By Dr. Jeffrey Swain:
On June 17, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a lone gunman attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South, Carolina – a church that served as part of the Underground Railroad and named among its founders Denmark Vesey, who was famous for attempting to organize a slave revolt in 1822. Nine church members are dead, including their Pastor Clementa Pinckney, a State Senator and father – just days before Father’s Day. They were all in Bible study. This is an offense against God, the church, the community and people of color.
So, what does the Lord say? Ironically, I taught a Bible study lesson on this past Tuesday about “Power Against Enemies,” taken from Psalm 37:1-2: “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers for they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” I spoke about how to handle people who perpetrate hurt, insults or sleights against us. I reminded our class that hate is not uncommon. Jesus said, “They hated me before they hated you” (John 15:18-19). Hate is certainly not unfamiliar to black folk. I shared that Jesus admonishes us as believers to love our enemies, bless them and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). The Word even goes so far as to say that God will turn his anger from our enemies if we take joy in their downfall (Proverbs 24:17-18). Finally, I taught that God declares war on those who hurt his children (Exodus 23:22) and that revenge belongs solely to him (Proverbs 20:22).
What, now, should believers do? First, we pray. All the news stations are making the most of this story, calling it a hate crime – something it may well be. Anger is festering and people will deem a call for prayer impotent. They favor guns over God. However, we know that prayer is a weapon (Ephesians 6:18). Then, we know that the source of ill will and hatred is spiritual and not merely the acts of a young man who coolly walked in, sat a while and began shooting. We do not fight against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). We are compelled to be strong “in the Lord” (Ephesian 6:10). We cannot be strong by ourselves, but God can provide the means (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Second, we must not be silent. Ironically, on Wednesday, I met with Megan O’Brien of PACT, a social justice agency in Miami, about a collaboration between the Susie C. Holley Religious Center, the Lions for Justice and other campus resources to combat issues within our own community that lead to violence and undue incarceration, noting the continuous imbalance of justice in America. FMU must be proactive in fighting the forces that allow the proliferation of guns and the continuation of attitudes that allow gun-driven massacres to happen. We can neither be idle nor silent. Historically black universities are not immune to tragedy.
Third, we trust in the Lord (Proverb 3:5-6). It is not a feeble response to the Emanuel AME Church tragedy for the people of God to seek God’s face (2 Chronicles 7:14)? Anger, if allowed to vent fully, will yield nothing good (Proverbs 29:11; James 1:19-20). We are required to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). It is perfectly alright to be angry, but that anger cannot lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26). Retaliation and violence will only demonstrate that we do not trust God (1 Peter 5:7). Any other action would violate the memory of Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks who believed that love is stronger than hatred. Let us pray.
We are so grateful for every student, faculty, and staff member you have sent to Florida Memorial University. We believe that you have a plan for their lives. From the time they were in their mother’s womb, you already knew them. You already loved them. You already had a beautiful plan for their lives.
We pray now, Lord, that nothing will get in the way of them living out their purpose. We ask that you show yourself strong to them. Help them to have a true encounter with you this year. We ask that you surround them by people who are upright and God fearing. We ask you to help them to be a light to others in any way possible.
We ask you to help them succeed in their studies and in their personal development. Help them to succeed in their work. Help them to do their part as a member of the Florida Memorial University family. Remind them that each part of the body is critical for our wellbeing.
We ask that you protect all students, faculty, and staff members every single day. Lord, please put your hedge of protection around them, and cover them on every side. Please provide all that they need and help them to share with others who may be in need. We ask for your peace to cover them. Lift depression and anxiety, and anything else our students, faculty, and staff may be dealing with.
We ask you that you keep their families and households safe and well as they are away at school. Please bless them and everyone connected to them. Lord, we love you, and we look forward to what you are going to do in the lives of your people.
In the name of Jesus Christ,