Contributed by Jennifer Bailey
"A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." - Jeremiah 31:15
On Wednesday, June 17, Dylann Roof walked through the doors of Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. For nearly an hour he sat among the saints of God and participated in their weekly bible study before opening firing and viciously killing nine black Christians. Among those gathered were mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. They were ministers of the gospel, ushers, and choir members. All united by their love of God, their church, and each other.
I am a clergywoman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I am in mourning and I refused to be comforted. Like the story of Rachel weeping for her children (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18), I will not allow my anger and lamentation to be silenced. The very soul of American Christianity is on trial and progressive platitudes of reconciliation will not save it. The type of healing we need must be born out of lament. A type of lament some of my dear sisters in ministry have begun to call prophetic grief. As one of my beloved heroes, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church in New York notes, “Love looks like this: Prophetic grief. Tears falling heavy. And activism that ends racism.”
I invite my Christian brothers and sisters of all racial backgrounds to join me in my prophetic grieving. Our cries cannot and should not be the same. For some of us, who inhabit black skin, our tears will be coated in exhaustion. They will be punctuated by the stark feeling that we are permanently displaced in the only place we have known as home. We know that we are fighting for our lives and have no choice but to cry out to God.
For white Christians, the choice may not be as clear. Lament for Charleston cannot be separated from a challenge to the system of white supremacy that serves to protect white people and their interests. Prophetic grief requires a confession that the system of white supremacy infiltrates and shapes our worship spaces, theologies, and ethics. I have no doubt that this process will be risky for my white colleagues. Rarely does transformation occur without birthing pains. The reality of power is that while my survival is at stake, my white Christian brothers and sisters have the option to avoid the pain, and remain silent.
Yet, if Christians are serious about those words in the Lord’s Prayer “thy kingdom come,” I believe that we have to get serious about dismantling the sins of racism and white supremacy. If faith without works is dead, so are calls for prayer without action and accompaniment with suffering communities. For those wondering how to start, you can begin in your own congregations. Refuse to be comforted. Lean into prophetic grief. Speak the truth about your own racial biases.
Nine black Christians are dead in Charleston. Killed during a prayer meeting in their church. If that is not a call to action for the American Church, I don’t know what will be.
Rev. Jennifer Bailey is an ordained minister, community organizer, and emerging Millennial leader in multi-faith movement for justice and has been named one of 15 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the Center for American Progress. She is Founder of the Faith Matters Network, a new interfaith community equipping leaders in the American South with tools to challenge economic injustice in local communities through story and action. She is also an ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church.
Editor's Note: This Encounter is adapted from a longer piece originally published here.