Emanuel: Racial violence and Christian forgiveness

A moving documentary about the Charleston, SC church shooting is in theaters nationwide two days only — Monday, June 17 and Wednesday, June 19 — marking the fourth anniversary of the deadly shooting.

Forgiveness in the face of murderous violence is a radical act that remains as shocking and controversial today as it was when a Second Temple-era Palestinian prophet commanded his disciples to love and to pray for those who persecuted them and ended his mortal life praying for divine forgiveness for his own executioners.

Even the jaded American media seemed stunned by the swiftness and authenticity of the response of the Amish community to the 2006 school shooting at Nickel Mines in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which included attending the killer’s funeral and setting up a charitable fund for his family.

“The Copts of Egypt…are made of…steel!” was the stammering response of perhaps Egypt’s most prominent talk-show host as he struggled to respond to a widow’s forgiveness in the wake of the 2017 Palm Sunday suicide church bombings. “How great is this forgiveness you have! If it were my father, I could never say this. But this is their faith and religious conviction.”

Such complete and immediate forgiveness is especially controversial when there is no remorse from the killer. What does it mean, some wonder, to forgive someone who fully intended the terror and pain they caused and was never sorry? Doesn’t justice warrant righteous anger, even hatred of a murderer?

When violence is part of a larger pattern of oppression, too, forgiveness can strike some as perpetuating injustice rather than confronting it.

These are misunderstandings of principles that aren’t hard to clarify in theory, but can be difficult to apply in concrete situations.

Brian Ivie’s powerful documentary Emanuel—produced by Viola Davis and NBA All-Star Stephen Curry, both Christians—captures the surprise of forgiveness. But it also grapples with the history of racism and white supremacy to which Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—founded decades before the Civil War—has been witness, and which the white supremacist Dylann Roof took on his shoulders when he murdered nine African Americans in the AME church basement in the hope of starting a race war.

While the heart of Emanuel is the portrait of the survivors and family members, Ivie provides context and commentary with a blend of talking-head interviews with local journalists, officials, clergy, and others, deftly edited with archival footage, atmospheric location shooting, and brief historical reenactment.

A major port city, Charleston was an important hub of the slave trade, and, as the location of Fort Sumter, a kind of epicenter for the Confederacy and the Civil War. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States.

Founded in 1816, Emanuel is the oldest AME church in the South, and has long been called “Mother Emanuel.” From the start it was a spiritual home for Charleston’s slaves and free blacks, but city authorities shuttered the church just six years after its founding when co-founder Denmark Vesey was convicted of planning a slave rebellion.

The church’s members continued meeting in secret until after the Civil War, when black churches proliferated throughout the South, offering dignity, community, and a voice for justice and advocacy for black Americans. This made black churches targets for white violence, especially arson and bombings.

According to AME pastor Joseph Darby, Charleston has not altogether moved beyond this history. In a preacher’s turn of phrase, he labels the city “Confederate Disneyland,” charging that Charleston celebrates its antebellum heritage to cater to white tourists who “want to see what it was like, to have a mint julep or an iced tea and have somebody black call them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’”

Ivie builds up a composite portrait of the events of June 17, 2015 from the perspective of those inside the church, public officials mobilizing in response to 911 calls, and family members and others getting phone calls and rushing to the scene. The narrative continues with the arrest and interrogation of Roof and the exploration of his motives, from the Trayvon Martin case to his online radicalization and identification with the Confederacy and white supremacy.

The climax of the film comes as the survivors and family members address Roof directly with words of forgiveness, urging him to repent and turn to Christ. A number of them describe these words as having come through them, as if they were overcome by grace.

Others feel unable to forgive or even resent the immediacy with which others forgave Roof. A Black Lives Matter activist groans that forgiveness is a “nail in the coffin” for their agenda.

But the film makes a compelling case for the Christian ethic of forgiveness, which liberates the one forgiving from the poison of bitterness and hatred. In this case it may also have helped to prevent civil unrest and bring black and white Charlestonians together.

How meaningful is this? One concrete outcome of the aftermath of the shooting was the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House in Columbia. Shortly after a number of retailers announced plans to stop selling the Confederate flag or products featuring the flag.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the guilty off easy or dismissing the evil they do. Perhaps the film’s striking moment comes in the very end, as a survivor describes confronting Roof with bloodstained pages of her Bible—and, in another one of those moments of inspiration, talks to him about the blood of Jesus.

Forgiveness, for Christian viewers, is a unifying theme. But Emanuel also pushes back on the tendency of white Americans to see Dylann Roof purely as an isolated anomaly rather than a symptom of any kind of larger problem.

Certainly the kind of card-carrying, violent racial hatred embodied by Roof, or displayed at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is a fringe phenomenon, easily identified and easily disowned by the majority.

But racism comes in many forms, as Pope John Paul II reminded American Catholics 20 years ago when he spoke in St. Louis of a “great challenge” facing “the whole country” in the third millennium, namely, “to put an end to every form of racism,” which, echoing the US bishops, he called “one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation.”

In the wake of Charlottesville, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput called racism “the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.”

From a Catholic perspective, racism is not merely a moral issue, but a theological one—a form of heresy. That’s because the gospel proclaims that God sent Jesus to restore the unity of divided humanity, to take away every barrier of hostility, not only separating God and man, but also dividing human beings from one another, into us and them.

