Growing up, I often felt out of place in church. I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt. I lived in a small southern town in Georgia where there was a church on every street corner, with every denomination represented at least once – but most of them in multiples. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the worship service itself; I have always found comfort in the Bible and a good sermon. My issue was with the congregation.
Sitting on my pew, I saw self-righteous man after self-righteous man with head held high. It was the kind of church where nobody admitted to sin, nobody admitted they led a less than Christian life, but everybody was ready was to point out any lapse in someone else’s lifestyle. I took fault with that; it didn’t seem the Christian thing to do. Kids in my youth group would belittle me because my family had missed a service and theirs had perfect attendance, but those same kids were the ones doing drugs behind the school. Church down south was a place to act like you had your life completely together, even if yours was falling apart and you really needed people to pray for you.
When my parents gave me a choice, I stopped attending, and although I’m sure people talked badly behind my back, I did not care because I was kind to people in real life not just fake kind at the service. In college, I gave some thought to attending a church, but I never had anyone to go with. I’m sure that wouldn’t stop a kid who grew up going, but I was still in a place where I didn’t feel at home in front of a pastor. Finally, Easter of my sophomore year, I attended Newspring church with a group of friends. I fell in love with church again.
Newspring might get a bad rap for being a megachurch, but I’ve never felt like I’m just another person there. Everyone is welcomed with open arms despite their appearance, background, race, etc. It’s a place where sinners sit with sinners and love each other despite any differences. When someone has a problem, be it marital issues or drug addiction, they are given council and love from their fellow man, not disdain.
He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.
Our church recognizes we are all sinners, and our congregation cares for each other despite that. To me, that’s how a church should be.
I shared all of this with you to say that I feel at home in my church. I feel safe, accepted, and loved in my church. The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has robbed the world of this sense of safety. My heart is so full for that congregation, and I cannot imagine the pain and disbelief those who were there are experiencing. They did what good Christians should. They opened their doors to others for worship, and they did not cast anyone out because of his race or his strangeness. They shared their safe and loving place with anyone who chose to walk through their doors, and this man took advantage of their kindness. He robbed them, and the rest of our nation, of the sense of security we feel going to worship.
From cursory glance, this crime seems racially loaded, and it very well might be. My prayer for this nation is that we will not continue to let the hate of some create hatred for many. I pray America’s Christian community can come together in light of this event. Instead of letting it push races further apart like police violence has, imagine if we could let this bring us together. This crime might have been against a traditionally “black church” like the press keeps pointing out, but I view it as an attack against the Christian community at large.
Do not let this crime do what its agitator intended. Do not let this crime become a battle of races where black churches hate white churches. Let this crime unite every church against those who would tear us down. Let it inspire us to love more deeply our neighbors, to cherish our time on this earth together, and to openly pray for each other. We are one nation under God, and I think it’s time people start remembering that.