The Charleston Massacre on Wednesday night June 17th took place during “Prayer Meeting.” For me that made a racist, hate-filled, terroristic act even more unthinkable and heinous. It also helps me connect some dots about the radical words of Jesus, the forgiveness that is flowing in Charleston, and our national agenda to uproot white supremacist racism.For many church-going people especially in the southern United States, “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting and Bible Study” is a religious and cultural institution. It is where many dedicated Christians go even deeper into their prayer and Bible study lives. The busyness of Sunday morning and Sunday night church services and Sunday School don’t afford the kind of spiritual intimacy one experiences on Wednesday night.
Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting and Bible Study is for many the core of their Christianity. It is the time when psychological defenses are more relaxed and prayer requests are less filtered. Bible Study can be more an experience of drilling down into the heart of the Gospel. I know and love the kinds of Christians who gravitate to “Mid-week Prayer Service.”
So I was not surprised at two extraordinary parts of the Charleston narrative.
At the same time I was very saddened, I was not surprised by those good people taking into their circle of prayer for a full hour a white man who said he wanted to pray with them. I am deeply troubled by what must have gone on in the hearts of those members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Surely some if not all of them struggled with an internal fear that intuited that the one who was praying with them in fact would become their assailant. And yet, in my imagination, their Christianity’s call to welcome the stranger overrode their fear.
A second extraordinary part of the story is the astounding act of forgiveness which has stunned the world. During the bond hearing in a Charleston courtroom, representatives of the 9 victims of that racist violent horror addressed the gunman. Each acknowledged the pain and finality of the murders and then said in one form or the other, “I forgive you.”
Welcoming the stranger, then forgiving, praying for, and even loving your enemies express the heart of Christianity. Those values when “walked not talked” are distinguishing hallmarks of Jesus. That’s the kind of core religion you’re supposed to get at Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.
Now, one more Wednesday Night lesson. Because Wednesday nights are where you often tell the truth about the evil in your heart, in your relationships, in the culture, and in politics, and even in your church, it is also when you get reminded in a personal way to overcome evil with good and that only good and love have the power to transform evil.
That is our nation’s agenda: to acknowledge the persistent evil nature of violent racism that has deep roots in what was the slavery-based economy of the United States and all its current vestiges. And then to understand that repaying evil for evil will never emancipate us from our racism. Only doubling our commitment to do good in the face of evil will do that.
Preaching after the murder of four little Sunday School girls in Birmingham in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “These martyrs say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream … Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among [white persons] can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”
No matter our skin color, let us commit ourselves on a deeper level than ever to transform our systems, our ways of life, and our world views which produce the racism that martyred these dear Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting sisters and brothers.
Ed Bacon is the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena CA. To find out more about @ASCpas visit our website. Follow Ed Bacon on Twitter @revedbacon