Black History Month should raise informed “hoorays” for all the great pioneering “firsts” attributable to African-descended people and accordingly should testify to the self-defeating ridiculousness of racial and other discrimination.
As we come to the end of this month, let us also acknowledge with an informed “hooray” the towering accomplishments and viewpoints of many called “Black” who in our churches adhere to key values, rooted in faith that have the potential for steering us, and through us, possibly, the whole world, toward the “more abundant life.” promised by our Savior. I refer of course to values rooted in agapé: universal and unconditional love for one another.
A practicing lawyer for over 35 years before I embarked approximately 17 years ago on a response to a call of the Divine to theological and pastoral ministry, my first response to the 2015 mass shooting of people participating in Bible Study in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., was in accord with South Carolina’s then-Gov. Nikki Haley hope for the prosecutors to seek the death penalty for the young, proudly racist White defendant who insisted that he had no remorse.
However, I was taken aback, and rethought the matter when, at the time of the accused’s bond hearing, the survivors and the relatives of five of the victims — all Black Americans steeped in the values they attributed to their AME Church — were allowed to inform the defendant that, consistent with the values of their faith, they were “praying for his soul” and they indeed forgave him.
This was their agape response to a young White man, just 21 years old at the time, who openly embraced and promoted racial segregation, White supremacy, the Confederacy and American neo-Nazism.
I wonder whether there are parallels to be drawn between, on the one hand, the murderous treatment over centuries of so many of the enslaved in the Americas, and our obligations as their descendants.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., J.D., LL.D., D. Min., K.St.J, is Washington National Cathedral Priest Scholar and Chaplain, and he previously served as priest in charge in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.