, which might have prevented this tragedy (it is noted, for example, that the gun had been given to the gunman as a 21st birthday present). On the other hand, gun lobbyists have taken to task the pastor who was also a politician who was in the church when the shooting took place, and was killed, for opposing a move to allow people to carry concealed weapons, which might have averted the tragedy if this had been allowed.
Perhaps the most moving of all the comments were those from the children of one of those killed, who happened to be one of the ministers at the church. One said: “I just feel a lot of love, I’m a little bitter, but I’m overwhelmed with love” and the other: “We already forgive him for what he’s done, there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.” Perhaps the power of love and forgiveness, as hard and as painful as that is, given what has happened, it may be part of the good coming out of this tragedy.