On the Charleston Church Shooting, Dylann Roof, Race, Religion, Liberation Theology and Charlie Manson

One of my earliest memories is when I was around six-years-old and lived in Charleston, S.C., attending a wedding at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of a coworker of my father. What I remember most is asking a kid around my age who was the man in a painting on the wall. He told me that it was Jesus. 

And now I live with a new memory. While in the Philadelphia Airport, having arrived there after a trip to Israel, and waiting to board a flight to my current home in Los Angeles, I went online and saw, to my infinite horror that there had been a massacre that day in the church of the wedding I attended as a child.

Of course, as always happens, the politicking began. The zealots for bad causes of both the left and the right immediately went to their usual rhetoric, shamelessly using the tragedy to advance their cause. While the issue of gun control came up, I am going to address the issues of race and religion that arose from the shooting.

Those on the right (especially at Fox News) had a knee-jerk reaction to it as another attack on Christianity, seeing in the massacre a parallel to the mass murder and persecution of Christians in other countries. The left saw it differently, noticing the obvious details of a white murderer of black people. The left’s view proved the more obviously correct as the evidence came in of a a deeply disturbed young man with nostalgia for days of segregation he never experienced, not only in our (meaning, my and his) native South Carolina, but in the apartheid of Rhodesia and South Africa, as well and twisted fantasies of a segregated dystopia, which despite the fervent wishes and evil violence of the shooter and his ilk.

The left was correct in asserting the racist nature of the killer, but very, very wrong when they then criticized commentators who called the killer insane. It is hard to imagine how anyone could look at the expressed views of Dylann Roof, his delusion that his murdering those who welcomed him into a Bible study group would launch a race war and think him sane. Indeed, it is eerily similar to the lunacy spewed over forty years earlier by another insane mass murderer, Charlie Manson.

Part of being an obsessive zealot on an issue is the inability to see what others, less blinded by single-minded devotion to a cause, can see. In this case, the zealots for bad causes of both the right and left have missed that it was at a historically black church where Roof chose to attack and kill those of a race he hated, felt himself superior to and wanted to see oppressed for the benefit of those and others of his same skin pigmentation.

While Roof was clearly insane, haunted by his demons far past the point of rational thought and not very intelligent, it is worth contemplating that he must have realized that the black church played a huge part in the Civil Rights Movement and has served as the backbone of the black community for years. Liberation Theology, the teaching and preaching of Christianity through a lens of action and amelioration for the struggles of the poor and the oppressed, while not invented by black preachers, reached its highest apex in their words and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” is the greatest oratory ever given by an American citizen. From Antebellum times on, racists have realized the strengthening and the support that the black church has provided the black community and have, therefore, attacked it.

That, sadly, many black preachers do not now preach liberation theology, but prosperity theology is a topic I will address in another entry.

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