This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Racist violence, domestic terrorism

Our communities are reeling from the brutal, racist assassination of African-American parishioners in Charleston, S.C. The arson of six black churches in Georgia, North and South Carolina, following the assassinations, has created more anxiety. The church is the principal sanctuary for black folks. It is the center for spiritual community and justice work.


I am a child of the South, and these racist attacks leave me shaking. They rekindle the memories of hatred that my family endured. This terrorist act was an assault on all African-American communities.

“You are an albatross around America’s neck,” it said. “We don’t want you here.”

While the murder of African-Americans is an everyday occurrence, this deliberate targeting reinforces the need to focus on the insidious nature of racism.

Significant efforts are being made to eliminate the Confederate flag from public places. While this addresses one symbol of racist attitudes, it does not deal with the underlying problem facing African-American communities. Racism, America’s original sin, gives privileges — economically, politically and socially — to white folks.

Many say we are in a postracial society, but the continued bigotry, racial violence and denial of basic human rights to marginalized communities says we are not. The Confederate flag only reminds me of how far we still have to go in race relations.

Joanne Braxton, professor of English and African studies at the College of William and Mary, and civil rights reporter Michael Sainato wrote in The Guardian that the Charleston shootings were not isolated but represent rampant, structurally embedded American racism.

Some of us advocate for non-participation in the political process. Yet, we do vote by our inaction. We elect individuals to represent the common good but then watch as they take actions that are just the opposite of a just and beloved community. Many opt to not become involved with societal concerns because it may marginalize their lives. But we all are accountable for terrorist activity if we don’t work to eliminate the bigotry and hatred that grips us.

Brothers and sisters, how long will we remain silent about domestic terrorism? We easily get excited about issues that involve individual lifestyles, but we remain silent about the violence and hatred that seemingly has us in bondage. When will we say, “Enough already”?

The slain parishioners in Charleston welcomed and extended the right hand of fellowship to the murderer. In grief, families continued to extend fellowship by offering forgiveness. That’s hard. If they can forgive, so can I. However, that forgiveness comes with a request to all justice-seeking people to lay aside personal, political and social ideology and join the fight to eradicate racial oppression and hatred among us.

I continue to seek direction from the prophet Isaiah. He tells the people who were caustic in their relationships with each other that the day is coming when they will trust and not be afraid.

That day for us is now. Maybe our Creator is saying, “I’m trying to tell you something. I’m here to help you stop the madness.”
I’m outraged but hopeful. I will listen and obey our Creator’s voice. Will you?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

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