The shooting that occurred Wednesday night at an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina has focused our attention, once again, on several issues-- racism, mental health, and gun violence, to name three. These are continued discussions we need to have because they are important.
I am quite sad as a write this post. The church affected was an African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has a common heritage with the United Methodist Church, of which I am a pastor. Of course, such a heinous crime at any church would be quite grieving, but there is something for me that hits a little closer to home as we share a common Wesleyan historical and theological heritage. Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney was by all accounts a wonderful shepherd and also a state senator involved in the community and in the state. Persons like him are sorely missed when they are gone. And then there were the other eight victims, believers who obviously took their faith seriously as they were at a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Christians who darken the church door only on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday rarely attend a weeknight prayer meeting. They too made a difference for Jesus in their own way, and they too are loved and cherished by family and friends. I am indeed sad.
As I said, once again this outrageous act will foster continued discussion, as it should, on racism, mental health, and gun violence. Those discussions continue to be important and necessary. But the purpose of this post is to focus on another issue--the importance of understanding that radical Christian hospitality can be dangerous and even deadly.
The suspect, Dylann Roof, walked into that prayer meeting and spent a half hour with the parishioners and the pastor gathered there. We do not yet know all the details, but I have no doubt that the pastor and those there welcomed Dylann into their midst. He sat with them while they prayed and lifted up the name of Jesus before he opened fire, killing nine. He was the Judas who would betray them.
Christian hospitality can be a dangerous thing. The Church of Jesus Christ is an intrinsically hospitable community. It is in our DNA. We are the Body of Christ; therefore, we welcome all because Jesus welcomed all. When people enter a church building, whether on Sunday or Wednesday or any other time, there is someone to greet and welcome them. No one is carded, or frisked, or sent through a metal detector. We simply welcome all. For Christians, strangers are only people we hope to make our friends.
I have heard that there are a few churches around the country who have armed ushers and who send everyone through a metal detector. By the wisdom of the world I understand the logic, but by the logic of the gospel, such procedures make no sense to me. I think it simply reinforces the fortress mentality already so prevalent in the church, which undermines its mission. The radical hospitality of the gospel demands that all are welcomed as those made in the image of God seeking Jesus, not criminals suspected of getting ready to perpetrate a crime. Some will say that I am naive. So be it. Being the church has been a risk from the beginning of the faith; after all, the Lord Jesus, the founder and center of our faith, was crucified for, among other things, his radical hospitality. "Security" is not a synonym for faith; it is "risk."
I really do not have much else to say, except that we need to remember the family and friends of the grieving in our prayers.