Sharing this poignant reflection written by Darci Jaret.
A prayer for forgiveness now could be like a slap in the face.
Almost immediately after seeing the news about this terrible hate crime and terrorist attack at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I heard white Christians speaking about forgiveness. This verse from Jeremiah jumped into my head, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11)
I was in church today and we prayed for the community of Emmanuel AME Church and the nine people who were killed. I couldn’t be in the moment. I held my breath. My prayer ran counter to the prayer being spoken. I prayed earnestly, “don’t do it, don’t do it”. “Don’t turn this prayer into a call for forgiveness. It’s too soon. I won’t pray that.” Don’t be the priest who calls “Peace, peace…when there is no peace.” But then it happened, the prayer became a weapon as we called the name of the shooter and prayed for the healing of his soul.
We didn’t call the names of the nine people who had died, but we called the killer’s name. This hurt my heart. It felt like a slap in the face. My cries became sobs. I cried for those who died, but I also cried for those suffering. I am suffering. I pray for those not ready to talk about forgiveness. If the church doesn’t give space to feel this pain, we are perpetuating a system that sweeps racial injustice under the rug.
These nine people lost their lives and lest we dehumanize them even further we must speak their names. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
I want to send a message to white Christians who implore us to forgive the perpetrator of this massacre. You might mean well in a call for peace. The fact still remains that a call for forgiveness can feel like a slap in the face. You might even look and see the resilience and beauty of the victims’ families and their call for forgiveness and prayer in the face of hatred. These voices in that community have found their place, and their role in reconciliation is inspirational.
We are not they. We, the white Christian clergy must recognize that it is inappropriate to call for forgiveness in this moment. To lament with people suffering and provide safe space for mourning is appropriate. I understand that the role of Christian leaders is to challenge ourselves and our communities to live in the way of Jesus and to build justice. This challenge to our communities of faith must come in calls for justice, not for pre-emptive forgiveness.
We must call out systemic racism. We must repent of racism. I cannot attempt to imagine the pain and anger that black communities are feeling right now. I can hardly wrap my head around the hurt and frustration in my own heart. But what I will not do is act like the priest and call “peace” when there is no peace.
Right now there is no peace. No peace in this country with hate crimes and terrorism. No peace in society where racism is systemic and justice looks different for a white terrorist, yet remains absent for people of color. Let me be as clear as I can: white Christians – and especially clergy -this is not your time to challenge those in mourning. This is not yet the time to quote the greatest challenge of Jesus. This is the time to weep. This is the time to lament. We need to check ourselves. No one called for forgiveness the weekend after 9/11. This would have been unthinkable. It would have been a slap in the face.
I don’t claim to know what to say in this moment of tragedy. I don’t know the exact words to help in healing. I won’t say “peace” when there is none, but I can share Jeremiah 8:21, “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me.” I can also say the names of those who died. Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, and The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney.