Nine more black women and men have joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses, victims of a mob-less lynching at Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church. They bear witness to the struggle for the liberation of black people. They echo our cry, “How long, Lord? How long?”
What will the response be from the Church militant? How will we bear witness to the Reign of God which is near to us over and against the Reign of Terror? How will we answer their blood crying out from the ground?
To be clear – this is not an attack on faith or Christianity in an abstract sense. This is an attack on black people who happened to be people of faith. The assailant’s words reported by a lone survivor bear witness to this sickening reality – “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country – and you have to go.” If this is an attack on faith, it’s an attack on black faith which has long been a sanctuary and space of refuge from the prevalence of white supremacist assaults on black bodies, minds, and spirits.
In a time such as this the Church needs to speak – her silence is not allowed. Her silence is unfaithful to the witness of Jesus of Nazareth. She needs to speak with a voice that names this for what it is – an assassination, a lynching, a massacre, terrorism. That voice needs to both denounce this attack and the unabashed and shameful white supremacy that informed it and allows a Confederate Flag to fly over the state capitol of South Carolina. That voice must proclaim what the streets have been crying out for almost a year – Black Lives Matter. To be clear, this need for this voice has been sounded for a long time. The Church refused to speak, so the rocks outside cried out. Some have responded. Most have ignored. “The day that you hear my voice, harden not your hearts…”
Nine more martyrs. Nine women and men in prayer. Nine people who have entered very viscerally into the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Church does have something to say to this attack. She bears witness to it every Sunday in remembering the crucifixion of Jesus, for what was Jesus’s crucifixion but a state-sanctioned lynching by a police state aimed at intimidating and subjugating an oppressed minority population? Jesus wasn’t killed because he loved people. Rome didn’t kill for love. Rome killed for power. Jesus was killed because he was a Jew who claimed Messiahship. His claim threatened Rome’s imperial grasp of the province of Judea. When you see “crucified” on Sunday morning, substitute “lynched.” Read it in the creeds. Read it in the prayers. That is OUR witness. We have no choice. To bear witness to Jesus of Nazareth is to bear witness to both his empty tomb and his bloody cross. Either we talk about the space where race, ethnicity, and oppression collide or we fail to be faithful to the witness of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is true that in interrogating that difficult space where race, ethnicity, and oppression collide that we will uncover some hard truths and shameful history. We’ve been stunned into silence. We’ve been lured into complicity. We’ve been seduced into inaction. But we have sit in the ashes. There is blood crying out from the ground and if we don’t listen, it is on our hands.