Last Thursday morning, news came of a forest fire that started overnight in a local national forest. Last Thursday morning also came news of gunfire that had occurred overnight in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Each day since, it’s as though the smoke billowing from the fire represents the pain and sadness that swell from the desecration in Charleston.
When I first heard the news of the church shooting, I thought “How long, O Lord; how long until the gun violence stops—how many more Sandy Hooks, Auroras, and now Charlestons must there be?” Indeed, only after reading and hearing more news did I recognize that what happened was, at its core, a racist act.
Yesterday, I heard a clear illustration of why it was also a terrorist act: You see, no one gave any thought to calling the 9/11 hijackers or the Boston Marathon bombers mentally ill. We knew that they intended these acts not merely to harm the injured and the dead, but to wreak havoc on the entire nation. In the same way, far beyond committing murder, the shooter in Charleston aimed to intimidate and strike fear throughout the African American community.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton took a stand against quietism in the face of such intimidation and terror last week when she called on all of us in the ELCA to respond individually, as a church, and as communities.
I hope that we, as a community of women, will also recognize and accept our responsibility to respond. An anti-racist identity and advocating for the oppressed and voiceless stand as founding values of Women of the ELCA. In tune with our values, may we each be bold in considering what our units should do in their particular settings. May our units, in turn, be bold to call the synodical women’s organizations (SWOs) to task by bringing resolutions to the SWO conventions. And, finally, two years from now, may the SWOs act boldly to bring memorials against racial inequality, inequity and violence to our Tenth Triennial Convention.
Today, eight days after it began, the local forest fire continues to burn, and its pillar of smoke reminds us of our need for remembrance and our call to action. Eventually, this particular forest fire will be extinguished, but another will erupt in another place and time. We must consider what actions we, both individually and as a community of women, can and must take to help ensure the extinguishing of violence and racism before they too erupt in yet another place and time.
Until the day when the racism and violence meet their final end, this song of remembrance for all:
Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me….
My heart shall sing of the day you bring, let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.
(“Canticle of the Turning,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 723)
Becky Shurson, of Yucaipa, Calif., is serving as secretary of the churchwide women’s organization for the 2014-2017 triennium.
If you are unsure where to begin, look at the ELCA social statements on topics such as Church in Society, Peace and Race. The ELCA also has social messages on Community Violence and Terrorism. These social statements and messages give us the broad framework to use in considering how social issues intersect with our faith and life.
In addition, Women of the ELCA has resources available to begin a dialogue in your congregation or community, such as “Stand Up for Justice!,” “The Level Playing Field,” sections of “The Called to” series, and “Rachel’s Day.”