This morning, I learned of a seventh African American- led church set ablaze. The cause for the burning of Mount Zion AME church in Greeleyville, South Carolina is still under investigation. But, before the smoke signal of this latest burning reached the news, six others in Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina were struck with matches. Three of them have been attributed to arson though it is still unknown as to whether the motive was racial hatred or in response to the recent murder of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by self- professed white supremacist Dylann Roof.
Needless to say, there are many who are disgusted, outraged and shocked by this new but old and familiar story of the destruction of sacred spaces where African Americans gather to worship. And this is not the first time that it has happened to one of the churches. Mount Zion AME Church was burned down by the Ku Klux Klan twenty years ago. Added to continued cases of police brutality involving African Americans, the fight over the Confederate flag and the recent comments of presidential candidate Donald Trump who spoke derogatorily about persons of Hispanic descent, it is clear that we are not as progressive as we might hope and that we cannot even begin the work of reconciliation.
There is much work to be done not just in courts but in our communities, not just in churches but in our conversations. We need to talk to persons of other cultures to establish genuine relationships and friendships. Don’t count them; just create them. There is not a quota. According to a Stanford study, “making friends across racial lines lowers prejudice.”
We also must challenge would- be friends of cross- cultural relationships to speak up and speak out when persons make racist comments or comparisons, remarks or jokes. And we need not make excuses for those who make their prejudices and stereotypes known. We cannot give them an easy way out but must hold people accountable for their false conclusions and judgments of others.
African American- led churches are burning again and again and again. We are repeating the sins of our fathers and mothers. Lord, forgive us. God, help us. Amen.
Jim Campbell, “America’s Long History of Black Churches Burning”
Emma Green, “Black Churches are Burning Again in America”
Ron Hall, Denver Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me
Sarah Kaplan and Justin Wm. Moyer, “Why racists target black churches”
Same Kind of different as me