Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Charleston shooting, Apartheid and learning to be a Peacemaker

America feels a long way away, probably because it is situated on the other side of the world. This afternoon I heard that someone had gone into a church in Charleston and opened fire on some people who had gathered for a bible study. Later on I heard that it was another white on black hate crime, something that seems to be happening more and more regularly on that side of the world. The Ferguson and Eric Garner incidents are only two of a host of highly publicized cases that the media brought to our attention in recent times. And like many others, when I heard of those cases I mourned the tragic loss of human life and said a prayer for the families and communities that would be feeling the effects of these events in the years to come. But it wasn’t until today, not even an hour ago when I saw a picture of Dylann Roof, who is the suspect in the Charleston Church massacre, that things really hit home for me. You see, in the picture which is taken from his Facebook account, Dylann is pictured wearing a jacket with the old South African flag on it.

Here in South Africa, I still see that old flag from time to time, some of the older folk in particular can be quite stubborn and would still prefer to be living in ‘the good old days’. Normally I hold my tongue and walk away; are my words really going to have any major impact on a person who has spent a life time erecting walls of hate, fear and segregation in their hearts? Today I no longer feel like holding my tongue. Jesus did not say blessed are the peaceful, goldfish are peaceful creatures that live their lives in relative obscurity. Soon enough they pass on without ever having impacted anyone or anything. No, Jesus said blessed are the peaceMAKERS. Peace does not come through inaction, it is pursued, it is fostered, and it is obtained not by the blood of ones enemies but by those who are willing to bleed themselves in standing up for what is right.

This country needs peacemakers, America needs peacemakers. The ‘how to’ steps in that process are still a little blurry in all honesty, especially while emotions are still running high. But here are some of my initial thoughts. This is for now, at least where I can see myself starting off in becoming a peacemaker rather than just one who lives at peace with others.

1 – Educate yourself and those around you. Put yourself in the shoes of the oppressed and the ‘other’. It is only in the last year that I have really started to read up a little on my own countries past and it has shocked me, it has helped me to at least begin to see what things were like for those living on the other side of the fence. It has transformed how I view my neighbor.

2 – Speak up. Open up dialogues wherever possible, you don’t need to be confrontational. I find much of the harmful and abusive words that I hear spoken are often said subconsciously by those who speak them. We are to a large extent products of our society. Not everyone breeds hate or hurts others intentionally.

3 – Spend time with people outside of your own color and culture. Every single time that I have gone into black communities for a church or social gathering or for any other reason I have always being welcomed in and accepted with wide open arms. Love brings down the walls of resistance and fear like nothing else.

Unfortunately there will be more cases in the media highlighting racial conflict in the future. They are not going to stop over night. But there are other Dylann Roof’s out there for whom it is not too late. No heart is so hardened that the love of Christ cannot pierce it and make it anew.

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