In Christ, St. Paul tells us repeatedly, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but also neither slave nor free, male nor female, etc. We can of course add: neither black nor white, neither Asian nor Indian nor Hispanic or Latino, neither rich nor poor, neither educated nor uneducated, neither citizen nor immigrant.

The Church is called to be God’s instrument for uniting the human race, for doing away with every form of tribalism or prejudice or racism. Therefore, every form of tribalism and prejudice and racism that divides human beings is the opposite of the gospel.

“If we want a different kind of country in the future,” Archbishop Chaput stated, “we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others.”

Watching video of Roof’s arrest, a family member calls out something I might not have noticed: the arresting officers approach Roof’s car from behind with guns drawn—but the first holsters his gun before approaching the driver side window. The other holsters his gun moments later.

This is a mass murderer who two days earlier had shot nine people to death. Would a black suspect who had killed nine white churchgoers have been taken so nonchalantly? Emanuel reminds us that only two months earlier that Walter Scott, a black man, was killed in North Charleston by a hail of bullets from behind while fleeing a white officer.

Forgiveness is a radical act. So is speaking against injustices suffered by minorities but easily overlooked by the majority. Emanuel challenges viewers to recognize the importance of both.


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About Steven D. Greydanus 13 Articles
Steven D. Greydanus is the film critic for the National Catholic Register and the creator of DecentFilms.com. He is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle Society and a permanent diaconate in the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark. He has degrees in media arts and religious studies. He and his wife Suzanne have seven children.

56 Comments

  1. Judging from the article on Wikipedia, Dylann Roof sounds psychotic, not racist, and in dire need of medical treatment. This seems to be the problem with many young men, all in their twenties (is this a coincidence?), who are labelled “white supremacists.”

  2. “White supremacy” is just a buzzword for the media. The real issue is a generation of lost young men, with no identity, white or otherwise, who are borderline psychotic and often violent in acting out their frustrations and lostness. People who believe that memorials to the Confederacy or Southern history have something to do with all of this simply know nothing about the South.

    Our bishops’ comments about racism are, typically, idiotic and uneducated. To say that racism is the “original sin” of America is simply to falsify the history of humanity. And today, the U.S. is one of the least racist countries in the world, which is why everyone who can claims some sort of minority status. There is a reason why Barak Obama – who is just as white as he is black – constantly posed as our first black president. Only in America does one see the farcical behavior of a Rachel Dolazel, as white as George Washington, but trying desperately to pass as a black woman. Everybody in our culture knows the advantages that come with minority – especially black – status.

    • FWIW, Mr. Williams, “the history of racism and white supremacy to which Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has been witness” includes antebellum, Confederacy, and Jim Crow–era white supremacy. That’s no buzzword.

      Nor can the advocacy work of men like Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimelow be dismissed as mere “lostness.” 

      Your other points I will pass on responding to.

      • How many “white supremacists” are there in America today? A couple hundred? A thousand? Two dozen? You are living in the past, as are all those calling for “slavery reparations,” and our feckless bishops pandering to the left as usual, with their mindless chatter about “America’s original sin,” borrowed directly from the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party. It is nonsense like this that has left the Catholic Church so irrelevant to mainstream, working class Americans, who are neither racist nor care anything about ancient grievances.

        • So the man who told me, in an Italian bakery in Philadelphia, that black people were “like animals” was not really racist?

          What kind of fantasy world are you living in? I have grown up in the South. I live in the South. It’s not as uniquely racist as Notherners often like to pretend, but only because the poison is there too (as my Philadelphia experience indicates). It’s plenty racist, and Confederate identity does have a great deal to do with it.

          So making reparations for a massive historical crime is “living in the past”? You are a Catholic, and you are seriously telling me that making restitution is not an obligation of justice?

          Historically, that racism is “America’s original sin” is indisputable.

          • Reparations in real time to those injured at that time.

            Reparations now make no sense.

            How many generations removed from the actual slaves? And where and when do you stop? How does it recompense those today? By what calculus do you use and then claim it is fair and done? Do you deduct some intrinsic and immeasurable value from those reparations regarding 600,000+ lives lost in the war between the states? Since slavery has always existed even until today, how do you figure the reparative ‘value’ of one enslaved race compared to any other enslaved race in any part of the world at any time period? What about subtle racism today directed at any race? Can a black person in the US today claim the same harm via the racist climate as his enslaved
            ancestor endured?

          • Restitution to whom? By whom? Your post in nonsense. This is why respect for the Church is dying. It has abandoned reason and principle, and become a socialist movement.

          • Ta-Nehisi Coates answers the fake bafflement of whites who pretend that a century and a half of systemic oppression did not happen after the Civil War allegedly fixed everything. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcCnQ3iRkys You know, the people who simultaneously tell the heirs of oppression to “get over it because slavery is ancient history” while cheering for those who march under the banner of the swastika to preserve our precious, precious heritage of Jim Crow that are Confederate statues.

            We whites are *still* benefiting from slavery and the system of oppression it created. Restitution is simple justice because the victims are alive right now.

            My fault is past. But oh, what form of prayer
            Can serve my turn, “Forgive me my foul murder”?
            That cannot be, since I am still possessed
            Of those effects for which I did the murder:
            My crown, mine own ambition, and my queen.
            May one be pardoned and retain th’ offense?

