|THE PURPLE CROWN by Rollin Russell|
June 28, 2015
We have not yet heard from Wayne LaPierre, the NRA president, regarding the horrific slaughter at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. A member of the South Carolina Legislature, though, was clearly channeling him and his constant trope: "If someone among the church goers had been carrying a gun there would have been fewer deaths." Dylann Roof talked to his victims as he methodically shot them, reloaded and continued his killing. He could have been taken down numerous times.
So, . . . blame the victims?!
What few people seem to understand, especially the rebel flag waving, gun toting, hyper conservatives among us, is that there is no way on earth that these prayer and Bible study Christians would carry a weapon, much less respond to any such assault with violence. It is not that they are historic and theological pacifists like Mennonites and Moravians. These AME Christians at Mother Emmanuel undoubtedly sent their sons to the military to defend our country and went themselves. Rather, they had grasped, and been grasped, by the core principle of the Christian Faith: love conquers hate.
So they talked and reasoned and prayed for their assailant, even as he methodically shot them, reloaded and shot again and again. The forces of darkness and hatred will never understand that. Most of the rest of us don't get it either. But when we witness love, grace and forgiveness in the face of raw evil, we begin to see and sense its powerful truth. Our eyes can open to the deeper truth of our history and our lives, and our hearts can be moved in new ways. We have witnessed the wave of compassion and love that followed. President Obama put it accurately: the grace that was in them elicited grace in abundance. It is Amazing: blind, but now we see.
Christians since the third century have called such martyrdoms the Purple Crown. The term was first used by Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Valerian, and it has been honored most consistently by the pacifist traditions, many of whose faithful were martyred during the Middle Ages and the Reformation. In his book, The Purple Crown, Tripp York contends that we need only look to the martyrs to see the most heinous evil in any age or society: it is the one that makes martyrs of its saints.
Now, clearly, we see racism unmasked in all its stark hideousness. The only appropriate response to new insight is new action, new ways of living and relating to each other. If we seize this kyros moment of clarity, this moment when grace broke into our common life, and if we use it to make changes in the way we think and live, we might eventually be able to say, as the patriarch Joseph did to his brothers in Egypt, "You meant it to me for evil, but God has turned it to good."
Rev. Dr. Rollin O. Russell