Wednesday night, prayer meeting night, June 17, 2015, will not be soon forgotten. A church in Charleston was having their usual Wednesday night gathering for Bible study and fellowship and prayer. While the church is predominately, historically black they welcome everyone to join them. On that Wednesday night a young man, 21 years of age, was a welcome guest and for an hour he was a part of the Wednesday worship time. As songs were sung, the word of God was taught, prayers were offered and the sweet spirit of Jesus was evident in the service, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7), and helps us to understand that no one knew nor suspected the rage and the premeditated expression of hate that filled the heart of that young man who came to visit that evening.
After one hour he got up and took the gun that he had brought with him and began to shoot members of that church until he had killed nine of them. The pastor of the church was murdered that night. Other ministers who were present, many of the church leaders who had worshiped there and served Jesus with that congregation, were killed in the moments that followed. After this outpouring of hate and terrorizing not only a church but a town, a state, and many across our nation, he got in his car and drove away only to be later caught and arrested in the neighboring state. The authorities brought him back to Charleston, South Carolina, where he then was charged with nine counts of murder.
Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr. was one of the men killed that night. He had spent his life doing those things which would honor God and country. For most of his life he had been a pastor and worked with the church preaching and teaching the word of God and with gentle love had cared for the flock of God. In his early years he had served in the military and spent a tour of duty in Vietnam and now he was gone — killed with the only logic or reason being hate.
In that court setting for the arraignment of the killer one of Bro. Simmons’ granddaughters spoke words of love and forgiveness to that young man and she said, “Hate won’t win.” Hate had won only hours before as a young man so filled with anger and bitterness toward a race unlike himself that he would meditate on how to kill some of them, but all of a sudden all that church had stood for and one of their ministers had proclaimed and our Lord desired to be instilled within every one of us came to focus as an articulate young woman simply affirmed and pronounced, “Hate won’t win.” One pastor observed that it was for him the most amazing outpouring of forgiveness that he had ever witnessed in his entire life.
When I first heard of the shooting that had taken place that Wednesday night and then the pieces began to come together over what had actually taken place, one of my first thoughts was how little things have changed. I’m not talking about in South Carolina or in the South or in Mississippi. I do believe that things have changed. Relationships are significantly different among all races. Is there still progress ahead? Absolutely. Is there racism that sets up shop and grinds out hate in some hearts? Absolutely, but actually that first thought I had about how little things have changed had to do with the first worship service ever recorded in the Bible.
It is recorded in Genesis 4. Two brothers brought their gifts and came to worship God. At the close of the worship one of them, a brother named Abel, had had a wonderful experience with God and had brought his gift to honor God. The other brother, Cain, left with a bad attitude, a rotten relationship with the Lord and an unwillingness to do what God was asking him to do. Both of them had been at the same place with the same God with an opportunity to trust Him in their lives. One did. One did not.
While the story lives itself out over the next years, one of the tragedies that comes from that first worship experience was that Cain, with his heart filled with anger, killed his brother, Abel. While there are numerous points of discussion related to the tragedy in Charleston, the reality is that it is not just a gun control issue or just a race relations issue. It is not just a political discussion point, but it is a spiritual issue, a heart problem.
We also need to stop and take inventory of what is taking place in our own personal heart life. If we are out of connection with God, we need to move toward getting in right relationship with Him and when we get in right relationship with Him, we ought to express our right relationship with our brothers and sisters regardless of what their race or ethnic background may be, regardless of their tribe or country or origin, language or spiritual heritage. One thing remains ultimately true that each of us and each of them need a Savior and that Savior is Jesus Christ. He who came and gave His life, nailed to a tree out of hatred for Him, would live again forevermore to demonstrate and one by one bring love and a change in our lives and let us know it is true. Hate won’t win. All of us can join together and most of all join with Him in living out love that makes a difference.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.