On Being Instruments of Peace

dove of peaceWatching the families of people killed at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church repeatedly declare their forgiveness of shooter Dylann Roof was, for many including this writer, somewhat surreal. Seriously? Set aside the rage, grief, unbelief, and go straight to forgiveness?

For some faith traditions, that is indeed possible.

Also possible is the response for good coming out of Roof’s act for evil: removal of an emblem – the Confederate flag I recall seeing on some of my ancestors’ gravestones – from public spaces, and serious confrontation of the racism firmly embedded in U.S. culture. Not just the south, not just in police forces, not just in politics; in the U.S. culture.

One small part of the attempt to confront, and hopefully address, those issues in one small piece of the culture began recently when John Weems, pastor of mainline (if hardly traditional) Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, got to talking with Bishop Ernest Jackson, pastor of Grace Tabernacle Community Church across town in San Francisco’s largely African American Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood. This conversation led to a group of mostly white Calvary members leaving their 10 AM Sunday service early to join the 11 AM worshippers at Grace Tabernacle. (We were saved from embarrassing Caucasian-ness by one tall African American and one third-generation Chinese American.)

Calvary’s Minister of Spiritual Care Victor Floyd was preaching before the group set out – on a day the long openly gay Floyd said he never thought he’d live to see – and admonished the group that worshipping with Pentecostals would mean staid Presbyterians (the Frozen Chosen, we are commonly called) would have to raise their arms above the level of their waists.

Well, who knew?

Grace Tabernacle dancer
Grace Tabernacle dancers

The incredibly gracious Pentecostals greeted the chosen-frozen Presbyterians with exuberance. And a forgiveness for our frozen-ness that would probably be understood only by people like the survivors of the Charleston massacre.

“Forgiving is not forgetting,” Bishop Jackson said. “We have little control over what we remember or what we forget.” But he reminded the uniquely mixed group that it is wise to remember “the wrong that harbors no malice.”

There was a great deal of praise music – hands waving, or for the more frozen, clapping, higher than the level of one’s waist. There was some extraordinary dancing by three costumed young Grace Tabernacle women. There was talk about the burden of unforgiveness. And there were parting words of the sort that will bring exactly the change and reconciliation Dylann Roof (for whose immortal soul a lot of great Americans are praying) sought to prevent.

“Thank you,” said John Weems, “for helping us thaw out.”

“We must disconnect,” said Ernest Jackson, “from hatred and racism.

“We are instruments of peace.”

One can only hope.



  1. Fran, We have a group here in Charleston called Charleston Area Justice Ministry, or CAJM, that has been on-going for about three years, now. It consists of the ministers and congregations of about forty churches of all denominations (including a synagogue) and represents almost all races. Each year we focus on an issue of social justice that needs to be addressed in the community. Three years ago it was youth incarceration; two years ago, it was schools and early childhood education; this past year it was pay equity and wage theft. I am of the opinion that one of the reasons Charleston didn’t blow up (besides Southern manners) after the church killings was this pre-existing organization that had already generated some inter-racial trust and good will in the community.

    1. That sounds like the best possible answer. Out here we have the San Francisco Interfaith Council, which has been similarly active on all sorts of fronts. I was happily on the board for many years, and proud to have played a teeny part in what is now an extremely active & useful organization.

  2. Sounds like a fine event, Fran, and, of course, colorfully described with soul-saving humor.
    Reminds me of my Baptist church attendance in Rochester, NY in the late 60s around the
    time of race riots in that city. Some of the most spine-tingling music I’ve ever heard.

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