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Beginning with the first generation of Christians, some have died because of their faith, bearing the brutality and violence of those who opposed the way of Jesus. In this century, we remember the Emanuel Nine, who were killed during a Bible study at Mother Emanual AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on the evening of June 17, 2015. They were targeted because they were African American. They welcomed a racist murderer into their gathering because they trusted in the Jesus way of life, which includes welcoming the stranger.
In recent weeks we have witnessed the thoughtless and evil killing of ten adults at the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York, the murder and attempted murder of elderly worshippers at a Taiwanese Church in Southern California, and the inexplicable murder of 19 young children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. There have been other multiple shootings in cities across the country, including deaths by gun violence in our own communities. Though these victims did not die because of their faith in Jesus Christ, we who live by that creed, cannot be silent when gun violence is directed at innocent shoppers, worshippers, or school children; nor at those who gather as families or friends. Our own humanity calls us to both grieve and to act in a way that addresses the racial hatred, fear, and racism underlying too much of such violence in our country.
How we live out our faith matters to all our neighbors in this time of fractured, broken, and distrustful relationships within and beyond our congregations. Again, this year, we passed a resolution at the synod assembly, urging all congregations to engage in conversations and to take steps to reduce gun violence. The resolution also urged members of ELCA congregations to find ways as citizens to advocate for gun violence prevention policies and to promote responsible gun ownership. There are hundreds of ways to take action. The only bad option is to ignore this critical need for change.
Seven years ago, on June 17, 2015 my heart broke as I watched the first news accounts of the murder of nine African American church members at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The wicked hatred and racism embedded in that action was something I never imagined seeing in this century. It now stands as just one of many outbreaks of violence fueled by racial hatred.
As we approach that anniversary this week, I ask all of us to step back and look at our lives. Where we have actively belittled or harmed communities of color, we must change our actions and our attitudes. Where we have allowed racism to go unchallenged, we need to step forward and take responsibility to address such injustice. Where we have fallen short – and we all have – we need to repent and hold ourselves responsible for doing better as individuals and as institutions.
Is this an impossible challenge? Not for those who trust in God’s power to raise even us from death to life. I return again and again to this promise: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, but entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” II Corinthians 5:19
Congregations wanting to include prayers and litanies in remembrance of the Emanuel Nine will find worship resources here. Words and prayers from the heart will also do, as I know many of you join me in this resolve to live in a way that is more just and more humble; the way of Jesus.
In God’s service,
Bishop Patricia Lull