Refusing To Be Comforted

Read this impassioned response to the shootings at Mother Emmanuel AME Church that challenges Christians to respond with grief that leads to action.


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.

 

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Listen, Reflect: Be Thou My Vision

Watch and listen to this performance of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision" to reflect on how we can see others as Christ sees them.


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"Be Thou My Vision" - Performed by Brooke Pernice

 

​Part of the difficulty in resisting racism is the way we, as individuals and groups, see other people. Our way of seeing has been conditioned, leading to perpetuation of racism. But think about how Jesus saw others - with a constant vision of love. How can we allow Christ to "be our vision"? How can this way of seeing cut through the world's racist ideologies and systems?
 

Watch, listen, reflect.  

Brooke Pernice is a rising senior at Belmont University, majoring in Religion and the Arts and minoring in english writing. She just completed an internship with The Upper Room in Nashville, TN. You can read Brooke's thoughts on how churches neglect and ignore blind members on here

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Expressing Prophetic Grief in Church Communities

Discover ways to express prophetic grief and act on racial injustice in community with other Christians.


In her Encounter, Rev. Jennifer Bailey calls for prophetic grief, a grief that challenges the sins of racism and white supremacy. But how do we express this prophetic grief? Bailey urges, “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.” Prophetic grief is not one that stands separate from the injustice of the world, but it is an expression of pain that leads to action that challenges injustice, educates about the sins of racism and white supremacy, and works to make sure atrocities like the one that occurred at the Mother Emmanuel AME church are not forgotten but learned from. So, here are some ideas to express prophetic grief in your own church communities.
 

  • If you’re a part of a church community deeply affected by racial injustice, create space and time for church members to express pain and grief they feel due to racial violence and oppression occurring in our society and others around the world.
     
  • If you’re a part of a church community that does not experience injustice on a daily basis, search for ways to grieve with those affected by racial violence and oppression.
     
  • In both of these expressions of grief, work together in the church communities to make sure this pain does not create more violence, but transforms into creative responses to the pain and violence.
     
  • Start a group in your church that organizes events and other opportunities for church members to learn about and address racial injustice. This group could also be responsible in finding ways the church can be more open and welcoming to people of all races.
     
  • Start a Sunday school class that educates members about how Christian churches have been complicit and actively involved in perpetuating racial injustice in cultures all over the world. In these classes, recognize your own biases so that you can be aware of how your experiences have inadvertently contributed to racial injustice.
     
  • Come up with your own creative, constructive ways to express prophetic grief that leads to working together with other church communities to resist racial injustice. Share these in the discussion thread below.
     

Out of grief can come truth. Out of pain can come creativity.

Let the Lord guide us as we seek ways to express prophetic grief in our church communities.

 

What are your ideas and insights to express prophetic grief and address racial injustice in your church communities?

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