Blessed are the Dead

Blessed are the nine slain saints of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina:

Rev. Clementa Pickeny, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sheronda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.

Blessed are they who welcomed a young white stranger named Dylann Roof into their midst, making room for him to join them in the study of Scripture. 

Blessed are the dead, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What can we make of Roof’s motivation for turning a Bible study into a bloodbath? Many have speculated about his mental health and wondered, “Is this the kind of thing only a crazy person could do?”

The answer is no. Most crazy people are non-violent, statistics prove this fact. A good place to check your facts on mental illness NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

However, this is the kind of American terrorism that white supremacy creates in a country so ensnarled in centuries of racism born out of slavery and oppression. Roof’s primary motivation for the slayings was his hatred of black people, and his logic was in keeping with the extreme ideology of white supremacy. 

Roof may have mental health issues, and no doubt he will be thoroughly psychologically tested. But can we say that the primary motivation of the slayings was a psychotic episode, where Roof went crazy in a Bible study?

There are dangers in this approach. First, crying crazy in response to every mass shooting significantly adds to the stigma and shame around mental illness. My loved ones and friends who live with mental health disorders are not mass murderers. To claim that people with mental illness are prone to violence is not only false, it is harmful. 

The other serious danger is that for white people, calling it crazy is an easy way out of the uncomfortable and disturbing conversation about the messed-up state of race relations in America.

I notice that it’s mostly white people who are wanting (so badly) to cover this up with mental illness. I hear from other whites, “he was a loner…he was a drop out…he was lost.” This frames Roof as the victim of a bad economy and poor education, sort of an “unlucky guy.” What is alarming about this rationale by whites is how oblivious it is to the gut-wrenching reality of whites killing blacks just because, at all levels of authority, from police officers to kids like Roof. 

I have yet to hear a black person claim that the slayings were motivated by mental illness. This causes me to wonder why as whites we are in such denial about the primary role of race in this case.

My two cents: in the main, this is about a society that allows white supremacy and hate groups to run unchecked, without any accountability. We have become a country where it’s unsafe to be a person of color, or perhaps it has always been. 

Published by Sarah Griffith Lund

Leader, preacher and author of *Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Church and Family*

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