In August 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, eighteen year old Michael Brown, a suspected thief, was killed while attacking a police officer. “Protesters” expressed their dismay by looting business, burning buildings and torching police cars. Brown’s family members, those supposedly near to him physically attacked one another over who had the right to profit from souvenirs. Truth was not welcome; witnesses had their lives threatened for testifying that Brown was the aggressor, rather than the police. The death of a single suspected criminal was turned into a tragedy for a community, for a nation.
“I don’t think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community.”
In April, 2015, in Baltimore, Maryland, twenty-five year old Freddie Gray, a convicted narcotics dealer died while in police custody. More than three hundred and eighty businesses and institutions were attacked in the subsequent riots, including a
seniors’ residence, a pharmacy, liquor stores… Many small, family owned stores— many without proper insurance were destroyed. The economic consequences of the riots will make life even harder for people who burned their neighborhoods down. The violence has made life much more dangerous, with murder rates skyrocketing. Police are afraid or unwilling to act, knowing they could be arrested for doing their job.
“To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment.”
Near to Him in Charleston
In June, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina, a young man sat in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church for an hour, before pulling out a gun and killing
- Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a well-known community leader, civil rights advocate and state senator
- Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a high-school girls’ track and field coach, and reverend at her local church
- Tywanza Sanders, a 2014 graduate of Allen University’s division of business administration
- Myra Thompson, wife of the Vicar of Holy Trinity REC Church in Charleston
- Ethel Lee Lance, a 70-year-old grandmother who had worked at the church for 30 years
- Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime church member
- Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74, a retired pastor from another church
- DePayne Middleton-Doctor, a former manager at the U.S. Department of Commerce and community development director
None of the victims were known for violent or criminal activities. In the aftermath of the massacre, the families of the victims forgave the killer. No buildings were destroyed. No police cars were overturned. The so-called ‘Reverend’ Al Sharpton was ignored. A few days later, the church re-opened for Sunday services, and was filled with those near to Him (God). Their prayers were the ultimate protest against violence, racism and evil. A country stood awed by their power.
“Even if my life is worth less than a speck of dirt, I want to use it for the good of society”— Dylann Roof
During the Biblical Exodus from Egypt in the Sinai desert, the two sons of the High Priest Aaron (Moses’ brother) were killed by a fire from the Lord. Moses told God’s words to his brother: ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ Aaron didn’t protest; he was silent, and then God spoke directly to him, rather than through Moses.
There are many discussions as to why Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu were killed, but they’re just speculation. We do know that they were among those near to God.
Dylann Roof offered his reasons for the Charleston massacre in a rambling manifesto. It’s still hard to understand why these nine people died in church. But we can be sure that they were among those near to God. The forgiveness offered by the victims’ families was an awe-inspiring sanctification of His name. The strength possessed through their connection to the divine enabled them to rise above the bitterness of their suffering. Unexpected death, instead of bringing the depravity and violence of Ferguson and Baltimore, brought the sanctification of God, as happened with Aaron’s sons in the Sinai desert. Mankind was able to demonstrate its capacity for nobility and strength. God was revealed not in the horrific deaths, but in the dignity of the families; of those near to Him.
“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And [may God] have mercy on your soul.”