            Even Claudius has a better conscience than the white racists who endlessly benefit in a hundred ways from the unjust system we have created to keep the heirs of slavery down. He at least get that you don’t get to keep the goods while pretending you are penitent.

          • Stick to music criticism. You are out of your element. Although you might want to find another platform, since Patheos is now associated with everything anti-Catholic. (Oh, but you only write about music! … except that your tweets accusing Fr. West of supporting “white supremacy” are still out there…)

      • Good comeback, Deacon Steve! I will add that I’m 26% white but, with the exception of my complexion being high-yellow when I was first born, I am very much brown-skinned now. Obama’s complexion and features showcase the black over the white genetic inheritance. So he would have never been able to “pass” (which is the term given for those blacks in Jim Crow days who looked so white that they ran away to live with whites as if they were too). My second great grandmother did what I call a (reverse pass) because she stayed with our family and used her half Irish heritage as her identity and somewhat miraculously got the Southern Mississippi whites of those Jim Crow times to give a certain amount (though by no means complete) privilege to family and friends so that when other whites were about to treat them as other blacks the white neighbors who knew her and maybe owed deep favors to her Irish dad would ask those whites: “Do you know who she is?” Those blacks who passed almost always didn’t take or use any chemical to change their complexion and if they didn’t have the features that alone wouldn’t work anyway. What’s significant is what Pope St. John Paul II said about finally eliminating all forms of racism. The great success of ’60’s Civil Rights Movement is that it made overt racism unacceptable. There was a white Southern conservative who visited the Legacy Museum of Lynching in Birmingham, AL and concluded: The truth is that people who tell themselves that others are morally or intellectually inferior because of their race make themselves into racists. When people tell this falsehood to their children, they create a racist culture. They set out to justify their conduct and end up transforming themselves and their society ‘{This makes institutional racism.}’ In the process, they lose awareness of what they have become ‘{ subconscious racists of some level or another. This is where racism becomes most insidious. So the African country of Ghana had to outlaw bleaching cream and Asian girls who have never been outside their countries to Europe, America or Australia are removing the epicanthic folds from their eyes (which gives them their slant). Black folks have also been known to refer to less nappy hair as ‘good hair’ as if white folks straight hair can’t kink and make a comb get caught in it.}’ We forget what we once were ‘{deliberate, conscious racists)’. This insight rests in a more universal truth about human nature. It is when we lie to ourselves about the moral status of other human beings, we not only unjustly injure other people, we also injure ourselves and our culture. We transform ourselves into a people who believe the lie. A lie not only damages the liar’s integrity and destroys his or her friendships, it also alienates him or her from the truth. And like all vices, falsity disables a person for virtue.

    • Timothy,

      I consider myself a fair man.

      I thu think I owe it to you to inform you directly that I am sending copies of your remarks here to both the dean of your university and your local bishop.

      It is very sad to see a man who is entrusted to teach our young minds in the Church peddling this drivel.

      Good day,

      • Mr. DeFrancisis,

        I consider your behavior contemptible, part and parcel of the “I will silence anyone who disagrees with me rather than debating the issue” program that is poisoning American universities.

        If you have an argument to make against Mr. Williams’ statements, make it. If you can’t come up with a convincing argument against them, why are you so certain you are right? Your two posts in reply to his have boiled down to: a)”Shut up, I’m smarter than you are, and b)”I’m going to go tattle and try to get you in trouble.”

          • Mr. DeFrancisis, let me make this easier for you, since you may not know that I am Eastern Rite. Here is my bishop’s address:

            Archbishop William Scurla
            Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh
            66 Riverview Ave.
            Pittsburgh, PA 15214

            Enjoy yourself!

      • Matthew 18:15
        “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother…”

        ************

        I’m not sure how that best works in a public comments section but I think it’s the way Christians are instructed to first behave.

        “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

  3. It’s Ft. Sumter, not Sumpter but I understand it sounds like there really should be a “P” in the spelling.
    🙂
    Charleston was a major hub of the slave trade in the same way Newport, RI was earlier. New York City’s 1st slave auction was held in the mid 1600’s & by the British colonial era over 40% of NYC households contained slaves. The only colonial city that had a higher slave population than NYC was Charleston. Virtually the entire New World ran on slavery & only abolished it little by little as it became economically & socially outmoded.
    A great many American slaves were granted freedom by the British(including at least one belonging to Geo. Washington) & were evacuated to Nova Scotia with other Loyalists after the Revolutionary War.

    In my part of the South there were wealthy free people of color who owned large plantations & many slaves. Free people of color owned slaves in Charleston as well, though in that instance it could be a way to protect a family from breaking up.

    The South has always been behind the times for better &, obviously, for worse. That goes for the type of economy, language, food, social mores, & culture. What is good is worth preserving though. Black waiters in the South may serve sweet tea & say “Yes Ma’am” but I can guarantee they’ve probably been raised to address all adults that way, regardless of color. It’s considered good manners & the way I raised my own children. If you go into a Walmart in my part of the Deep South today, you’ll hear black employees addressing each other as “Miss Kayla” or “Miss Jean”, etc. And white folk do the same.

