Jun 23, 2015

    Preacher: William (Tex) Culton


    Charleston, South Carolina was on my list of places to visit this summer when I travel to Rock Hill, S.C. for an installation of a good friend. I was looking forward to an unhurried visit that would lend a certain serenity to the otherwise busy trip. That is now altered by the event that occurred at the Mount Zion AME Methodist Church in downtown Charleston June 18. A white racist shot and killed nine black parishioners including a pastor at an open prayer meeting.

    I addressed this event in the sermon I delivered this past Sunday, and both the victims and the killer were remembered to God in our prayers. I imagined “racism” as a present day “Goliath” challenging the righteous in the Lord to dare stand against it. The Scripture from which I preached was 1 Samuel 17, the account of David’s encounter with the Philistine Goliath. There are many “Goliaths” that the faithful must recognize today, and when the “truth,” as revealed in Jesus Christ, is challenged, we must meet the challenge. We must meet it not with weapons of war, but courageously with the holy logic of Christ’s love.

    The whole church is deeply saddened by this hateful act against a black church whose congregation has been a witness to the accepting love of God and opened their doors to everyone.

    It is the nature of humanity to blame every ill on someone. It seems that the news zeroed in on South Carolina flying the Confederate flag at their Capitol; a known symbol of racism. Racism is a present in our culture, both North and South, East and West, and there may be a bit of it in each of us. But events such as occurred in Charleston last Friday are not the result of sub-conscious racism but of a society that silently allows it to exist in the open without confronting it. Racism is not a first amendment issue; it is hatred bred in ignorance and fed with lies and driven by shame and fear that flies in the face of the “truth.” We are, all of us, God’s beloved children deserving of one another’s respect. As Christians, we are expected to speak this truth in love and expose the lies of injustice. We are also commanded to pray for and love those who oppose the truth.

    The nation was startled by the fact that members of the AME church publicly forgave the attacker! Many couldn’t understand it or believe that they were sincere. One theologian said that it was bad theology to forgive so soon. Forgiveness is something that comes much later in the grieving process. One announcer asked if it was not pre-mature forgiveness after a minister offered that she considered it a beautiful act of faith.

    Is there such a thing as pre-mature forgiveness? I don’t think so. That would make forgiveness like birth and it would take a team of doctors and nurses and machines to keep it alive until it was developed enough to survive on its own. What would we call Christ’s words of forgiveness from the cross, even as he was dying? I call them words of hope for a humanity that often mistakes a lie for the truth and acts on the lie. The hope is that God is able to forgive us and encourage us to live in the truth of God’s love for all God’s children.

    Saying that forgiveness can be pre-mature is saying that it just may be spiritually impossible, but perhaps psychology can make it happen with the right amount of time, maybe. It is also saying that most people don’t understand God’s grace, which God enables us to apply to our lives and relationships. Most people feel that the only thing that will make an aggrieved person feel better is pay-back or revenge. These forgiving Christians in Charleston are setting the bar for human behavior in the face of tragedy very high; as high as the cross of Jesus Christ that promises to draw all people to God if it is lifted up. They are lifting it up and human nature resists believing it.

    I believe that God’s forgiveness is all about us. It is the atmosphere of worship that the soul breathes in so that it can exhale God’s love. Forgiveness is the essence of God’s love. Christians understand that God’s love is full of grace and forgives us before we seek it. Forgiveness is not something that anyone needs to earn, nor can it be pre-mature. It is God’s love offered and received. We either believe in its efficacy or not.

    The Christian’s answer to hateful acts of violence is to live into our culture in such an open and shameless way that lies are exposed and the truth of how God desires us to treat one another becomes irresistible. We cannot allow lies to go unchallenged, or respond to violence with more violence. Christ promised that if he was lifted up, he would draw all people unto him. Forgiveness lifts Christ up for all to see.

    Please continue to pray for the aggrieved people of Charleston who must go on after such an experience. And pray for the young man who committed this hate crime, and pray for all the racists in our culture, and pray that our fears may be overcome by the love of God so that we can be witnesses that change the culture and bring peace.

    Peace, Tex