The degree of disdain directed to Christian faith and worship by the intelligentsia and the commentariat, especially in the Northeast where I’ve lived for 45 years, has been growing and swelling for decades. I am still disconcerted by it; having known so many highly educated, socially adept Christians in my life, it seems extraordinary that we should be regarded as marginal. In the secular circles where I operate part of the time, my Christian faith is tolerated along a spectrum from indifference to mild amusement to patronizing sufferance to something more like contempt. Only the African-American church seems at least partially immune from this syndrome, and I don’t think that’s entirely because the bien-pensant contingent wants to give them a pass – though obviously that’s part of it. I think it’s also because the sincerity, humor, and charm of their faith, and its rock-solid breadth and depth throughout all trials commands respect. Their Christian communities have endured so much for so long that the mockery of outsiders means nothing to them. They take no account of belittling from others.I have seen this up close and in depth in my frequent visits to my native South, but it is also true in New York. The Christian gospel is close to the surface of these churchgoers’ lives, and wells up from a deep spring. It doesn’t just get brought out on Sunday morning.
Therefore the response of Mother Emanuel to the racist horror in their beloved church building was not coaxed out of them by the pastors. It was there all along. My sister heard someone say, that the AME nine were not ready, but they were prepared. Their families and their fellow members in the congregation were not ready, but they were prepared. They had that extra oil with them when, in the darkness of hatred and violence, they were prepared to light their lamps of love and peace. We will see no greater witness to the conquering righteousness of God in our time. May we rise to honor it, and to carry it forward.