    Cuba & Brazil have beautiful scenery ,beaches, mild climates, rich cultures, iconic architecture & wonderful cuisines. Those have made them tourist destinations. Cuba & Brazil only abolished slavery in 1886 & 1888 respectively.
    The US South is a travel destination for the same sort of reasons but has a similar sad history with slavery-minus a couple decades.
    History doesn’t excuse the mistreatment of other human beings but it does give you a wider lens.
    But as far as Christian forgiveness goes-Amen. We all need to learn a lesson from the Amish & the folks at Emanuel AME Church. That’s what it’s all about if we take Christ’s words seriously.

    • Mrscracker, as always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

      This is a difficult subject for all of us, not just for Southerners, and for what it’s worth I assure you that (as a Northerner who spent a few key years in the South, where I was married, and where I became Catholic) I have not slightest chauvinistic illusions of racism as somehow the special heritage of the South, or of the North as somehow exempt. Far from it. I am moreover an admirer of many aspects of Southern culture, manners not the least among them.

      Thank you for the correction on the spelling of Fort Sumter. I make many mistakes. Cheers,

      • SDG,
        I commit many more typos than you I’m sure. And if English were a strictly phonetic language it would certainly be spelled Fort “Sumpter”.
        🙂
        Ft. Sumter’s a very interesting place to visit if you have a chance.
        And so is Sumter, SC-right off I-95. The Swan Lake Gardens there are amazing-over a 100 acres of water iris & beautiful swans swimming about. I think late May was when the irises were all in bloom. It was like a glimpse of Heaven.
        https://www.sumtersc.gov/community/swanlake

        Many thanks for your film reviews & God bless!

  4. I would add that it is instructive to look at drone video coverage of the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017. (Some of it is available on Youtube.) Whereas news media rushed to put violent clashes on the air – taking close-up, ground view video of any violence they could find – the actual number of “white-supremacists-neo-nazis” (or whatever they call themselves) in Charlottesville was estimated by police to be between 50 and 250. Drone video makes the lower number much more plausible. And this was after march organizers led a national campaign to rally their followers! A follow-up march in D.C. a year later had 20 to 30 participants. To fixate on these kooks and claim that they are somehow representative of systemic racism in America is simply dishonest in the extreme. The term “Nazi” and “white supremacist” is then hurled at anyone who opposes the ultra-left agenda of the Democratic Party. This is why our bishops’ statements are so damaging. They pander to liberals who hate all Christians, in the vain hope that they can win back some of the respect they lose by opposing abortion. NOBODY – black, white, Jew, or Christian – is under any danger from “alt-right fascists.” We are under siege from the totalitarian left, and our Church leaders haven’t a clue…

    • 250 appears to be the number associated with the first day, August 11. The following day, August 12, the estimates are double that.

      The “dishonest” claim you debunk, that such fringe elements are representative of the mainstream, is in fact contradicted, not affirmed, in my essay. I am assuming you read it.

      • Very well… let’s assume the figure of 500 is accurate. A VERY marginal group indeed. Indeed, I did note your caveat. But then, in what sense is it EVER appropriate to use a theological term, to talk about racism as the “original sin” of America. That implies that ALL white people in America share some guilt for conditions long ago in the nation. This is the language of the permanently aggrieved radical left, constantly seeking to promote racial conflict in the country, and the bishops have jumped into this mess with both feet. You cannot use wildly accusatory language like this, and then hope to evangelize people.

        • Mr. Williams: I’m sure you are aware, the seeming implication of your words to the contrary notwithstanding, that the term “original sin” does not imply a share in Adam’s guilt.

          I will not insult you by quoting to you the Catechism (or primary theological and magisterial sources) on the nature of original sin and its relation to sin properly so-called, and presuming to instruct you on the points on which your comments appear to beg clarification.

          I will simply invite you, sir, to do better.

          • You know perfectly well what is meant by term “original sin of America” by those who are using it: reparations. The readers of this very article make that abundantly clear. In this context, it is a purely political term endorsing a specific policy of the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party. It means that white Americans of TODAY owe some material transfer of wealth to blacks of TODAY, and that the government should be empowered to enforce this transfer. No Catholic is require to endorse this nonsense, irregardless of the views of the bishops.

          • 1. You seem to be confusing two different usages of “original sin of America.” 

            Following Archbishop Chaput (whom you seem to have no problem insulting in the harshest imaginable terms), I used the term in reference to racism. Many others use it in reference to slavery, a very different thing indeed.

            Whatever may be the implications for reparations of slavery as America’s “original sin,” there are no such implications for racism as America’s “original sin.” 

            2. The red herring of reparations has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with your theologically incorrect equation of original sin with “sharing guilt.” I wonder why you ignored that.

  5. “In a preacher’s turn of phrase, he labels the city “Confederate Disneyland,” charging that Charleston celebrates its antebellum heritage to cater to white tourists who “want to see what it was like, to have a mint julep or an iced tea and have somebody black call them ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’””

    AME pastor Joseph Darby seems to be quite spiteful, and drawing unwarranted conclusions. I would bet money that the same tourists who visit would be just as happy to have a mint julep or an iced tea served to them by a white person, whether or not they called them “sir” or “ma’am.”

    “One concrete outcome of the aftermath of the shooting was the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina State House in Columbia. Shortly after a number of retailers announced plans to stop selling the Confederate flag or products featuring the flag.”

