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June 23, 2015, 8:47 PM

Flags Fall and Grace Abounds

   The Apostle Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans..."Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more." (Rom. 5:20)

   In the wake of the atrocity in South Carolina in which a young man poisoned by racism, massacred nine people in a prayer meeting, simply because they were black, something amazing has happened.

   His stated intention had been to ignite a race war.  In pictures posted on the internet, he posed burning the American flag and waving the battle  flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, which has been erroneously identified as the flag of the Confederacy.  He apparently hoped the white folks would rally around that banner and join him in his "crusade."

   Instead, what has happened in the wake of his despicable act of mass murder has been precisely and spectacularly the opposite.

   The Confederate battle flag, which has flown at the South Carolina state capitol since 1962, appears about to be taken down and consigned to a museum.

   Let's be clear, it was put there, not out of some reverence for brave soldiers who fought a losing battle for state's rights.  It was put there as an act of defiance against the growing Civil Rights Movement which was gaining traction in 1962.  It was intended to be a statement in support of institutionalized racism in the form of segregation.

   In short, the flag was an expression of official racism.  And, it was an inspiration to that young racist who desecrated a church with lethal gunfire.

   He assumed that its continued presence on the grounds of the state capitol meant that there were kindred spirits who would rise to support his bigotry.  It didn't lead him to murder, but its presence was an encouragement to his deluded notion that he would find support for his barbaric attack.

   Now, the governor of the state and legislators from both parties are saying it's time to be rid of this banner which was flown in support of a system of slavery and racism.  Redemption is not to be found in clinging to a discredited past, but to a hopeful future.

   The campaign to be rid of this fossil of the past is spreading rapidly.  Mississippi, once the bulwark of segregation and institutionalized racism, is also considering removing the "Star and Bars" from its state flag.  Virginia looks ready to take it off their license plates.  Amazon, E-Bay, Wal-Mart, K-Mart and other retailers are barring merchandise sporting the Confederate flag motif.

   Not what the shooter all.

   But wait!  There's more!

   Instead of fomenting a race war, this heinous act has brought people together in surprising ways.  For instance, conservative pundit Glenn Beck's website, has featured an article praising Van Jones, a liberal pundit and former member of the Obama Administration, for Jones' article on the way that the white population of Charleston had rallied in support of the grieving black population.  To say the least, Beck has not been in the habit of praising Jones...or vice versa.  But, they have come together on this matter.

   The man who sought to sow further discord and  racial conflict has seen his gunfire backfire in spectacular ways.  “This racial purist was trying to unloose a tide of hatred, to start a civil war.  But in fact he seems to have touched off a tidal wave of love and reconciliation such that even Glenn Beck and I are on the same page,"  said Jones in an article in the Huffington Post.

   What happened when that deluded racist opened fire in Emmanuel AME Church was most certainly a heinous sin.  What has happened in the wake of that monstrous act, has begun to help heal wounds that go back centuries.  Grace has abounded.

   Perhaps, this response will so shock the killer, that he will be forced to reappraise his worldview.  One can only hope it will lead to his redemption, as well.  I am sure he was more than a little surprised by the forgiveness which was offered to him by the loved ones of people he wantonly gunned down.

   He almost repented before committing his monstrous crime.  He was surprised by the warmth of the welcome a white stranger got to a prayer meeting in a black church.  It made his victims seem more...human.  Now, he has seem them be clearly more noble and gracious than he is.  I suspect, he is utterly mystified how people whom he has caused to suffer so terribly could offer him grace.  It must seem crazy, or at least foolish.

   "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God," Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

    The message of the Gospel is that grace transforms suffering and redeems even terrible injustice.  Cynics may pooh-pooh this.  But, look at what's happening.  The same grace which transformed what was once a symbol of terror, torture and tyranny into the our faith's central symbol of hope, love, and redemption, is still at work in the world.

   And the old banners and hatreds still fall before it.

   Grace abounds.

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