That Time “Dylann Storm Roof” Got a Shout-Out at an MLK Event…

Picture Credit: montreat.org
Picture Credit: montreat.org

I write this from my room at Montreat Conference Center, energized by what has been a challenging, convicting, affirming, and motivating “teach-in.” Dr. King’s Unfinished Agenda commemorates the 50th anniversary of the civil rights giant’s visit and address to a packed Anderson Auditorium fifty years ago (the videos of the speech are on YouTube in four parts). I heard from heroes this week:  Leonard Pitts, Jr., Bishop Yvette Flunder, Charles Blow, Rev. William Barber, and Rep. John Lewis. Sunday, we will hear the word of the Lord as delivered through Bishop Vashti McKenzie, which this former AME eagerly awaits.

But the beauty of this weekend hasn’t been without its curiosities. Many of my colleagues were taken aback at the police presence at Montreat this weekend, which, apparently, is not the norm for conferences here (I was a Montreat virgin up until now, so I had no point of reference). But the most inane of them happened during Saturday afternoon’s worship service.

We remembered the Charleston Nine and were invited to call their names as their photos appeared on the screens. One by one, we spoke of them, “Cynthia Hurd. Say her name. Susie Jackson. Say her name.” We said each of their names, a litany that proved emotional in ways that surprised many of us. I struggled through tears to say their names, as did others. The memory of the massacre is hardly far removed.

As the final name was spoken and the screen dimmed, I heard a loud voice boom out over my left shoulder:

“Dylann Storm Roof! Say his name!”

He was mid-sentence when I turned to my left to see who had said it. I saw him standing in the pews: Ed Loring.

I didn’t know what to make of it at first. Was this part of the remembrance? When it finally registered what he’d said, I immediately noticed the groans in the crowd and the look of disgust on my colleague and friend’s face. Yes, that just happened. Dylann Storm Roof, for whatever insane reason, got a shout-out during the remembrance of the people he targeted and killed because of the color of their skin at an event dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Social media being what it is, the reaction was swift and broadcast to the world.

“This is why the work ain’t done,” a friend wrote.

My first interaction with Ed Loring was — interesting. I found him to be quirky, animated, and passionate. Obnoxious with his outbursts,  yes, but I’d hardly call that a crime. This, however — this odd, puzzling, and even inflammatory outburst (from a person with a storied history of social justice work, at that) left me aghast. I had to hug a colleague from Charleston who came up to me after worship and expressed how upsetting it was for her. Some of the people in that auditorium were connected to the Charleston Nine and Emmanuel AME Church personally. An AME Bishop who attended Pastor Clementa Pinckney’s funeral sat in the front row during this very worship service. Montreat’s checkered history with regard to race wasn’t too far from the consciousness of many of us in those pews. WTF was Ed Loring thinking?

I don’t know what he was thinking. I don’t know what point he was trying to make. Frankly, I don’t even care. It’s disturbing that someone who has been on the so-called “front lines” of racial justice could be that daft in such an emotionally charged moment. What’s worse, he had people — white people — coming to his defense on social media.

“He wasn’t praising Roof. He spends his life fighting for these issues. He didn’t mean it like that.”

Yes, I should hope he wasn’t praising Roof, especially since there is nothing to praise. Especially since he has dedicated much of his life to the cause of social justice. That doesn’t mean what he said wasn’t insensitive and/or bat**** crazy. He might have been trying to make a point, but he failed at it spectacularly. Admit that. As far as I’m concerned, you don’t get a pass for doing dumb stuff just because  you’ve proven yourself to be “down.” You don’t get to do further violence –intentional or not — to already-hurting people in their presence just because you claim to love them and fight for them. That amounts to nothing more than resounding gongs and clanging cymbals.

“I was right there and I didn’t hear that at all.”