    I have no liking or respect for the Confederacy, but I don’t consider this a positive outcome, any more than the rash of taking down statues is. It’s a bit too much like trying to rewrite or ignore history. It is rather ironic that those who fought the Civil War and watched their friends and men under their command die were able to be gracious to their conquered enemies. In fact, it has been pointed out that this graciousness is one of the things that ensured that there was no long-drawn-out guerilla battle afterwards.

  6. A couple of points I didn’t make because I was afraid of running too long. I find it puzzling and strangely humorous when whites like Mr. Williams speak of Obama being half-white as if he were passing for black while hiding white parents, grandparents and heritage. He was and is not. Implicit in that manner of speaking is the assumption that we blacks and anyone who supports us (but most especially us) are morally and intellectually inferior when we don’t get indignant about that with him and/or them.
    Another thing is evidenced not only in the disparity between the police treatment of Dylan Roof and the unarmed black person in Charleston whom the police killed in apprehending him. But, also, the other unarmed black men, women and children gunned down and killed by the police apprehending them elsewhere all over the country. A Facebook experiment video illustrates an, at least, deeply ingrained culturally induced disparity in how the police treat whites and blacks. They had a white guy dress up preppy with a tight fitting white short-sleeved shirt and tight-fitting white shorts and walked down a suburban street with a rifle slung over his back and his held out in front of him with both hands holding it and his face intensely concentrated on it while he incessantly texted with it as he walked down the street. A white cop drove up and initiated a conversation with him where he asked some questions, heard his response and responded back in a short tete a tete. After ascertaining that he wasn’t off or coming across as in any other way suspicious, he drove off and went on about his business. Next, an African-American young man, same age, same slim build, same outfit walking with both hands on his phone extended in front of him with his face intensely concentrated on it as he incessantly texted with it as he walked down the street with a rifle slung over his back. Then another white officer drives up, turns his squad on an angle, steps out with his gun drawn standing on the driver’s side of his car with his radio mike in his other hand as he calls for back up, orders the black to lay prostrate on the ground which he does while still holding his phone and texting. The officer at his car until two or three other squads pull up and those officers pull their guns and position themselves. Then he walks over gun drawn and the black guy still texting on his phone and then pulls the rifle off of the black guys back. Then the video ends. The question begs itself. Why the unnecessary manpower to deal with the black guy? Why couldn’t he just be questioned like the white guy? Why the jump into full swat mode and he’s not dressed or behaving like a gangbanger? I might add that the black never stopped holding his phone with both hands and texting. Ever.

    • Mr. Paul, you are mixing quite a few things together here, and attributing to me a statement I did not make. I never said anything about Mr. Obama hiding his white family. I said that he publicly identified with his “blackness,” which he obviously did, and for the obvious reason that this was to his political advantage. The interaction of police officers with black vs. white suspects is an entirely different subject.

      • Mr. Williams: I’m sure you are aware that it was the white majority, not the black minority, who defined for generations the rules of who is white or black (e.g., the one-drop rule).

        Almost within my lifetime Mr. Obama would have been denied service at lunch counters throughout Jim Crow states and would have been relegated to “colored” drinking fountains and restrooms. He is “black“ because that is how blackness was defined by the white majority before he was born and at the time he was born.

        And because he does not himself deny the racial definitions long since imposed by the white majority, you — what? Accuse him of seeking “advantage”?

        • I am making the same point YOU just made: that what was a disadvantage in the past is now a distinct advantage. Ergo, it is false to obsess over racism in America and talk about “white supremacy” as if we are living on the brink of some new American apartheid. Mr. Obama did not have to engage in racial identity politics at all, but he chose to, quite frequently. It is now an essential ploy of the Democrat Party, and the USCCB is playing right along with it.

          • Sir, please do not associate me with your nonsensical assertion that “what was a disadvantage in the past is now a distinct advantage.” That is your claim, not mine.

  7. Reading this piece one would get the wrong impression that white on black crime (racially motivated or not) is a common occurrence in the US. Black on white crime, usually underreported and almost never attributed to racial animus, even when it is clearly a factor, has exceeded the former many times over for decades. Minorities are also quite good at overlooking injustices they perpetrate, especially when encouraged to do so by leftist propaganda such as what Mr. Greydanus offers up here.

  8. It really is fascinating that a review of a film about an act of mass murder by a white supremacist, networked with other white supremacists, in an era where the documented gravest threat of domestic terror in the United States is coming from far right white supremacists immediately elicits not praise for the victims of white racist terror who have worked to forgive and heal in the name and power of Jesus Christ, but a torrent of self-justification and invective from folks like Mr. Williams, who use the occasion to vilify those who work for such healing and forgiveness and to perverse label *them* racist.

    Bravo to Steven Greydanus for a fine review and bravo, most especially, to heroes of the Charleston shooting, the actual victims and not those who feel threatened by their Christian witness so profoundly that they immediately deflect from it to their own narcissistic issues.

  9. “Restitution is simple justice because the victims are alive right now”

    These victims are the same as the victims circa 1850? Again, how do you pay reparations today?
    To whom, how much, is it ongoing, when is it considered complete, how do you value race, will the victims of racism, once accepting the cash, believe justice has been served and move on or is this an everlasting program? Will present day Blacks who experience racism but cannot prove lineage to actual slaves of the period…what shall be their restitution? For how long?

