Muftic – Charleston and the power of organized religion
The massacre of nine devout members of the African-American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week was horrific.
The response to it could have gone either way, either rioting in anger as so much of our long hot spring produced in response to indignation of injustice, or in another direction. Thanks to the sincerely heartfelt response of Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, the other direction prevailed. Above all, the Christian teaching of the area pastors not to return anger with anger, shaped the attitude of those who had every right to be angry.
The result: the hate filled killer’s goal of creating a race war was not only not realized, the opposite occurred as White and Black congregants joined hands in singing “We Shall Overcome”. The power of organized religion deserves our nation’s deepest gratitude.
The power of religion was also manifested in another hero whose action resulted in the quick apprehension of the perpetrator, tamping down fears he would strike again, and giving the justice system the ability to act quickly. The White North Carolina florist employee, Debbie Dills, spotted, reported, and tailed the suspect for 35 minutes until law enforcement made the arrest. She gave credit for her actions to God working through her.
I grew up in the eastern Oklahoma Bible belt where it was a requirement of social acceptance to be an active Christian member of a church with unquestioned faith in God. When I later saw more of the world, I realized that organized religion could be a force for good or evil, and it could even promote violent division of races and citizens.
We so often hear organized religion as being the cause of conflict. In fact, the haters from the Klan to Bosnia, ISIS, and Syria invoked or enlisted organized religions, cherry picking phrases from their Holy books, to give legitimacy to their atrocities.
But in Charleston, organized religion this time was the agent of peace. Since the 1950’s Black churches led the fight for civil rights. Their successful movement drew on and caused redefinition of the Constitutional amendment protecting equal rights to vote. To succeed, it needed the technique of Rev. Martin Luther King’s peaceful civil disobedience and the communications, networking, and leadership provided by such churches as Emanuel AME.
Our Constitution does not grant absolute rule to the majority. If the majority vote in the South always got its way, the Civil Rights movement resulting in the 1965 Voting Rights Act would never have happened. Constitutional amendments and Court interpretations have given greater opportunity for the minorities to get their voices heard. Recent actions by Southern states dominated by white legislatures and white voters to pass laws making it more difficult for minorities to vote are shameful, especially when leaders like Texas Governor Rick Perry justifies it because “ it was passed by the people of Texas” .
Especially inspirational last week was that White churches have realized that an attack on them is an attack on their religion as well, and they joined hands with their religious Black brothers and sisters in Charleston. The killers’s action was to give a mission to all churches to end the South’s racial divide.
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