As is true of many others, I grew up in a church that had a midweek Bible study and prayer meeting. Many of us remember sitting in those circles, reading from our Bibles and praying together. We remember that sense of release and hope when our Bible study and prayer time were over. We might have even felt that our churches, communities, nation and world benefited from our prayers.
We can therefore picture ourselves, without much difficulty, in the historic Charleston Mother Emanuel AME Church on the evening of June 17. We can imagine how those present came that night to share a burden or to support one another in prayer. We can imagine that those present probably prayed for the strange white kid who unexpectedly joined them because maybe we, too, remembered a troubled soul shyly coming into our prayer meetings.
Prayer is certainly one of the most sacred moments in life, for in prayer our souls are wide open before God. I have no doubt, as that young man brandished the gun in the Charleston church, that those gathered for study and prayer that night died praying, not just for themselves but for this angry kid.
Let us keep their prayer alive and continue to pray for all those who died in Charleston and all those who are grieving their deaths. But let us also pray for those who taught this man to hate, the one who bought him a gun and those who knew he was headed for trouble but didn’t say anything.
And let us pray for a change of heart in our country. It is time for the white majority in this country to admit some hard facts. We should admit that racism is leaking out of the pores of our society and admit that all the sports and stock market reports aired around the clock on TV can no longer distract us from this shameful reality.
Many of us have told ourselves so many times that racism is a problem of the past that we have come to believe it. Yet, how many times have we passed cars with drivers and passengers of color pulled over by police in white neighborhoods and suburbs? How many times have we preferred to discredit those stories of African-Americans who are followed by store staff or security when they shop in department stores?
How many times have we pretended that we did not notice when certain politicians have deliberately chosen towns and cities that are proud of a reputation for bigotry to announce their candidacies and stump for votes?
How many times have we passed Confederate flags flying in neighbors’ yards or plastered on bumper stickers and tried to block out how this would feel to a passing African-American?
And how many times have we heard our president ridiculed and disparaged as a black person and have excused that as “free speech” instead of what it really is — “hate speech.”
We are at another crossroads as a nation regarding race, and the worst response is to pretend that this is not the case. With 2016 presidential campaigning already beginning, we have a perfect right to demand something different of those running and of the media. Every candidate for every office — local, state, and national — must speak openly about what we as a nation can do to heal the racial tension in this country, or he or she does not deserve our vote.
Yes, the crisis in the Ukraine, the threat of ISIS/ISIL, Chinese-sponsored identify theft, climate change and world hunger are legitimate campaign issue. But we cannot continue to look away from the horrible disease of racism. For racism, more than any other issue, is eating our country from the inside.
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World” available in bookstores or on Amazon.com.