When news broke that Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man had gunned down nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, most people quickly seemed to infer that it was a racially motivated attack, especially once authorities began referring to it as a hate crime.
According to the FBI, a hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
The morning after the crime, the Fox & Friends morning show featured E.W. Jackson, an African American pastor and former lieutenant governor candidate in Virginia known for referring to the gay rights movement as “a cancer” and President Obama as a “radical anti-American” and “anti-Christian.” Jackson explained that he was worried about the fact that the attack happened at a church.
“We’re urging people wait for the facts, [and] don’t jump to conclusions,” Jackson said. “But I’m telling you, I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church, because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views. I just think it’s something that we have to be aware of and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.”
President Barack Obama called the nine deaths “senseless murders” and suggested more gun control is needed in the wake of the tragedy, saying “The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”
According to multiple news reports, the Facebook profile picture chosen by Dylann Storm Roof shows him wearing a black jacket adorned with two flags — one from apartheid-era South Africa, the other from white-ruled Rhodesia — that have been adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.
The Christian Identity is a movement of many extremely conservative Christian churches and religious organizations, extreme right-wing political groups and survival groups and it is closely tied to white supremacy.
The largest Christian Identity movement has traditionally been the Ku Klux Klan, which was reorganized in 1915 by William Simmons, a Christian pastor. He had been inspired by the film The Birth of a Nation, which portrayed the KKK as a champion of white civilization. The KKK slid into obscurity by the Second World War, but was revitalized in the mid 1950’s as a reaction to enforced racial integration in the southern United States.
White supremacy extremists specifically target racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and the federal government. A Religious Landscape Study conducted by the Pew research Center in June 2014, clearly identified Christianity as a religious majority in the United States, citing that Americans (71%) largely identify themselves as Christians.
Some international white-supremacist groups, such as the South African Boeremag, also claim to incorporate elements of Christianity in their philosophy.
The Boeremag crave the return of racial apartheid and they conceived a plot to assassinate the late former South African President Nelson Mandela and to “drive black people out of South Africa by leaving a trail of food parcels along a major road.” In October of 2013, after 10-year-long treason trials, 20 members of the group were sentenced to 35 years in prison.
But, regardless of their claim to Christianity, white supremacist groups could not be further from anything related to Christ.
Remember the patches on Dylann Storm Roof’s jacket from apartheid era South Africa? There is no doubt in my mind that his actions were not an attack against Christianity, that they were in fact racially motivated, and if I and any other person who is a minority fails to see that, that is where the real danger of these groups lie.
The core of the crime committed against the members and pastors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is neither a lack of gun control nor an attack on Christianity; it was pure racism. It was hate.
As a Christian and a minority, I believe the solution to racism is our burden. We are called to live the message of Jesus Christ to love one another as He loves us, and that whatever we do to the least of His brothers, we do unto Him, that if we treat a person with contempt, we are mistreating a person created in God’s image.
When all of us who claim to follow Christ begin to attempt to live his message in the New Testament, we will be paying the ultimate tribute to the lives of Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Daniel L. Simmons, Suzy Jackson and Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and our nation will be truly great for it.