My mind is still reeling and stomach tied in knots since hearing of the slaughter in Charleston, South Carolina, this week of a pastor and eight of his church members. A white, racist terrorist sat calmly for an hour in the weekly Wednesday prayer meeting before raising his gun and killing the nine Christians.
I share the sentiments expressed so eloquently by “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart:
“I honestly have nothing other than just sadness that we, once again, have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of just a gaping racial wound that will not heal yet we pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
The Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston has faced danger since its creation in 1818. Denmark Vesey, a free African American and one of Emanuel’s founders, was sentenced to death and the church burned to the ground because of his plans to help set slaves free. The rebuilt church was shut down by the state during the Civil War. Emanuel was a stronghold during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The church has navigated constant threats and violence and struggled to remain a place of peace and safety for generations of members.
Now we know that even this stalwart sanctuary was not a safe place for nine people praying and praising. Speaking in 2013 about the history of Emanuel AME Church, Rev. Clementa Pickney, also a South Carolina state senator, told of Denmark Vesey and the sacrifices of so many others who have served the church. Here’s what Rev. Pinckney told a group attending the 2013 Civil Rights Ride event:
“Many of us don’t see ourselves as just a place where we come and worship but as a beacon and a bearer of the culture and a bearer of what makes us a people. But I like to say that this is not necessarily unique to us: it’s really what America is all about. Could we not argue that America is about freedom–whether we live it out or not–but it really is about freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. And that’s what church is all about. Freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be fully what God intends us to be and have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you gotta make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die, like Denmark Vesey,to do that. Sometimes you have to march and struggle and be unpopular to do that.”
You can watch Rev. Pinckney’s entire speech here: