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Dylann Roof visited a church last Wednesday night for the worst reason imaginable. He was welcomed into a Bible study where he sat with the congregants for an hour before he acted on the unthinkable evil he came to do. Later on he would tell the police that he almost didn’t go through with it because the people were so nice to him.

And the people of Emanuel AME Church, the families of the victims, have responded with the most staggering grace I’ve ever seen in my life. Families stood in a courtroom, watching the murderer of their beloved ones on video, and told him that they forgave him. They challenged him to repent, to trust in Christ for the forgiveness of his heinous sins and be spared from the wrath that is surely coming upon him.

My heart wrenched as I heard one family member speaking about the Bible study that fateful night say “We enjoyed you…”

You see, Dylann Roof made a fatal mistake. He was on a hate-fueled mission to destroy a race he deemed inferior to his, to start another civil war, to “do something” about African Americans who “rape our women” and are “taking over our country.”

What an absolutely depraved, evil and asinine thing to say. He didn’t just seek to kill their bodies, he sought to destroy their souls with words so demeaning, so deplorable, the mention of them makes anyone with a conscience cringe.

His mistake, which proved fatal to his every effort, is that he chose a group of African American Christians.

Not just any Christians, but ones who were gathered on a Wednesday night to study the Bible, ones who gladly, joyfully welcomed a stranger much different than themselves into their midst. Ones who put the generosity and hospitality of Christ on display.

And then, he killed them. Massacred them. In cold blood.

But their families, they were Christians too. Two days later, after their very worlds were upended in unthinkable ways, they stood in a courtroom and said words like “I forgive you” and “I pray you repent.”

They did not start a war. They did not retaliate. They responded with an unnerving grace—a superhuman-like feat that made viewers and newscasters alike well up with tears, faces warm and wet with unbelief and awe.

Dylann wanted to start a war, but he made a crucial mistake. He sought to kill people because of their race, not realizing that these brothers and sisters no longer saw their biological race as their primary identity.

He did not kill African Americans–he killed Christians who also happened to be African American. Christians who saw themselves first and foremost as citizens of heaven, part of a new and beautiful multicolored race of redeemed ones Jesus is creating on the Earth.

What Dylann failed to realize is that killing one of us won’t start a war, because we forgive. If you want to start a war, you’ll need to pick a different target. The Christians of Emanuel AME Church know that they’ve been forgiven for far too much to treat even bitter enemies with vengeance. They know they have a heavenly Father who promises to take vengeance, so they don’t have to.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  -Colossians 3:12-14

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  -Romans 12:19

Dylann Roof wanted to start a war, and the war he got was a war on the very things he stood for, on racism, hate and evil. He caused a city and a state with deep and festering racial wounds to link arms together, to gather in a church together, to sing gospel hymns together, to declare war on a symbol of oppression that has far too long hung over government grounds.

He wanted a war, and he got one that he didn’t see coming.

And the joke is on him, because he killed people that are going to live forever–beautiful and redeemed souls that will dance on the graves of hatred and racism for all eternity. He declared war on a people that you can’t conquer, murdered people that you can’t ultimately kill.

People that will inhabit a city of all colors and nationalities for ever and ever, united as family by the precious blood of Christ that courses through all of their beautiful and multicolored veins. People that met his hate with grace, his evil with good and his war with the peace of their Savior.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  -Revelation 7:9-10

Above all, Dylann Roof failed to realize that declaring war on the apples of God’s eye is declaring a war on God Himself, and He’s not someone you want to be at war with (Rev 19:11-16).

For he who touches you touches the apple of his eye.  -Zechariah 2:8

He hoped to fan the dying flames of white supremacy in our state, and the exact opposite occurred—many white Christians came to the realization, following the beautiful lead of the people of Emanuel AME Church, that their primary identity is not a white American or a Southern American or even a Confederate flag supporter, much like this member of my church so beautifully stated:

I grew up with the opinion that the Confederate flag was “history, not hate,” and that the Civil War was not just about slavery (which all forms of slavery are absolutely wrong and unjustifiable, and I am so thankful that chattel slavery in America was abolished), but was also about state’s rights, and the Federal government extending its power beyond what the Constitution allowed (which I also believe it has done, and continues to do, but that is neither here nor there). Because of that, I have been going back and forth about the issue of the flag being flown at the SC State House, and I didn’t want to support it being taken down just because “everyone else is doing it.”

But I know that my attributing one non-nefarious meaning to the flag doesn’t take away the fact that it represents hatred, fear, oppression, and dehumanization to my African American brothers and sisters. And I also know that if I or my family were enslaved, oppressed, or terrorized under a particular flag, I wouldn’t want to see that reminder flying every day in front of the building that represents my state government. And my African American brothers and sisters ARE my family. So all of that long-windedness to say, this article makes a great and biblical argument for the flag being taken down from the State House, and I now support it 100%. Jesus’ grace gives room to grow and freedom to change our minds, and I’m so thankful for that.

Did you catch that, Dylann?

“And my African American brothers and sisters ARE my family.”

That is a Christ-centered response to something like the Confederate flag if I’ve ever heard one. A response that understands that as Christians, our primary identity is not other white people, other black people, other Americans, other conservatives or other liberals. All other flags bow to the banner of Christ and the unity that He alone brings.

I am not a southern white Christian—I’m a Christian who just so happens to be white (and also southern). And if my black brothers and sisters are harmed by something I think is worthwhile (I don’t, but for argument’s sake) then WHO CARES about my rights, my history, my heritage? Is my history more important than theirs? They are my family, so it’s coming down.

Because ultimately the history that we share is our most important history, and the future we share is our most central future. All others pale in comparison, not even coming close.

Dylann Roof tried to divide us, and he ended up uniting us more than ever. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more clear picture of “What you meant for evil, God meant for good” in my lifetime.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. -Genesis 50:20

Dylann Roof, you have failed and you have failed miserably. What you meant for evil God has already taken and caused good to spring forth. What you meant to separate God will use to heal and unite. What you meant to bring death God will raise from the ashes and breathe new life.

You picked the wrong people to mess with—people who have a much deeper and eternal family than those with whom they share a skin color.

You planted a grotesque seed of hate and the Christians of Emanuel AME Church said, “No, no, no son…that will not grow here.” 

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