    And on and on and on…

    Making a grandiose statement about simple justice in real time sounds noble but it is way beyond ‘simple justice.’

  10. Deacon Greydanus, thank you for giving your thoughtful analysis of this video commentary. You explained so well the ethic of forgiveness and its good fruits, as well as our duties to justice. I especially liked this: “Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the guilty off easy or dismissing the evil they do.”

    I also like this, ” From a Catholic perspective, racism is not merely a moral issue, but a theological one—a form of heresy. That’s because the gospel proclaims that God sent Jesus to restore the unity of divided humanity, to take away every barrier of hostility, not only separating God and man, but also dividing human beings from one another, into us and them.”

    Until we look at each individual as an individual, created by our all wise and all good God, until we assume the best we can about an individual, we have a problem. Until more and more people in our society do that, we have a problem in our society which we need to work to repair.

    I think it’s very important for us to see or read about these kinds of documentaries and to have these discussions.

  11. Timothy J Williams, it felt like several different statements you made were against our Catholic bishops or our Church. I would like to say something about two of your statements.

    You said, “This is why respect for the Church is dying. It has abandoned reason and principle and become a socialist movement.”

    What a statement! I am sorry if the churches you know are dying. The Catholic churches where I live, in the Baltimore area, are thriving, not dying. And when I say thriving, I mean people going to Mass, filling the churches, receiving the Holy Eucharist with respect, going to Adoration, passing on their Faith to others, performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, living out their Faith at home and at church. What about that is socialist? Performing the works of mercy perhaps? Passing on their faith to others?

    You also said, “It is nonsense like this that has left the Catholic Church so irrelevant to mainstream working class Americans, who are neither racist nor care anything about ancient grievances.”

    This is an assumption about a very large and diverse group of people (“mainstream working class Americans”). We cannot make accurate assumptions about very large groups of people. We can’t even make assumptions about individuals unless they tell us, because we cannot read anyone’s mind. While the racism which some of us are concerned about is more about systems than individuals, I personally have heard many racist comments from people of all classes, working or otherwise, throughout my six decades, including into the present; nor do I mean on the internet, where all kinds of extremist views proliferate, but in person.

    I have heard people, up close, in person, in every state I’ve lived in, and of various economic or social classes, express the assumptions that, because someone is of a certain race, that therefore they are less likely to be a good neighbor, less likely to be a hard worker, less likely to be a safe person to be around, and so forth; no, not even because of a neighborhood they come from (which would still be wrong to assume), but simply based on one thing, the color of their skin. That, right there, is racism, pure and simple (or impure and simple)…to assume that we are better or that “they”, whoever they may be, are inferior, based on race. That’s what racism is. It doesn’t require hatred. It doesn’t even require discrimination. We can be racist in our views, and we can promote those views to others, and some of those others may act upon those views, but action is not required for a thought we embrace to indeed be racism. All that is required is to think someone is inferior based on their race.

    I’m sure many working class Americans are not racist, though. As a matter of fact, I have also met many “working class” people, as well as people in other economic classes, who are indeed concerned about “ancient grievances”, and who are also concerned about contemporary grievances, as well.

    • “it felt like…” Feelings don’t matter. I am against the liberal politics of our bishops, and that is exactly what I stated. Their incessant pandering to the identity politics of the left is very, very damaging. Look, we all know that racism exists. The question is whether the United States is more racist than other places. I think only people who have never lived anywhere else can make such a statement. As for this “original sin” nonsense, it falsifies not only American history, but all of human history, which is – sadly – littered with racism and slavery. Moreover, I think it is simply false that white people today are inherently more racist than people of another race, especially in America. As for the idea of reparations, it is simply compounding one injustice with another. My family immigrated from Wales in 1908. What do I owe the a victim of slavery, assuming one can be found?

      • Timothy Williams, first of all, “it felt like” was not about my emotions. It was a way of not stating that you were speaking against the bishops and the Church but only expressing that this was my perception, from my reading of some of what you wrote. My perceptions can be wrong, and I certainly hope they are.

        Secondly, the “original sin” of Adam and Eve was the first sin of humankind. It affected everyone who came after. When someone speaks of slavery as the “original sin” of our country, I do not perceive that as meaning that our country had slavery first (heavens, that would be ignorant), but rather, as meaning that our country had slavery in place from its inception. However anyone wants to label that, whether you don’t personally like the phrase, I see no possible way that we can deny that we had slavery in place from the start, and it has, in various ways, affected our country’s history. I don’t see that whether or not we are more racist than other places really matters one way or another. This is where we live. This is the country we are dealing with. The fact is that we had slavery and it was not only wrong, but it was contrary to everything our country supposedly stood for and stands for. And how they managed to reconcile that was to call a whole race less than human (the 3/5’s compromise), as if God could or would create a human being anything less than human!

        And yes, thankfully, slavery was abolished, but we went from that to Jim Crow segregation, to the Great Migration which brought about housing discrimination in the North in poor, crowded conditions (which discrimination included white people rioting against black families on the rare occasions that some lawyer sacrificed his own standing to stood up for some one making enough money to be able to live in a neighborhood where white people lived). And we still have discrimination to this century, such as when two large banks were cheating, and changing credit scores to lower numbers, in some black neighborhoods, in order to charge higher interest rates. And we have black people going to for-profit prisons, sometimes for crimes for which white men do not usually go to prison.

