Originally posted June 22, 2015 as a guest blog at www.stephenjbedard.com
The message of biblical grace has again become the topic that baffles both mainstream and new media following the racially motivated slaughter of nine at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, SC.
The AME Church, many congregations of which denomination referred to the Emanuel congregation as Mother AME, was born out of slavery and the Methodist revival of John Wesley that focused on the authority of the Bible, as understood through its own words, the traditions of the Church, reason and experience.
A young white man, attending this African American congregation for the first time, was welcomed to a Wednesday evening Bible study and prayer meeting of Mother AME.
An hour later, that same young man turned on the messengers of welcoming love with a message of violent hate – his own message, one we know is shared by many, and one unsupported by the Bible being studied that evening.
An interesting conundrum was presented for the post-biblical modern media. People still read the Bible. People still study the Bible. People still believe in and pray to the God of the Bible. The Bible’s message of love was a seamless connection that night between racial divide. Less than 48 hours later, at the killer’s first court appearance, family members of those who were gunned down expressed the pain of mourning; and their forgiveness – a concept central to the Christian faith that is rooted in that same Book, the Bible.
I was reminded of another murderous incident, nearly a decade ago, when a lone gunman slaughtered innocent children in a one room schoolhouse in Lancaster County, PA, before turning the gun on himself. Remarkably, the message of this white Amish (Christian) community that lost its children was one of love, grace and mercy, not hatred. Some members of the community went to the gunman’s parents’ home to comfort them in the loss of their son and in the stress resulting from their son’s actions. News commentators were astounded then as well. Some expressed disbelief at the Amish spokesperson’s reference to the Bible as the reason for this action.
And, earlier this year, the world reacted first with anger and then with awe when the families of the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded on a Mediterranean beach expressed a message of peace and forgiveness in the midst of their mourning. Again, because of their belief in the Truth found in the Bible.
The last post on my own blog at www.donhutchinson.ca was a media release about accepting the position of interim CEO with the Canadian Bible Society. One of the questions I have been most frequently asked since has been, “Why the Bible Society?” The answer is simple. The Bible, the Book written by many but inspired by One.
The Bible is the foundation for understanding right relationship with God, as evidenced by the members of the Amish community at Nickel Mines, PA, in 2006, the Copts in the tiny village of al-Our, Egypt, earlier this year and Methodists in Charleston, SC, in recent days.
Those who assert the irrelevance of the Bible in the 21st century are witnessing the necessity of its accepted and active presence in our world.
Accepting the Truth of the Bible is the underpinning for membership in the Church – I use a capital “C” to note the worldwide Body of Christ, billions of people, not just one congregation. Its principles are the reason for the public policy engagement of the Church for the common good, including that of the pastor at Mother AME who also served as a state senator for two decades. Its Message speaks of peace, from Pennsylvania to the Middle East, even in the midst of hostility.
The Canadian Bible Society is engaged in translating, publishing, distributing and encouraging use of the Bible as one in a family of 146 national societies that form the United Bible Societies. The value of this shared international work is seen every time individuals and communities baffle the world with the message of grace, love and forgiveness which are found in the pages of The Book – whether electronic or printed. In its pages also originate the motivation for the founding of humanitarian institutions that exist around the globe for the provision of health care and education, children’s aid societies and even societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and more. And, it provides us with the necessary resources to foster reconciliation for people on the issues that bring division, disagreement and hatred within neighbourhoods, cities, counties and nations.
There is a place for the Bible in the 21st century. Its absence would leave social gorges too great to fill and societal chasms too wide to cross. The Bible presents us all with the still contemporary choice to accept or reject the Message that can bridge the gap between hatred and love; sin and grace.
Make sure to check out this interview I did with Stephen Bedard.