Historical awareness has served me well as a leader. I do not think that you can be an effective public servant without intentional historical reflection with regard to our social, economic and political context. Therein lies the questions and answers as to how we have arrived at our current impasse as a nation and a community. The current southern racial divide is the place where so much of our public discourse and many of our public policy decisions are made against the backdrop of the Civil War conflict. The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and the final shots were fired on June 22, 1865, which means that America's bloodiest conflict lasted 1,532 consecutive days. Yet and still, the unfortunate legacy of the Civil War continues to linger 150 years later and counting!
Dylann Storm Roof is a 21 year old son of the "old south," born almost 133 years to the date after the Civil War began. On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, he cowardly exercised his God given free will to commit domestic terrorism inside the historic Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina claiming the lives of nine American Christians. The terrorist is viewed by most as "the problem" - an isolated deranged agent during a regrettable moment in time. However, I submit to you that he is not "the problem," he is the symptom of a larger problem - the renaissance of race hatred in America. In the hours following the perpetrators arrest, a profile has emerged with relation to his nefarious, sordid thoughts leading up to the massacre. He intentionally targeted black people in church because "they rape our women," "they're taking over the world," "we're taking our country back" and "I've got to do this." He is a segregationist who embraces symbols of the now defunct South African apartheid regime. Friends have added that he told "racist jokes" and wanted to ignite a "race war." How does a Dylann Storm Roof, born on April 2, 1994, think about humanity with an ignorance and bigotry that is akin to the ethos of 1865 rather than 2015?
Dylann Storm Roof envisioned himself as a contemporary Confederate soldier on assignment to preserve the values of the old south. The renaissance of race hatred in America is a culture that teaches the Pledge of Allegiance but then celebrates the secession and treason that precipitated our nation's deadliest war. We live in a society where Confederate monuments populate virtually every town center in the south and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's birthday is an official holiday in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. The larger problem is that South Carolina still raises the rebel flag daily, a symbol of hatred, intimidation and segregation; the larger problem is an education system in our southern states that is consistently the worst in the nation according to KidsCount publications from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The renaissance of race hatred in America is fueled by a morally bankrupt family who legally purchased but illegally gifted a .45 caliber handgun to a felon in spite of his possible insanity and widely known penchant for segregation and hatred of African Americans. The larger problem is a growing populace that has NO consciousness of God and therefore NO fear of God and NO respect for God's church.
The Charleston Massacre is not likely to resolve our 150 year old antebellum stalemate, especially as the 2016 election approaches. Nothing stirs our retreat to antiquated Civil War platitudes like an election. After all, it appears that the post 2008 election language of "Winning our country back!" impacted the psyche of this homegrown terrorist. This massacre will not likely change the reckless rhetoric of those political candidates who court the votes of bigotry and intolerance at all cost.
As the Civil War wages on, tragically, so does its casualties. Even 150 years later, it appears that we are still in search of the elusive Civil War cease fire. To the Dylann Storm Roofs of the world and the communities that produce them, you don't have to read thousands of volumes of history to be a good American. You don't have to memorize every book of the Bible to be a good Christian. There is one Bible verse, however, that should you live by it, you will be both a great Christian and a great American. It is a quotation from the world's most famous victim of violence and hatred. Jesus of Nazareth declared, "You shall love the Lord your God withyou're your heart and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27) That's enough about the terrorist. Join me in celebrating the nine great Christians and Americans whose names are most worthy of remembrance: Pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; and Susie Jackson, 87. May all who believe take comfort in the Biblical Christ that they studied with the waning minutes of their lives.
Eric W. Lee is the Senior Pastor of Springfield Baptist Church in Conyers.