"Hate Won't Win"...the Charleston, SC Shooting

“Hate Won’t Win”

Dear Friends,
We all saw the horror that unfolded on Wednesday June 17th, as we began to hear that nine people had been killed during their bible study at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. As information has come out we heard that the shooter was a stranger who was welcomed to the gathering, he was met with the hand of friendship and the love of Jesus, yet decided to carry out his deranged plan to murder and kill innocent people. It is a horror and a tragedy.

This terrible event has touched me personally. The pastor of Emanuel AME church, The Rev. Clemente Pinckney, was a seminary classmate and a close personal friend of mine. My friend, Clem, was one of the best people I have ever known. He was a committed public servant, who was elected to serve as a SC State Senator at the age of 27. He was a faithful man of God having first been ordained at 19 years old and then serving in several parishes and serving as an Elder in the AME church before being called to Emanuel. He was such a good friend, father, public servant, and leader that it is still hard for me to believe that he lost his life. I will truly miss him.

I have found myself wondering what to do in the face of this tragedy. So I began to pray, and I ask you to join me in praying for all those who have been left behind by this tragedy. Pray for the families and friends of the victims who are trying to move forward after their loved ones were taken from them. Pray for the congregation of Emanuel church as they try to comfort the bereaved and to hold each other in this time of loss. Pray for that day when evils like this are truly over forever. Pray that Jesus will stand with us all and hold us through times like this.

But there is more that I want to ask you to do. I want to ask you to do more than pray. I want to ask you to actively reach out in love to this world. I want to ask you to search for ways that you can be of help and service to those who need help and love. I want you to join me in working to take peace, hope, love, and mercy into this world.

Let me tell you what I mean. On Friday, June 19th, I watched the video of family members of those killed addressing this young man. As the family members came forward, they were unified in the message that they gave to this person. They offered him forgiveness. They told him to repent of what he had done and to hear that they forgave him. The reason they gave for doing this was they followed Jesus, and this is what Jesus wants us to do. One of the granddaughters of a victim said that we won’t seek vengeance because they wouldn’t let hate win. “Hate Won’t Win”, she said. In the face of the evil that this young man was trying to bring into this world, they said they would not return evil for evil, they would forgive, they would offer the love of Christ and proclaim that “Hate Won’t Win!”

Living in Pennsylvania this reminded me of the reaction of the Amish community in Nickle Mines (Lancaster Co.) after eleven school children were murdered several years ago. The community surrounded the family of the killer with love and forgiveness. They reached out and welcomed them in the name of Christ. These people showed that, “Hate Won’t Win!”

In both these situations those who had been wronged didn’t chose and eye for an eye. But they chose to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Instead of vengeance, they showed mercy. Instead of hate, they offered love.
There is power in that my friends. What can we do in the face of darkness and evil? We can share the love and the light of Jesus Christ. It is different from what the world models for us. The world says, if someone hurts you then you need to hurt them back. But that just breeds more evil. Vengeance feeds upon itself and things only get worse.

But what if instead of returning evil for evil, or thinking we have nothing we can do in the face of such tragedy, we intentionally worked to bring light and hope to this world?  I believe that if we want to make a difference and want to be able to do something in the face of evil, we should resist evil by striving to do good, reach out in love, and share acts of mercy with this world that so desperately needs it.

I am not saying to do this instead of praying. I am saying keep praying, keep asking God to be with those who are struggling and coping with the fallout from this tragedy. But if we want to do something, why don’t we start by being intentional about trying to help the world around us and trying to make a positive difference in the lives of others each day. What would if each and every one of us tried every day, and every moment of our life to work to help and serve this world?

When our Savior Jesus Christ came into this world and did nothing but work. He fed, he healed, he taught, he gave, and eventually he did this thing of taking on the ultimate sacrifice of the cross. Jesus gave himself up for the sake of the world. Jesus calls us to follow him, and leads us as we go out to help, love and serve this broken world.
All you are is because of what Jesus has done. You are called, claimed, and baptized because of the work of Jesus to save you. Jesus is still working in you, around you, and with you. The Holy Spirit is leading and guiding you and me always.

I want you to go out there and do some good works. Let us go out there and help some people. I am asking you to do it because of all that Christ has done for you. You have been saved, redeemed, and made one with the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave all he was to save you. Therefore, in thanksgiving for all that Jesus has done lets get up and take his love and light into this world.

Although as Lutherans, we are wary of “works righteousness”, we should still do good works. Doing good works of loving and caring people is not works righteousness. As Lutherans, we know that nothing I can do, nothing you can do will make you righteous. We are only made righteous and right with God by the blood of Jesus Christ. You can pile your good works higher than Mt. Everest and they won’t save you – only Jesus saves you. Doing good stuff isn’t getting you a bigger house in heaven or a better seat at God’s final banquet.
But we do good, and we should do good works because we follow Jesus. We are saved by the one who did the ultimate good work of taking on a human body to give it up for our sake on the cross. Jesus is all about doing good and calls us to follow.

I am saying let us follow him. Let us seek each day to do good and to be people who are striving to share the light and love of Jesus. Care for people, help when people need help, love someone who can give you nothing in return, share out of the bounty of what you have, and/or use your gifts to love and nurture this world and those in need. Do that, love people, help and serve, because Jesus Christ first loved you.

Jesus has already proven that “Hate Won’t Win”. Let us be intentional about following him and showing this world the difference that he makes. I invite you to strive each day to share his love and mercy. Of course, I think that will mean that you will need to pray more, read the Bible more, spend more time with your Lord and Savior, attend worship and be strengthened for the mission by the Body and Blood of Jesus.  But all of these things are so that led by Christ and because of Christ we can take his love and light into the world. Jesus is the reason my friends. I ask you to follow him, and in following him to intentionally work to share his light and love with this world.

In doing that, as we are led by Christ and guided by the Spirit to help and serve this world, we are sharing his light and hope. That is how we can push back against the darkness, by sharing the love of the one who is the true light that no darkness can overcome.

Finally, I ask you to do something you may find even more radical. I ask you to do this because we are followers of Jesus. If we truly want to make sure that “Hate Won’t Win”, then I invite you to pray for this young man who committed this horrible crime. Jesus Christ tells us to pray for our enemies, and I am asking you to join me in praying for the young man who murdered my friend. Jesus died for you and for me, and even for this young man. I ask you to join me in praying that God will come into his heart and turn him from darkness. I pray that Jesus will find a way to lead him to repent of this evil, and will turn him back to the light. Hate wants vengeance. But Jesus Christ calls us to love. Add this shooter to your prayers. Pray for him and for his family who are wondering how this evil could be done by someone they know and love. It may not be easy. It isn’t a simple thing for me in the days after these murders. But in doing that, we are being the people that Jesus calls us to be.

May God bless you, keep you, and strengthen you to serve this broken world,

+Bishop Michael