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Part 1-Tilling the Soil: Charleston Church Shooting & the Summer of the Confederate Flag

Series: How Peacemakers Began

Part 1-Tilling the Soil: Charleston Church Shooting & the Summer of the Confederate Flag

So much has happened in the last three plus years that perhaps many have forgotten that summer. I will never forget that summer. The summer that a young, white-supremacist gunman gunned down nine African-American Christians during a Bible study/prayer meeting at Emmanual AME Church on a Wednesday night in June in Charleston, South Carolina. This shooting shook and frightened our black brothers and sisters, leaving them grieving and suffering. Among us white Christians, there seemed barely a ripple.

This shooting shook and frightened our black brothers and sisters, leaving them grieving and suffering.

I remember silence.  

I remember we didn’t talk about it in church. I remember my pastor showing a video at the end of his sermon that Sunday, which recognized the people killed that Wednesday night. Other than that, I don’t remember any other acknowledgment of this horrifying attack on a Christian church and slaughter of our brothers and sister. I remember….though I felt badly shaken…I too, was silent.

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels
Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

Within a couple weeks, in the controversy and debate about removing the Confederate Flag from flying over the South Carolina State Capitol was raging….it seemed that the murders that precipitated it were forgotten and lost in the ensuing Summer of the Confederate Flag. Suddenly, all over our small, progressive, very religious little southern city, Confederate flags began sprouting up like a strange, invasive crop.

Suddenly, all over our small, progressive, very religious little southern city, Confederate flags began sprouting up like a strange, invasive crop.

Pick-up trucks cruised around town flying Confederate flags, and in some cases, with a noose hanging off the tailgate. The flags popped up in front of homes, businesses, places they had not been flying before. I noticed that my fellow white believers who had been remarkably silent about the murder of black Christians were suddenly much more upset about the Confederate flag being removed from public property.

Pick-up trucks cruised around town flying Confederate flags, and in some cases, with a noose hanging off the tailgate.

Then, on Sunday, July 5,  a Confederate Flag rally was held on a heavily traveled overpass in our city. Travelers on the interstate that bisects our city were greeted with the sight of many Confederate flags waving above them. I remember feeling grief, sorrow, and disbelief at the transformation in the city I loved, the city that had felt like such a refuge from the blatant, in-your-face racism I had witnessed regularly in the Arkansas Delta.

See, if you were a white person in our city, as long as you did not get too close to any black people, you could almost believe racism did not exist here. After the Delta, I did not want to see it. I did not want to see it, because if I did, then I would see the suffering and injustice of it. And then I would be compelled to speak up. And to act. And speaking and acting can bring consequences. As I watched footage of the Confederate flag rally on the overpass, I knew I could never again pretend that I did not see racism in the city I loved and was proud to reside in.

Photo by Emily Hopper from Pexels
Photo by Emily Hopper from Pexels

That same day, my son told me, “Mom, you got to see this Facebook Live video that Phillip Fletcher did on the Confederate flag.” So I watched the video. Phil Fletcher is an African-American, Christian pastor who founded and leads a non-profit that serves three under-resourced neighborhoods, and who advocates on behalf of the poor and homeless in our community.

That same day, my son told me, “Mom, you got to see this Facebook Live video that Phillip Fletcher did on the Confederate flag.”

On this Sunday, Phil addressed the matter of the Confederate flags flying in our community, the flag rally. He shared his experience of attempting to talk to white pastors in our community about the flag, about encouraging them to address the matter with their congregations. But the pastors were not receptive, some defended the flag, and others discouraged Reverend Fletcher from speaking about the flag. They told him to stick to “talking about poverty.” He concluded the video by telling viewers that he would be holding an open discussion the next evening about Racism, the Confederate flag, and the Church at a local coffee shop.

Watching Reverend Fletcher’s video felt like a punch to the gut. I remember feeling deeply grieved about the responses of the white pastors to their black brother, who explained to them the history of the Confederate flag, it’s impact on black people and the need for them to address their congregations. I remember feeling sickened inside that there was more outrage among white believers about Confederate flags being removed than sorrow over the deaths of their black brothers and sisters.

Watching Reverend Fletcher’s video felt like a punch to the gut.

I thought about how the Apostle Paul wrote about how we are “members of the same body.” About how “when one member suffers, the whole body suffers.” But the suffering of black brothers and sisters from the shooting in Charleston and the resurgence of Confederate flags did not seem to be felt by the parts of the body that looked like me.

I felt a profound conviction deep in my heart. I remember kneeling weeping, crying out to God, and repenting of my own silence. That day I resolved that I was not going to stay silent. I didn’t know what exactly what to do, but I decided that I would start by attending the discussion that Reverend Fletcher was leading at the coffee shop.

To be continued…

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