June 20 – The Charleston Martyrs

charleston martyrs

We tire quickly of any story that is captured by the 24-hour news cycle. Already it seems that too much has been said by reporters, pundits and commentators about the tragedy in Charleston. We should allow the story of the Charleston church killings to linger for awhile, however. In the thick of all the reporting and all the commenting there are things that God would teach us. We must ponder the culture’s culpability for giving evil the opportunity it finds in racial hatred. As we seek healing, our journeys must start in our own hearts. None of us, not one, is immune from the need to search his or her own heart.

For members of LPC, this note is attached to the announcement of Tuesday evening’s Walk for Peace and Reconciliation. Join us at 6:30 if you are at all able.

I offered some pastoral reflections on the Charleston tragedy yesterday. As the day continued, one of the many stories from the tragedy struck me. The story of the nine Charleston martyrs.

You may have seen one of the reports regarding Dylann Roof, the young man who murdered the nine members of Emanuel AME Church after sitting with them for the first hour of their Wednesday evening Bible study. “Roof told police that he ‘almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him,’ sources told NBC News.”

In common English usage, the word martyr has to do with one who willingly sacrifices his or her life for the greater good. Originally it was a Christian word and the greater good for which the martyr sacrificed was the cause of Christ and his Kingdom. But before it became a Christian word, it was an ordinary Greek word martys, which means “witness” or “one who gives testimony.” Before his ascension Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be his witnesses, to testify as to who he was and what he had done in their lives. They would be martys. 

The nine members of Emanuel AME who were murdered on Wednesday were not martyrs in the modern sense of the word. They had gone to church for Bible study. They had gone to be in fellowship. They had gone to learn more of the ways of Christ who they loved and who they followed. There was no intent of self-sacrifice. For an hour or so, though, they were witnesses to the love and joy of Jesus.

“Everyone was so nice to me,” the troubled young man with a heart filled with evil and hatred said. An outsider joined them at Bible study – his trouble must have shown at least in part – and the members of Emanuel AME showed him, we don’t know exactly how, the love of Jesus. They were witnesses to who Jesus is and what he had done in their lives.

Such is the witness to which Christ calls us.

By our measure, the time that Dylann Roof spent with the Bible study group at Emanuel AME in Charleston was too short. If only he had waited a few more minutes in that love-filled room. Might love have found a crack in his troubled heart and worked its way in?

I don’t know why God gave Dylann Roof only that one hour with those followers of Jesus. I don’t know why he gave those faithful nine only one hour with Dylann Roof.

I know that those nine were witnesses to the love of Christ. They are martyrs.