August 11th, 2014, a series of events in Ferguson, Missouri sent shock waves across our nation. A festering wound deeply felt by our African American citizens could no longer be ignored. Despite calls for a peaceful reaction, emotions veered out of control. In the months that followed we witnessed on our screens, and read in our in newspapers reports of police reaction and public rioting; destruction of life and property that had all the hallmarks of a vicious cycle.
Then, just recently, our nation was horrified by the cold-blooded, racially motivated attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine individuals were brutally murdered at the conclusion of a session of Bible study. One of them, the church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney was also a state senator and would have turned 42 this coming July 30.
What made that event even more horrific was the fact that the young man had been welcomed by the members of the congregation and had been studying with them over the course of an hour. Dylann Roof felt justified because he was convinced that Blacks, (along with Jews, Hispanics and East Asians) were all guilty of a variety of crimes including “taking over the world”.
What is amazing is the reaction to this latest atrocity. Who would have anticipated the level of forgiveness expressed by those most affected by this violent act?
As a nation, we have been shocked into a realization of the need to re-examine the issue of racially motivated hatred in our country. Some significant steps have been taken and there appears to be a sincere desire to cross party lines and push on further. The truth is that there is so much ground to cover that, at this point, our strongest indicator of progress will be the direction travelled and not the distance.
But these last two weeks have also afforded us a moment representing significant progress in our history reflected by a number of recent decisions handed down by our US Supreme Court:
1. To view same-sex marriages as a Constitutional right. (I was thrilled to read that Naomi Metz and her wife Jennifer Foley were present at the White House to celebrate this decision).
2. To support the Affordable Care Act, in effect guaranteeing medical care to hundreds of thousands of Americans who would be otherwise ineligible.
3. To back the Fair Housing Act; extending the possibility for Americans of low income to afford a roof over their heads.
In one his greatest speeches; his eulogy over the late Rev. Pinckney, President Obama spoke of Divine Grace: the fact that “Grace” (in Hebrew Cheyn) represents an expression of God’s blessing and love to us – even if or when we don’t deserve it!
As we join our hearts with those bereaved families in Charleston, we celebrate what we hope will mark the beginnings of a new era in our country for all who have faced racial, religious, sexual orientation, gender-based and other forms of discrimination.
In the aftermath of Ferguson, and as we prepare to celebrate our country’s 239th birthday, we may have discovered, as our president has pointed out, that “Grace is a Divine opportunity”:
for all of us to examine our own causes for hatred of others – to recognize and banish it from our hearts and minds;
to recognize the dangers of complacency
and to work together to create a society that recognizes that we are ALL created in the Divine image.
– Rabbi Mordecai Miller and Laura Alexander, President
July 1, 2015