My deepest condolences to the victims of the shooting in Charleston and their families and loved ones. They were believers and they are my brothers and sisters.
I’m also glad to hear that the suspect is in custody. If he is guilty, as seems very likely, then I pray that he receive the death penalty for his crime. In God’s great grace and mercy I also pray that he repent of his evil before that happens, but that’s God’s business.
I read recently that one of the greatest contributions of Christianity from a societal perspective, and the thing that made western civilization possible, was that Christianity teaches people not to seek simply to do good to those in their tribe or in-group, but to see all as in the image of God regardless of tongue, tribe or family, and all worthy of respect, justice and love. Christians have of course been very slow to implement this in a thorough way, but all repentance takes time. What is remarkable is not that Christians fail at this principle of loving others even outside of your own kin-group, for that failure is universal to humanity. What is remarkable is that they ever succeed in doing so. That’s what’s truly unique. This consensus, of the equal dignity of all human beings, as unevenly and imperfectly implemented as it was, was a big part of the foundation of western civilization and a big part of what made it so successful.
Our own fixation on race and ethnicity is destroying this consensus that made western civilization possible. If a white man is constantly having his whiteness thrown in his face and treated as a member of a tribe and collectively guilty for the sins of that tribe in the past, why should we be surprised if he actually comes to identify with that tribe? And do you expect him to hate himself and his identity which has been forced on him? Are you surprised when he starts thinking of all the failures of other tribes, since this is the social reality you have constructed for him, and that he would then go hold some members of that other tribe collectively guilty for the sins which other members of that tribe have committed?
This young man, it appears, was a white supremacist. This is an abominable position which has nothing at all to do with Christianity, though many Christians have held it in the past and present. There’s a lot about him we don’t know yet, though I’m sure we’ll find out in the days to come. I have already read people using this attack to denigrate whole groups of people, just as others used events in Ferguson or McKinney or other places to denigrate whole groups. If you think it horrible that he held those black people collectively guilty for the sins of completely different black people, wouldn’t it be a good idea to stop holding white people collectively guilty for the sins of different white people? Including long-dead ones?
In Deuteronomy 24:16, 2 Chronicles 25:4, and Ezekiel 18:20, among other places, the Bible specifically rejects collective guilt. A man dies for his own sins, not for the sins of his fathers. This man needs to be held responsible for his sins and punished according to God’s law. But he will be used, by those with axes to grind and careers to advance, to attack whole ethnic groups as being somehow responsible for his crimes. Ideas have consequences, and lies contrary to God’s law always lead to death in the end. The love of Christ is the answer, the only answer the world has ever found, to the tribalism and chauvinism that has worked so much misery throughout the history of the world. Jesus told us (Matthew 5:43-48) to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to bless those that curse us. He told us not to do good only to our friends, for even pagans do that, but to love our enemies.
There are many today that believe that the consensus of equal treatment and doing good even for those outside our immediate ingroup can be maintained even in the absence of the Christianity which created that consensus. I am skeptical. All of history seems to be against the proposition, and it strikes me as an exceedingly foolish experiment to run, given what’s at stake. Nonetheless, I expect we’re going to find out.
If we insist that this incident draws no larger conclusions about the white population in general, then let us return the favor, and the next time a black man commits a crime, draw no larger conclusions about black men in general. If we want to teach our young people not to obsess about race like this young man did, then let’s stop obsessing about race. Let’s reinforce the Biblical message that in Christ, we are all united in His mercy, forgiveness and love, and outside of Christ we are all equally hopeless and condemned. That is the distinction that matters.