Every person is made in the image of God ― including me, my wife, my daughter and Dylann Roof. There is nothing that I can do for God to love me any more or any less. There is nothing that I could say to compromise God’s desire to be close to me, to know me and for me to be close and know Him. And that is the same for Dylann Roof.
I can claim that he is uniquely evil as Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it or weigh my options and decide to kill like Obama did Osama Bin-Laden. I could even just go with my gut and say “some people just need to die.” But that logic, that statement and killing someone as a punishment for murder is flawed and certainly not Christian. MLK puts it best, “Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology,” wrote King, “and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”
Love your neighbor as yourself includes the white supremacists in our midst. Love for your enemies includes those who have harmed, abused, raped and murdered. There is no asterisk in these verses nor any wavering in the heart of God for all of His people that He shaped in their mother’s wombs. He takes no pleasure in the death of any man as it’s His desire that all would come to know Him.
Dylann Roof dehumanized anyone who he saw as “not white.” That is the first step in the willingness to perpetrate violence. We then dehumanize him to the point where 12 peers decide he should die as well; and millions of people agree. That is the same mentality that trolls Twitter ensuring that a dehumanizing narrative follows any person convicted and even suspected of committing a crime. It’s the same mentality and world view that makes it possible for men and women to be killed by police. It’s the same mentality that allows employers to discriminate against felons and keep them in the margins of society. It also absolves we as a people of any responsibility in creating the context the produced Dylann Roof. Clint Smith says it best,
“Additionally, to call Roof uniquely evil, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has also pointed out, is to ignore the history that made him possible. Roof is not a historical anomaly as much as a representation of a past that America prefers to sweep under its rug rather than commit to cleaning up. When Roof told Tywanza Sanders, one of the victims in the church, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go,” he was echoing a vast history that has used such rationale to decimate black lives. Killing Roof does nothing other than soothe the moral conscience of a country that would rather not reckon with the forces that created and cultivated his ideology.”
Additionally, Smith states that:
“It is easy not to support the death penalty when there is doubt about the culpability of the person sitting in the chair; it is harder to sustain such principles when the crime of the accused is morally indefensible. But if our principles are only our principles when it is convenient for us, when they align with our visceral emotional responses, then they are, in fact, not principles at all. What’s the point of having progressive principles if they can’t contain your rage?”
Dylann Roof might be sick, demented, or mentally ill ― but for sure he is sinful. His heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. And the only medication that cures this ailment is the love of Jesus. And those beautiful men and women that he murdered were studying the Jesus who died that we all might have life and have it abundantly ― including Dylann Roof. Not just the folks who do everything right or excluding those who do evil. That is the scandalous grace of God. That is precisely why we study scripture as followers of Jesus. Because when we don’t, we mistake the laws of America for the Law of God and they are clearly not the same.
We are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. It is not my actions that set me apart but only God’s grace. I have put my trust in the Living God and it is His work on the Cross and my faith in Him that saved me. Thus it is not my actions that save or condemn me, but the condition of my heart. And what the Bible says about Dylan Roof is also what it says about me. So instead of picking up a stone to kill him and gnashing my teeth in anger and disgust, I will pick up the Gospel of John and do like Cynthia, Susan, Ethel, Depayne, Clemente, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda and Myra and ponder instead what kind of Jesus cries out for His murderers to be forgiven; not for them to be killed.