        I don’t have a lot of opinion about restitution in the sense of money pay-outs. I haven’t studied the details or specific proposals. But I do firmly believe that, in some way, we need to repair the damage that has been done and is being done to many of our fellow human beings who were all created by the same God, redeemed by the same Lord Jesus Christ.

        • “But I do firmly believe that, in some way, we need to repair the damage that has been done”

          Fair enough.

          But how?

          For those wanting reparations for justice, it is the details that are paramount. Where are the proposals, and not just statements, that are grounded in reality that can claim a justice and a salve to past racism and ongoing racism?

          And if restitution is part of a solution, and this particular racism is grounded in enslaved Blacks from the 1800’s, would not an objective and fair solution involve other races that also was grounded in roughly the same period and continues to this day, however subtle?

      • Doctor Williams,
        Why is ‘’the question’ whether the United States is more racist than other places? This is another instance of your mental hopscotch. I commend the efforts of those here who take the time to expose your detours, falsehoods, loose bantering with terms like socialism, and other antics.

        • Good grief, man, don’t you have letters of outrage to be writing? Get to it! (If you need help with hyperbolic expressions of shock and horror, check in with chezami. He’s the expert.)

          • I should think your hyperventilation about poor you being “under siege from the Totalitarian Left” (in response to an act of mass murder committed by a white racist against a black church and their profoundly Christian response) really is the model and template for hyperbolic expressions of shock and horror.

          • Doctor Williams,

            I take your blustery retort that to mean you have no answer to my question.

            Go and reread your ‘contributions’ to this comments section.

            You are all over the place.

    • “I have heard people, up close, in person, in every state I’ve lived in, and of various economic or social classes, express the assumptions that, because someone is of a certain race, that therefore they are less likely to be a good neighbor, less likely to be a hard worker, less likely to be a safe person to be around, and so forth; no, not even because of a neighborhood they come from (which would still be wrong to assume), but simply based on one thing, the color of their skin. That, right there, is racism, pure and simple (or impure and simple)”

      You mean like someone who would say, “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then (I) look around and see someone white and feel relieved.”

      That would be Jesse Jackson, speaking in 1993. Such a racist.

      • Leslie, he was talking *to* particular black people *in* an inner city crime ridden area. And believe me, we have plenty of white crime too, but there was probably was not as much of it in that particular area to which he was speaking (at least, maybe not the kind where you would hear footsteps). He was trying to urge those who would rob to change their ways…like a brother talking to a younger brother.

        This type of attitude of ‘look at what this black person said’ is so wearying. First, it’s taken out of context. Second, it doesn’t necessarily represent other black people, only the person who said it. And third, it is not an excuse for prejudice.

        The original topic had been nine black people conducting a Bible study in a church, when someone came in and shot them dead…and that many of their relatives have actually had the Christian fortitude to forgive. I would be happy to be neighbors with any of those Christian people, or with any of my friends who are black, as well as my black doctors, professors, realtor, and the wonderful neighbors we had before we both moved to different areas. I’m not judging what’s in anyone’s heart; I’m just saying that to not want a black person in one’s neighborhood is objectively a racist attitude. But change is possible. And I pray for changed hearts.

        • “The original topic had been nine black people conducting a Bible study in a church, when someone came in and shot them dead”

          Yes, it had been. And then you took the opportunity to lecture Timothy Williams and tell him how you “have heard people, up close, in person, in every state I’ve lived in, and of various economic or social classes, express the assumptions that, because someone is of a certain race, that therefore they are less likely to be a good neighbor, less likely to be a hard worker, less likely to be a safe person to be around, and so forth;” and to claim that this was racism, “pure and simple.”

          I noticed that you mentioned only “of various economic or social classes,” and ignored the fact that it was also people of various races who had that same issue, even when judging persons of their own race. Thus, it is not necessarily racism, as you claim, merely a matter of likelihood. For example, I doubt very much that if Jesse Jackson, rather than seeing a white person, had seen a middle-aged black woman, he would have continued to be worried about robbery.

          You went on, “All that is required is to think someone is inferior based on their race.” But you lump together a pre-judgment about whether someone will be a good neighbor or a hard worker with a pre-judgment about whether someone is likely to be dangerous. In doing so, you are accusing of racism people who are quite likely not racist (as in the case of Jesse Jackson) with those who may well be.

          “he was talking *to* particular black people *in* an inner city crime ridden area…He was trying to urge those who would rob to change their ways…like a brother talking to a younger brother.”

          He was speaking at one of the Saturday meetings of Operation PUSH at their Hyde Park headquarters; Hyde Park is not an inner city crime ridden area. He was talking to the leadership of the community.

          “This type of attitude of ‘look at what this black person said’ is so wearying. First, it’s taken out of context.”

          No, it’s not. I quoted Reverend Jackson accurately, and I did not take it out of context.

          “Second, it doesn’t necessarily represent other black people, only the person who said it.”

          I did not say that it represented anybody else. Your statement indicated that *anybody* who thought that someone of a particular race was “less likely to be a safe person to be around” was racist. I pointed out at least one example of someone who is highly unlikey to be prejudiced against black people who clearly thought that a black person was less likely to be safe to be around than a white person.

          “And third, it is not an excuse for prejudice.”