Let me say that I, too, was right there, mere feet away, and I heard exactly what he said. The White friend and colleague sitting next to me heard exactly what he said. The singers on stage heard exactly what he said. My friends from Charleston in the back of the auditorium heard exactly what he said. How did you not hear it? Furthermore, why are we wrong because you didn’t witness it?

Why is his outburst not being categorically rebuked? Why are you trying to gloss over it? Actually, these are rhetorical questions. I already know why, because something along these lines happens too often to people of color when they give their testimonies and point out injustices and insensitivity.

This conference has been life-giving to me in that it has been so honest, at times brutally so. The lament, the confession, the acknowledgment of our country and our church’s need to repent of and dismantle racism — they’ve all been necessary and overdue for us to say. So many of us are on fire after hearing Bishop Flunder call us to repentance and lives of discomfort for the sake of justice, or hearing Rev. Barber urge us to get up and organize in our own contexts. We have confessed corporately our complicity in these systems of injustice. But clearly that was an abstract confession for some people, because the same ones who’d confess with their mouths would turn around and continue to perpetuate bigotry by defending this behavior and redacting the testimony of the folks who witnessed it.

We certainly don’t have to make Ed Loring the ogre of the world, but he’s not even the most problematic one in all of this. It’s the ones who are caping for him, who are quick to issue a salvo of excuses and condescendingly let the rest of us know we’re wrong about him, who are most disturbing. If you can’t even sit with this outburst and name it as wrong, then how much more are you able to sit with your own well-meaning-but-idiotic faux-pas? What does this weekend of confession and turning away from the evils of the past even mean to you?

The work surely ain’t done. Surely, it ain’t.

14 thoughts on “That Time “Dylann Storm Roof” Got a Shout-Out at an MLK Event…

  1. I noticed several years ago on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th, a lot of the progressive and social justice oriented churches used liturgies that prayed for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. The litanies included confessions of the sin of our own country and even our indirect role in promoting an environment that led to the attacks. Many of my “progressive” Presbyterian colleagues lauded these types of litanies, and many church members were disgusted.

    I wonder if a similar thing was happening. Some may say a 9/11 remembrance was the worst place to pray for our enemies, and some said it was the best place. Perhaps Ed was trying to live out the very hard command of Jesus to love and pray for our enemies even in the midst of lifting up the victims. Perhaps he believed Dylan was a victim of the racist environment he lived in, which by no means excuses the actions. I wasn’t there so I don’t know.

    I guess my rhetorical question would be, what does it look like to pray for and love our enemies even in the midst of mourning the results of their actions?

    Is it insensitive or courageous? I don’t know. I know I probably wouldn’t have shouted out Dylan’s name, but then again, I know I’m too often a coward to really live the love of Jesus out on behalf of victims and on behalf of perpetrators of atrocities.

    1. Stephen, I’m going to say this with as much grace as I can muster: Are you serious right now?

      I understand you weren’t there, so I will share a paraphrase of something Rev William Barber said during his sermon at that worship service. For Black people, forgiveness is an act of radical resistance. Forgiveness was not the issue here, because the folks present know the works of forgiveness. In fact, my friend from Charleston who approached me talked about the need to forgive. She also felt violated, as if her grief had been intruded upon. And for her and MANY others who felt similarly, who even felt frightened by the senseless outburst, it’s a slap in the face to have someone try to explain that away. Can you not understand that?

      They mention of Dylann Roof was not a part of the liturgy. If it were, that would have been understandable. We spent the whole weekend talking about confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Ed had no way of qualifying what he said in that moment, so it was simply reckless to throw it out the way he did. It felt threatening, and even if it wasn’t threatening, it was invasive.

      Black people have had enough policing of our grief and emotions lately with people ushering us to the territory of forgiveness. Just give us some room! Ed, whether he realized it or not, inserted himself and ostensibly his whiteness upon the grieving of Black bodies. It wasn’t about him in that moment, but he made it about him. Any attempt to explain that away to the people he offended, as if they have no sense of nuance and unable to parse these things for themselves, does further violence and pours more salt into their wounds.

