When Racial Tension Isn’t the Issue, but Contributes Nonetheless; What Shall I Say?

I cannot respond from any place other than my own.  I recognize that I write from privilege and apologize for my ignorance or ineptitude, but silence is worse than the fault of trying imperfectly.

The tragic and shocking death of a Virginia reporter and cameraman is rocking the nation this week and as information rises, it is obvious that the shooter was mentally ill.  However, his manifesto points to the Charleston AME church shooting as the rupture point for him and it would be glossing over the issue if we only point to mental health as his “reason” for such an act.  This man obviously felt the sting of racial tension(as if that term does justice) and the impact of being dark skinned in the United States was an ingredient in the mix.

How then do we respond to this?  We cannot do the comfortable thing and file it only as ‘yet another example’ of how our mental health care options are devastatingly lacking.  We also cannot make this about skin color (I hate the word race, we are all ONE race) yet we cannot ignore that it is real, it influenced his choice, and it is hurting our communities everywhere.  Either way, mental health issues and racial tension are deep, aggressive, tenacious threads in our society and they both deserve attention, care, and commitment.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton stated this past week that “The Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church have issued a statement and call to action to recognize Sunday, Sept. 6, as “Confession, Repentance and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” The African Methodist Episcopal Church is a longtime ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) dialogue and ecumenical coalition partner. I responded to them pledging our support and stating that I would invite our bishops, pastors and leaders to participate in this effort, especially by preaching on racism and racial justice in church and society.”

In consideration of this call and that once more, someone will probably use one person’s actions as an excuse to shore up their bias against a person of color rather than acknowledging that this was really, deeply, about his mental health, I had to respond. Racial tension has impact here but it is not the root cause.  While I know I will participate on the 6th and respond with repentance and mourning and commitment, I wonder, how do we respond and nod to this particular case appropriately?  I don’t know.  But I do know silence is the one wrong response. So I ask, “What Shall I Say?”


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