After the horrendous cold-blooded murders of nine parishioners and clergy during Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the families of the victims astonished many by their reaction of heartbreaking forgiveness. The evil perpetrator intended to start a race war with his actions but the actual effect of his massacre and the admirable reaction by the congregation was to draw people together in solidarity. It deepened the commitment of each of us to overcome our differences and fight hatred together. The powerful result of this camaraderie can move us toward harmony as a united nation rather than have one racist drive us apart with such a vile premeditated crime.
Reactions from across the country have ranged from small instances of empathy and compassion – like laying flowers and hugging strangers – that highlight our need to reach out to one another in love after such a disturbing event, to more global calls to finally remove Confederate flags from public display. The force of spiritual connections and decent humanity can begin healing the devastating grief of the family members and is felt by all of us who share their pain and sadness. What we do as a society in response to this evil murderer can serve as a beacon of hope for future accord between all Americans.
In the meantime, we and our Millennial children can use this as a teachable moment with each other. Millennials tend to be less likely to attend houses of worship than other generations and, without a formal spiritual bond to God, they’ll need to work to find their own tenuous spot between righteous anger and forgiveness. They do express a strong connection with the universal community around them and readily volunteer to help and comfort those in need.
As the most diverse racial generation in America, nine in ten Millennials believe strongly in racial equality. Yet the behaviors of some Millennials on campus this spring reveal that the attitudes about discrimination are more complex than that statistic would imply. Clearly we in America have areas of discussion and debate ahead of us as we respond to this most recent tragic killing of innocents and seek to make changes to prevent any further bloodshed.