Pure evil and the evil in me

My friend Seretha told me about the beautiful sermon her priest preached last Sunday, the first Sunday after the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Her priest, who is from South Carolina, called the act “pure evil.” But he also called his congregation to respond to such acts with love and forgiveness, as the church members and loved ones of the nine martyrs have done.

The crucifixion“Sometimes, when I look at violence like that,” Seretha said, “I think there has to be some kind of demonic involvement. That kind of act just seems to be beyond the normal kind of human evil.”

I think she’s right. We can’t know for sure, of course, if that’s what was really happening. And even if it was, it’s not as if Dylann Roof is therefore absolved of responsibility for the murders. But the fact that he sat in that church for a whole hour before opening fire, and the fact that he chose to kill members of a community that had welcomed him in–this suggests an unusual depth of depravity that may have a demonic source.

And yet…I share the depravity of Dylann Roof. He fed his hatred to an extreme degree, yes. But the evil in him is native to all human hearts. Including mine. The malice that grew in him to such a thorny pinnacle has roots in our racist, unjust society. And those roots of evil have infected my soul, too, even if I try to hide them.

Austin Channing writes, “The sin of white supremacy is thriving in this country because white Christians refuse to name it and uproot it, refuse to confess it and dismantle it, refuse to acknowledge it and repent of it, refuse to say the words, ‘It’s in my family.’ ‘It’s in my church.’ ‘It’s in my soul.'”

I see this sin in myself when I avert my eyes from the African-American man walking down the street toward me, but at the same time make sure to watch him from my peripheral vision.

I see this evil when I am ever-so-slightly surprised to encounter a well-educated, successful African-American professional. I wonder–without fully voicing it to myself, of course–whether she really deserves her position.

I see this evil when I ask one of my (admittedly few) minority friends about their culture, and I think I deserve special congratulations, at least from myself.

I see this evil when I take special care to sing the praises of an African-American student, because it will help me avoid being perceived as racist.

I see it when I read an angry article about racism and think, Oh, come on. It can’t really be that bad. You’re over-reacting.

I see it when I spot someone else’s racist or ethnocentric behavior, feeling just a hint of pride that I was able to recognize it for what it was.

I see it when I hear someone make a racist comment but choose not to challenge them on it.

And, inevitably, there are plenty of times when I don’t see the evil in myself at all.

May God defend us all–potential perpetrators of violence and potential victims–from demonic influences. But may He also remind us of the evil in our own lives. And may we run to Him for forgiveness and grace to love others as He loves us.

P.S.–Please take a few minutes to read these insightful articles by some African-American writers who are far wiser on issues of race and racism than I am. I think it is especially important for white Christians like me to simply listen to the feelings, experiences, perspectives, and admonition of minorities. They have a lot to teach us.

Standing With Charleston: Solidarity in the Church, by Christena Cleveland

The Only Logical Conclusion, by Austin Channing

What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston, by Osheta Moore

3 thoughts on “Pure evil and the evil in me

  1. The sermon is an important reminder that first and foremost Christians must stand firm first and foremost against their own sin. From that position we also stand firm for the Gospel and the clear theology of Scripture.
    Part of that theology is individually working through and offering forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit. But individual forgiveness is one thing but public forgiveness is quite another and problematic. The latter has the tendency to mitigate the guilt of the perpetuator.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ray. When you say “public forgiveness,” are you talking about the government pardoning the perpetrator and not imposing some kind of punishment? I agree that that wouldn’t be good. Forgiveness is important from an individual perspective, but there should be justice and punishment for wrongdoing.

  2. The pianokeys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.

    Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.

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