Archive for June, 2015

When a Terrorist Looks Like Me

June 19, 2015

My heart is heavy as I write this, as I’m sure it is for many of you out there.

I am an average person living a nice life in Northern Kentucky. I have a great spouse, two cats who keep me constantly entertained, two good jobs that pay my bills, two great kids (even if they do live in other states :)). I am priviledged to serve a small congregation of Presbyterians in Covington and be able to bring, on a regular basis, God’s word to them and to you who read my posts.

And as most of you know, I’m white.

I’m also appalled at the events of Wednesday night, when a young white man entered an historic black congregation, sat through a prayer meeting with them for an hour, and then stood up and started shooting, killing 9 people in attendance.

No, I’m more than appalled, I’m sickened. Furious. Deeply saddened.

To some, this may seem like one more mass shooting. To others, it’s a hate crime– or even worse, an act of terrorism.

And I must say, I have to agree. According to reports, the shooter went there with bad intent– “to shoot black people.” If that’s not a hate crime, if that’s not terrorism, I don’t know what is.

Terrorism doesn’t have to be jihad. It only has to inspire terror.

I can only imagine the terror those people felt when someone they welcomed into their midst and treated as a neighbor pulled out a gun and began to shoot. The terror of a 5 year old girl who played dead in order to survive.

That’s what terrorists do– they make people afraid and they do so intentionally and with bad intent. But when we think of “terrorist”, we white American folk, we tend to think “Muslim jihad” or “black gang member”, ISIS or Al Quida.

We don’t think KKK. We don’t think Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Aryan Nations. We don’t think “fresh faced white American kid.”

I would call any mass killing, like the ones in Denver and Newtown, terrorism, based on the fact that they did inspire terror in thier victims. However, this to me fits the definition more closely because of the location and the victims chosen. In many ways it’s not unlike the bombing of the church in Birmingham in the 60s. We didn’t know what to do then. And we don’t know what to do now.

What do we do when the terrorist looks like us? It isn’t enough to call him deranged or mentally ill, unless we want to assign those labels to those who join ISIS or Al Quida. But we’re quick to make excuses when the terrorist looks like us. Instead, we need to look ourselves in the eye and admit that white culture breeds hatred sometimes, that Christian culture breeds hatred sometimes, just as other cultures do.

Our God is a God of justice, peace and compassion; but our God also speaks out of the whirlwind when we get things wrong, with a fierce righteousness that we can’t even begin to approach. If we can’t look at ourselves, at our white selves, and see where we are wrong and where we are complicit and where we are silent in the face of the racism and violence that goes with it, that exists in this country in the 21st century, then what kind of Christians are we? And how are we different than the ones who committ terrorist acts? I don’t know about you, but a whirlwind of shame with God’s voice coming out of it wouldn’t surprise me. (And I don’t mean the next hurricane or tornado or other natural disaster.)

Let us white folks, us white Christians, not be blind and silent anymore. Let us look at Dylann Roof and see him for what he is, and call him what he is, saying it outloud: He is a terrorist who looks like us.