In Lament

On Saturday afternoon, eighty-six year old Ruth Whitfield was just stopping by the Tops grocery store in East Buffalo after spending another day caring for her husband who resides in a nearby assisted living residence. For fifty years she had been a member of the Durham AME Zion Church, where she sang in the choir. Then her life was violently taken by a white supremacist who livestreamed his slaughter of Mrs. Whitfield’s life along with the others who also thought they were just stopping by their neighborhood grocery.

This is only the latest in a long torrent of racist shootings in our country, following the massacres of nine African Americans in a Charleston church Bible study in 2015, eleven Jews worshiping in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, more than twenty Latinx persons in an El Paso Walmart in 2019, and a horrible span of violence against Asian Americans last year, including six who were murdered in Atlanta’s health spas. But these are not just numbers. They are all persons like Ruth Whitfield, who were quietly and faithfully going about their lives, created in the image of God with dignity and honor, and whose holy lives were obliterated by readily available guns wielded by white men whose violence was cultivated by pervasive racism.

The gunman’s decision to livestream his slaughter of the innocent lives in a grocery store assumed there was an audience for his atrocity. And the horrible reality is that he was right. The document he published before the shooting cited references to the murder of those at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and the slaughter of fifty-one Muslims in New Zealand. Each of these horrors seems to feed the next one.

So when people of color don't feel safe in a grocery store and the other public spaces of daily life, and when their hearts feel the age-old hurt of spoiling the innocence of their children with the cruel acknowledgment of the dangers directed toward them because of the color of their skin, all of us as members of the human community are called to do more than simply understand their pain. We are called to be allies with them in the pursuit of change.

Our Seminary joins the houses of worship around the country in deep lament over all of the people, including Ruth Whitfield, who have been murdered by the racism that persists in our nation. We will continue to form leaders committed to a more just society, and we will keep proclaiming the biblical vision of a city with a river of life flowing through it that nurtures abundant life for all of God’s beloved creation.

There will be a service of prayer in the Seminary Chapel today at noon. Everyone is invited to attend.

M. Craig Barnes
President, Princeton Theological Seminary

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Associate Professor, Indiana Wesleyan University

Amanda Hontz Drury, Class of 2005

“Princeton Seminary helped me whittle down to the core of my faith and helped me discover what mattered most to me.”