          Prejudice is pre-judgment, or as Merriam-Webster phrases is, “preconceived judgment or opinion.” It is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the reason for it. For example, I have a prejudice against frog legs. I’ve never tried them, and I won’t. I have a preconceived opinion that I won’t like them. On the other hand, I have a prejudice in favor of people who say “May I?” instead of “Can I?” when asking permission.

          Discrimination, too, is not a bad thing, depending on the grounds.

          “I’m just saying that to not want a black person in one’s neighborhood is objectively a racist attitude.”

          That is quite probably true. But you were claiming far more than that.

  12. Oh, Mr. Shea, always with the wildly exaggerated histrionics and distortions. One has to resist the temptation to feel vindicated when attacked by you, because once in a while, you actually formulate a Catholic and Christian thought. Not here, however. Your hard-left politics has gotten the better of you, once again.

  13. Without here contesting Mark Shea’s point, above, about restitution for damages to our Black brothers and sisters, the math does get a bit complicated. . .

    Should some small part of the funds come from some dispossessed Indian tribes? At least five tribes—the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole—owned Black slaves. And then there’s the problem of the freed Blacks who joined the Union forces and then were killed in battle (about 2,700). What about them, and compensation to their erased and non-existent descendants?
    Or, for that matter, what about the descendants of the Union soldier casualties in the Civil War who, in the end were advancing the Emancipation Proclamation (359,528 dead and 275,175 wounded)? What of them (99.3% of all Union soldiers killed to end slavery were white) and their descendants?

    And what about earlier Roman domination of Black Africa—by what right did Rome demolish Carthage? (the much later St. Augustine was a Berber!) Reparations now from the European Union? Or, for that matter, what of the dispossessed Canaanites! And what of the non-descendants of Remus who at the foundation of Rome was killed by his twin brother Remus?

    What, too, about indigenous slave trades on Africa’s west coast (not to mention the notorious easterner, Tippu Tip, Black mutilator-trader of Zanzibar? (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., famous Black genealogist, says that this guy—more than anyone else—belongs in Hell.)

    A profound and tragic riddle, the cumulative, mixed and lingering injustices of history and the mix of unwitting (innocent?) beneficiaries. And the math?

    Back to the cotton thing. Surely, the real culprit in the slave economy of the United States (barely ten percent of what was going on in all of the Americas) is Eli Whitney! In 1793, this convenient scapegoat invented the cotton gin. Without this advance in technology (usually a labor-saver) slavery might well have languished. But this back-yard device multiplied de-seeding of cotton balls by a factor of 50 (five thousand percent!)—thereby supporting the many-fold importation and breeding of slave hands to plant many more fields, all finally to feed the equally-new spinning jennies in merry ol’ England. The plot thickens. Make industry pay!

    True, Whitney (Whitey?) didn’t display a Swastika over his rooftop (a broad-brush connection you seem to impose), but as one who never would own a slave neither do I, nor you, nor any other readers of Catholic World Report.

  14. So, to recap, a film about a mass shooting by a documented white racist, networked with other white racists, in an era where the documented worst threat of domestic terrorism is white racists–a film entirely about the efforts made toward healing by his victims rooted entirely in the gospel message–was instantly buried under invective denying that white racism is a problem and inveighing against Christians working toward healing as “leftists” and reaching for the fainting couch with screeches about being “under siege from the totalitarian left.”

    Because Mr. Williams is the *real* victim here, not those stupid dead people in Charleston or their evil totalitarian leftist survivors who distract from Mr. Williams’ persecution.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, here are the actual Christians being persecuted on our soil–and with the enthusiastic support of millions like Mr. Williams:

    “A team of attorneys who recently visited the facility near El Paso told The Associated Press that three girls, ages 10 to 15, said they had been taking turns keeping watch over a sick 2-year-old boy because there was no one else to look after him.

    When the lawyers saw the 2-year-old boy, he wasn’t wearing a diaper and had wet his pants, and his shirt was smeared in mucus. They said at least 15 children at the facility had the flu, and some were kept in medical quarantine. Children told lawyers that they were fed uncooked frozen food or rice and had gone weeks without bathing or a clean change of clothes at the facility in Clint, in the desert scrubland some 25 miles southeast of El Paso.”

    https://apnews.com/46da2dbe04f54adbb875cfbc06bbc615?utm_medium=AP&utm_campaign=SocialFlow&utm_source=Twitter

    But do let’s quibble about the fact that Deacon Greydanus had words of praise for a film highlighting Christians doing Christ’s work of mercy while black. Because that, not the sadism being meted out at the border to children, is the real persecution of real Christians like Mr. Williams.

  15. Leslie, I’m not going to debate every point. I just need to address one.

    You said that I “took the opportunity to lecture” Timothy Williams. Call it what you may. It was in response to this comment of his, “It is nonsense like this that has left the Catholic Church so irrelevant to mainstream working class Americans, who are neither racist nor care anything about ancient grievances.”

    First, the Catholic Church is not irrelevant! Second, there are people among working class Americans and other classes as well, who think – or who act as if – black people are inferior to white people, which is the definition of racism. Racism doesn’t always manifest in passion-filled hate. It can be a seed of a poisonous weed. It can be a cold shoulder, turning away.

    This will probably be my last comment on this post. God bless.

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