I don’t do this often, but last week Facebook reminded me of this column I wrote four years ago. I am sharing it again this week because I believe its message is possibly even more important today. Love overcomes hate every time. Hate may win a battle here and there, it may claim victims, but hate will never win when love is present.
Reading stories about the tragic shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has hit pretty close to home today.
No, I do not know anyone involved, but my own story makes me feel as though I do.
There has been a lot written about what happened Wednesday night when Dylann Roof allegedly opened fire in the church, killing nine people. Among those killed were the senior pastor, three other church pastors and church members who ranged in age from 26 to 87.
While a lot has been written and said about what happened in the church Wednesday night, one sentence that stuck out to me is probably one overlooked by most. When Roof went into the church, he sat down and took part in the prayer service for some time, some reports say up to an hour. And this wasn’t a normal service; it was a small, intimate gathering with 10 people sitting around tables. When Roof joined the small group, he didn’t hide. His presence was clear. For an hour, he sat with those he was planning to kill.
Why is that important? To me it’s important because it shows the congregation at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed Roof in their midst. This historically black church welcomed a young white man. They sat near him and probably prayed with him. In a gathering that small, he had to have been a part of the meeting. There was no way to blend in.
That may not matter to many, but to me it matters a lot. You see, years ago, maybe 15 or 16 years now, my family joined a “black” church in Sierra Vista. This church started in the pastor’s home and eventually bought land and built a church on the outskirts of Sierra Vista. That church happened to be a few blocks from the home my wife’s aunt and uncle lived in.
In large part because of the location, they visited and were welcomed with open arms. No one ever questioned their skin color, their motives, anything. They enjoyed it so much, my in-laws started attending and then my family followed.
For several years, we were members of the “black” church and not one time did anyone question it. At that church, I was as welcome as anyone. My family eventually had leadership positions, we were welcomed at every level. Skin color was irrelevant.
Some of my best friends were black men and women from church, and it never felt strange or was strange. One of the church members even moved into my home for several months. We were connected not because of our skin color but because of our desire to serve God.
Eventually the church closed when the pastor and his family moved. The building was sold to another church, and many of the members went their own way. But I still love some of them. I don’t see them often, but my thoughts and my memories are all of the good times.
My story and my memories came flooding back today, not because members of a black church were killed in a heinous crime. No, it was the way those members in one of their last acts on Earth welcomed a lone white man into their midst. In their final minutes on Earth, they showed the love of God, loving a man who was planning to kill them.
It’s that love that resonates with me and that love that offers hope, even in this time of tragedy.