The Charleston Murders and the Next Great Awakening
We may never know what possessed Dylann Storm Roof to murder nine innocent Christians studying the Bible together in an A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina. Whatever his reasons, the killings offer an existential moment for our nation: one of those times when we wrestle with the big questions.
Such existential moments can become the ground for authentic conversion, repentance, spiritual renewal, healing and lasting change. We have experienced such times. The Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century led to a burst of evangelical fervor that lasted into the nineteenth century. It was a genuine move of the Holy Spirit that led men and women to repentance and conversion and changed our nation.
We need such an awakening now. It is the only way America can turn away from the path we have been traveling down for many years now, a path paved by wrong choices and leading to moral collapse.
Overcome Evil with good
When I heard of this tragic shooting, I immediately began to pray. The words of the Apostle Paul rose up from within me: “Overcome evil with good.” They are found in the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans. He offers instructions on living the new life in Jesus Christ.
Clearly, it was the manual that informed the life and ministry of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As the days have unfolded since the evil act, the people of that church are revealing to the world the power of love.
It is beautiful to see the grieving friends and relatives offer forgiveness and bear witness to God’s love and the saving power of the Gospel. A nation in need is witnessing the power of God’s Love, the only force which can overcome evil with good. “I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again,” said the daughter of Ethel Lance, who then said forcefully: “But I forgive you.”
“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate,” Alana Simmons told the man who murdered her grandfather, “everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies will live in love. Hate won’t win.”
One of the most moving testimonies to this witness was offered by a colleague of the pastor, State Senator Larry Grooms, who served with Reverend Pinckney in the State Senate. Pinckney, a Democrat, and Grooms, a Republican, were Christians together — and lived their vocation in a way which bears witness to the power of the Gospel.
Pinckney “believed in what he was doing,” Grooms said. “He believed in God’s laws, and he believed in the laws of man. … He wanted to ensure that the best in people is what’s brought out, not the worst. If anyone needing a helping hand, he was there to do it.”
In another interview Grooms said of his brother in the Lord, “When he spoke, people listened.” He attributed this to Pinckney’s living faith, noting, “it was a voice that also had compassion because he loved God, he loved our state, he loved our nation, and he loved his wife and his two little wonderful daughters.”
Grooms opined that “these events, they’re just a reminder that evil is in this world. Evil is real, whether it touches us at some faraway place or whether it touches us personally with somebody that we know, love and respect.”
A Great Awakening
The Apostle Paul’s words to the Roman Christians echo today. We are being invited to “overcome evil with good.” We should also remember his words to the Ephesians, that only in God will the dividing walls of hostility which separate us come down.
During the week this evil occurred in Charleston, Southern Baptist leaders gathered in Columbus, Ohio. Rev. Ronnie Floyd, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, exhorted all Baptist Christians to pray for the next Great Awakening. What occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, can mark the beginning of that Awakening, if Christians from across the confessional spectrum work to overcome evil with good.
It is very, very hard to do that. In their pain, the people of Emanuel A.M.E. Church have showed us the way.