By Father Jeffrey D. Gatlin
When talking about racial issues, I know that whatever I write today may be supported by some and others may be offended. I offer these thoughts as I struggle to try and somehow understand the presence of evil.
On June 17, a young white man walked into an African-American church and joined in their Bible study. The church members present had welcomed him and included him. One hour later nine people were dead. Dylann Roof, 21 years old, had shot to death nine people. Murdered in cold blood. A hate crime. Americans were faced with yet another mass killing.
As I write, I am aware of how emotions are running very high. Every mass killing seems to bring out the best and worst in some people. Social media and news channels are in a feeding frenzy.
There are people hurling racial and political insults that are so vitriolic it hurts to read them or listen to them. However, the majority of people are proclaiming their sadness over the murder of nine innocent people who wanted nothing more than to study the Bible that evening.
While Dylann Roof made his motivation clear that he murdered them for being black, there is an underlying cause for racism that we rarely discuss. Racism grows out of hatred.
To hate another person’s existence is, in my opinion, a sign that one’s soul is sick and dying. Each and every human being on earth is loved by God whether we want to admit it or not.
To confess that people one might be against are worthy of God’s love can be difficult. To deny that God created us in his image, to deny all are loved by God and believe a person’s life is inferior and disposable, is to deny the presence of God’s life-giving breath that is within us all.
Hatred is insidious; it is evil. We are not born knowing how to hate; we are taught. The mind and soul become sick.
There are individuals and groups that prey upon those who are seeking to fit in, looking for a place to belong. Hate groups use that advantage to indoctrinate with their sinful and evil ideology. Dylann Roof is another individual who bought into hate. America’s history is filled with such groups and their legacies — lives shattered because of hatred and the sinful idea of one race being superior to all others.
In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
This is the only cure for hatred. Jesus didn’t speak these words as a suggestion. He spoke them as a command. Hard? Most definitely. Impossible? No.
Members of the victims families witnessed to the truth when, through tears and sobs, they said there is no room for hate, only love. I forgive you.
Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Father Gatlin is pastor of Sts. Simon and Jude and Most Blessed Sacrament churches.