      1. Thanks. I am serious in pondering what love of enemies looks like but also serious pondering when and how that is best done. I really do wonder what Eds intentions were. I hate to think the worst. The blog brought back to memory the strong feelings people had about the 9/11 liturgy thoughts it’s not a direct correlation. That liturgy was planned and written. It sounds like the impromptu naming interrupted a powerful time of remembrance and lament. At worst it was a planned disruptive and hurtful interjection at best it was an ill-timed and ill-thought attempt to do something good. Sometimes good things are done at bad times and in bad ways. It is good to pray for our enemies who may in some way be victims of something but there are times it probably isn’t approriate This sounds like one of those times. I wish I could know his thoughts. Does he now regret it. Does he see it was insensitive though he meant it for good or did he purposefully agitate? I appreciate blogs like yours that help me understand your thoughts and a pov I am not able to claim or ever fully understand but things like this help. I just wrestling with it all with lots of wonder, questions, sadness, and yet a little hope. I just hope understanding can be found and achieved in this and so many other things. Thank you for helping me understand a part of it. I hope to understand more from Ed. I hope really that it was an attempt to be faithful and do something good though it did not achieve those ends, if that makes sense. I hope that’s the case and not something more sinister. I hope he and myself and others can learn from experiences like this. Your perspective helps teach me so I am thankful

        1. Oh and it was helpful to know that this wasn’t a time anyone could just shout out names of victims. It helps me understand the violation and intrusiveness lien another example of white privilege forcing its way into black pain and grief. Your explanation and additional info make total sense. I’m sorry if I came off as trying to explain away I was genuinely curious and wondering and wrestling with everything. I appreciate when someone can question and ponder and have others help in that process

  2. If we must make a comparison to 9/11 or Sandy Hook or any other time we have been encouraged to pray for the perpetrators of a terrible act, remember this shooter is not dead. He is alive. He was taken alive by the police and fed Burger King. They kept him safe. It’s not un-Christian or unforgiving to be *affronted* by the violent use of his name in a time of worship. A person who shatters that sacred container in order to serve his own agenda – no matter what that agenda might be – is no better than the Westboro Baptist Church picketing funerals.

    Denise, this has been on my mind ever since I read your post early this morning. I’m praying for this broken world and an end to the ways my race imposes its power and privilege violently on others, even with words.

  3. Ed affectionately refers to himself as “Ed the Agitator.” I won’t speculate why he shouted Dylann’s name in that moment, but I have found that his “agitating” (though sometimes politically effective) too often is just another form of violence, the only difference is that words and public shaming/attack are his weapons. The litany in the worship service was to mourn the victims of the Charleston tragedy. Dylann may be a “victim” in the sense that he has been corrupted by the beast of systemic racism, but he actively chose to engage in and perpetuate his corruption through unimaginable violence. And he is ALIVE. Sure, I absolutely believe that the mandate to love your enemy is fierce and difficult to reconcile; praying for Dylann as our enemy could be appropriate and provocative in a different context. But in this situation, shouting Dylann’s name wasn’t just insensitive and inappropriate, it intensified the violence and suffering he caused. I am so sorry that his outburst triggered more suffering for those already grieving.

  4. Also, thank you, Denise for your reflections on the conference. As I continue to process it myself, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to share more of your thoughts on the police’s presence at the conference. I can imagine it was quite a jarring visual to have them there while so many of the slain unarmed black men’s names were invoked throughout the weekend. As a white woman (who, 9–if not 10–times out of 10, will be protected and not targeted by police), I have to admit my relief when seeing them there. But that comes from my own building fears about being in public spaces and events with high-profile speakers when open carry laws and access to guns is making nearly every corner of our world a potential battleground for gun violence. Given the event’s context and theme, I was on alert for what the media will hardly recognize as the “white male terrorist”–someone armed and looking for an easy target to cause bloodshed and make some noise. I was, therefore, grateful for their vigilance in checking bags and name tags before people entered. I’m curious if you or any others shared some of these concerns along with some understandable discomfort for having police present? Again, I recognize that my relief stems from my own unconscious and conscious understanding that police should and will protect citizens (at least citizens who look like me–unfortunately). I would love to hear more from others who are not granted this privilege and basic right. As a frequent Montreater and someone who often helps with conferences and leadership, I would be more than happy to pass your feedback along to leadership and staff. I’m sure they will be grateful to receive it.

