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June 25, 2015

In Response to the Massacre at the Charleston Emmanuel AME Church

Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary were birthed out of a religious context that embraced a commitment to the equality of all people as a fundamental principle, and which fueled a determined conviction against racism. Any social or cultural reality that undermines this commitment also undermines our integrity - if we remain silent. 

So we are not silent.  We have something to say in response to this tragic event – the shooting of nine people at a Bible Study at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17. Our response comes from our core identity and the heritage of which we are stewards.

Our core values have something to say:

  • We are rooted in a deep and sustained engagement with biblical and historic Christianity and the ethic of Jesus—this rich tradition teaches us that there is no place for hate, targeting or oppression of others.
  • We affirm and learn from each person regardless of affiliation, ethnicity, gender or age—this means respect for others and listening well to all people; a broad scope of perspectives shared with respect fosters growth.
  • We cultivate an aptitude for theological reflection about the central questions of life—including power, inequality and privilege.

Our theological perspective gives us language:

  • God loves all of creation; God is the creator and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible.
  • Our heritage can be traced to John Wesley whose pastoral passion included not just personal piety but social action as well.
  • Though humankind was created in the image of God and endowed with spiritual life, the disobedience of the first human parents resulted in rebellion against God, so that we are very far removed from original righteousness. By ourselves we cannot turn and obey God; the Spirit of God must prepare us to seek forgiveness and spiritual renewal by awakening us from sin, calling us to repentance and faith, and graciously enabling us to do so.

Our denominational roots have given us the DNA which compels us to respond:

  • Our founder, BT Roberts, was a persistent, articulate leader in the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century.  He and his colleagues in ministry provided a relentless flow of dialogue and public discourse in defense of equality, liberty and justice for all, regardless of race, class or gender.
  • The Christian denomination, schools and organizations they founded were—and continue to be—characterized by the distinctives of commitment to social justice and diversity.

So what we should do in response to the shooting in a Charleston church?  The media and political voices are often contradictory, inflammatory and confusing.  Should we even attempt an answer?  Should we step into a debate?  Perhaps as a start, we can listen to the echoes from our own charter, and hear an unmistakable call for action:  to lament, to confess and to implore.  

  • This is a call to lament
    • The brokenness between races that continues to bubble up in our society.
    • The history of oppression and inequality among people that has shaped the culture of our nation.
    • The present displays of injustice that are rooted in, and are living expressions of, the myth of the superiority of one people group over another.
  • This is a call to confess—
    • Particularly among the most privileged of our culture—Caucasian males—that many of us have lived too willingly with blinders, a form of faulty thinking that causes us to believe that deep racism has already been dealt with.
    • Of our complicity in the problem by not being actively engaged and aware.
    • Of our solidarity with the past and its failure, and our need to confess and seek justice; it’s never too late.
  • This is a call to implore—
    • God’s healing for our brokenness, sinfulness, and willful, unthoughtful ignorance.
    • God’s grace and healing for the victims of Charleston and their families.

God’s restoration of hearts and minds to enable a perspective that sees and treats all people according to their true worth as persons created in the image of God.

The fact that the ravaging beasts of violence, racism, oppression and injustice have once again roared and murdered innocent people is a news story; but, sadly, it is not a new story.  It is as old the third chapter of Genesis.  It is a jarring reminder that human depravity and the power of evil are real issues which continue to stain human history, the American Story, and even the mission of the Church of Christ.  But God, in infinite love has provided redemption and grace through the Son, Jesus Christ.  In the Kingdom opened by Christ and in Christ, we are guided by a Hope that shines bright.  The people of Mother Emmanuel AME Church, who gathered the Sunday after, in praise and worship in spite of their grief, have also shown us that living hope in their graceful and forgiving words.  May we join them and learn from them, even as we lament, confess and implore God’s mercy on us all.


Dr. Deana L. Porterfield, President Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary

Dr. Douglas R. Cullum, Vice President and Dean, Northeastern Seminary

June 23, 2015

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