The devil is always busy.
I used to hear this adage among the elders in my church when I was a little girl growing up in the South during the 1970s and ‘80s. I was too young to understand that the older folks were often speaking of an evil force behind the tragedies and misfortune that they were trying to shield me and other Black children in our community from as long as they could.
We didn’t have the popular academic term “safe spaces” back then, but these elders would have been wary of such a reference. The senior adults during my childhood had to walk circumspectly in a Jim Crow world when they came of age in Georgia or the other southern neighboring states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.As the protectors of me and my peers when we were youngsters, these elders were blessed to be alive and witness many of the legislative “safe spaces” brought about as a result of the civil rights movement, but they were wise enough to know that the evils of racial hatred would always be lurking.
The “pure evil” that Erie County Sheriff John Garcia stated to describe the deadly Tops Friendly Market shooting in Buffalo, New York, is sadly indicative of that wisdom. The hard-working people in this predominately African-American neighborhood had lobbied for more than 10 years to get a decent grocery store like Tops within their vicinity. Now many of them feel that their once safe space of communal fellowship is gone.
With yet another gun massacre dominating the headlines, we find ourselves once again frantically asking why these tragedies continue to happen. We continuously label these violent incidents, as President Joe Biden called the Buffalo shooting, an act of “domestic terrorism.” And we delve into the vile, psychological dysfunction responsible for such heinous crimes, which in the 18-year-old Buffalo shooter’s case is the indoctrination of the white supremacist great replacement theory.
The great replacement theory, a nonsensical and dangerous belief that people of color will replace whites in the U.S. and European nations, is also the primary motive behind other mass shootings in the country.
Biden described this widespread racial hatred as “a stain on the soul of America,” but it’s much deeper than that. The battle that we are in for the soul of the nation is a relentless spiritual conflict. We are in spiritual warfare.
As I was reading how the Buffalo attack on the Tops market was maliciously planned by the shooter, I reflected on the passage in Ephesians 6:12, which says that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
To enter a public space with a premeditated and malevolent intent to ruthlessly slay as many Black people as possible is a manifestation of spiritual wickedness. It is the ghastly result of a soul that has been infested with darkness.
During this troubling time, we would do well to heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his sermon “The Answer to a Perplexing Question.” This sermon is found in King’s book “Strength to Love,” and in the beginning of his discourse King references Matthew 17:19, where Jesus’ disciples asked, “Why could not we cast him out?”
The disciples were referring to their inability to cast out a demon in a young boy. King takes this question and places it in the context of the racial unrest of the late 1960s, maintaining that evil cannot be eradicated solely by man’s efforts in government and education.
“Selfishness and hatred have not vanished with an enlargement of our educational system and an extension of our legislative policies,” King passionately stated.
He concludes by asserting that the moral victory we long for over the evil of racial hatred will come when we submit ourselves to faith in God.
“Racial justice, a genuine possibility in our nation and in the world, will come neither by our frail and often misguided efforts nor by God imposing his will on wayward men,” King said, “but when enough people open their lives to God and allow him to pour his triumphant, divine energy into their souls.”
This is the way to win the battle for the nation’s soul, and I remain determined to fight hate with the spirit of love God has given me.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at [email protected] @JjSmojc