    1. I’m from the DC area, so I’m used to seeing cops/security outside of mundane places like the grocery store. It didn’t alarm me at first, not until I’d heard from people who were shaken by it because they’d never seen it before at Montreat. That’s when I got nervous (again, I was new to Montreat). Was there a threat that we didn’t know about? Did we need to be on alert? Is this an overabundance of caution that may not even be necessary, except for maybe during Rep. Lewis’ event? There was much talk about police violence this weekend. Were we under suspicion? I really didn’t know what to think. Ultimately, I’m just glad we didn’t need the full extent of their training this weekend.

      1. Good questions. I bet it was out of an abundance of caution, but having security was also probably required in order to host people like Rev. Barber and John Lewis. Most conferences will have at least one police on duty (or some form of security guard), though they don’t check bags and wristbands at entrances. I am also glad they didn’t need to exercise the full extent of their training.

  5. Oh. Oh. I just wrote a very long word to you and it disappeared satingI had run out of time. I am 75 and have never attempted a blog before. So sorry. I am I wounded you and so many others.

    1. Ed, I have made many mistakes in my life, and if the Lord gives me 75 years, I will make many more. I hope grace will be extended to me in those times. So with that, the peace of our Lord be with you. Thank you for showing contrition.

  6. This is an excellent lifting of truth and a call to avoid cheap grace. When forgiveness is radical work, it is not granted in the same voice as lament. It is part of the work of reaching justice and the working out of the peace of the kingdom. To shout out Roof’s name within a litany for those who were murdered and then to defend that action sounds suspiciously like, “We played and you did not dance. We sang and you did not mourn.” This isn’t even as issue of time and place. It is an issue of listening and resisting the urge to believe that one knows better than all the others present.

  7. There are a few helpful comments here and many which are decidedly unhelpful. We could go on and on all day about what one “intends” and at the end of the day the consequences of racial violence are the same regardless. Often times that means dead black and brown bodies on the side of the road.

    That is why people who claim to be in solidarity and working toward being anti-racist must be willing to constantly examine themselves. It’s why those who claim the same and are white Presbyterians are obligated to live into our polity and ordination vows and hold one another accountable.

    It is not difficult for me to imagine that Rev. Loring did not “intend” harm. Particularly based on what has been shared. But nonetheless the impact was violent trauma and terror. That has to be addressed.

    I worked on Capital Hill in the United States Senate on 9-11 and so I was closer than most. My home was 3 miles from the Pentagon and I still remember fighter planes flying over an otherwise silent airspace. I can speak to the event from a personal perspective. It is inappropriate to compare the events. Not one single person in their right mind, or one who is not even in the right mind would EVER consider using Hitlers name in a liturgy. And they would NEVER do it in the presence of Jews. And if you think it’s appropriate or that it is maybe, possibly, an excuse, and you some how have a really good handle on this racism thing so you can defend this event, I think you should use Hitler in a liturgy in church.

    Finally, what is also unhelpful is for ANY PERSON who was not a direct victim and/or is not a direct victim of racism to paternalisticly make note of how people are to pray for their enemies. It’s just foolishness for y’all to even go there and it’s wholly inappropriate.

    So, I pray that Presbyterians (in particular) can learn from this event and know that we need to continue to keep an eye toward more justice and less racial violence.

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