By Gerald V. Paul
As they worshiped, lifting hands unto the Lord in the U.S. South, a visitor brought evil into their historic Black church.
As an ordained minister watching it unfold, I was taken aback but I continued to watch and pray.
Since 1816, Charleston, South Carolina, has been home to Emanuel African Methodist, AME, Episcopal Church. Charleston was also an early port of entry for African slaves to the U.S.
Now, Charleston has witnessed one of the most vicious attacks on a place of worship in modern U.S. history. Nine innocent congregants are dead at the hands of the white shooter they embraced in godly love.
At all the events I have covered in Toronto since, people have lamented and requested prayers for this evil in a place of worship.
But goodness will yet triumph, Eyesers. Minister friends on Facebook have pointed to the forgiveness from the victims’ relatives expressed for the man accused of the killings – tender, true-hearted statements that reflect their pain yet strive to overcome the hate one could reasonably expect them to harbor for this senseless act.
And so it goes.
The late Guyanese-born Prof. Fred Case has noted that Trinidad and Tobago’s Dr. Eric Williams’ Capitalism and Slavery says, “Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”
Case said in their moral guilt concerning the inhumanity of the slave trade, those responsible found comfort in theories of racial superiority. “The cognitive structures that determine notions of superiority and inferiority are supported by a belief in cultural exclusivity that reduces the Native Peoples and Africans to easily identifiable objects,” Case suggested.
In Charleston, it was a typical Bible study and prayer meeting night as the church visitor asked for pastor Clementa Pinckney, a state senator. Dylann Roof is charged with nine counts of homicide and possession of a firearm during commission of a violent crime.
Yale Black Law Students Association wants prosecution of Roof for crimes of hatred and prejudice because “South Carolina cannot do what justice requires.” Across the U.S., there is a call for a broader conservation about racism and discrimination. Hate crime prosecutions signify we have a duty to the historically oppressed.
And so it goes.
As a state senator, Pinckney proposed gun-control legislation and pushed South Carolina to pass a law requiring police body cameras. Mandatory body cameras became law one week before Pinckney’s death.
Among those lost was Susie Jackson, 87, oldest victim in the Wednesday shooting. A child of the civil-rights movement, she witnessed South Carolina’s historic role in American race relations, up to and including the day of her death at a church that was home to a slave revolt, before being burned down by white supremacists and later visited by Martin Luther King Jr. Among the others were a poet and a librarian.
And so it goes.
“I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our county. And you have to go,” the shooter is reported to have said.
Now, South Caroline is torn by a debate about whether to remove the Confederate flag that flies at the state capital. The state governor has said the flag should go while others defend its official use. The flag is seen as a symbol of white supremacy’s brutal, centuries-long campaign of violence and terrorism.
“Based on Dylann Roof’s Facebook page he appeared to be a disaffected white supremacist,” said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Among other posts by Charleston residents on the shooting: “The real issue is race.” Police called it a race crime.
A National Rifle Association (NRA) member, however, blamed the pastor for the Charleston deaths. (Lord, have mercy). “Something else to consider: The pastor of this church, who was killed, is a state legislator in South Carolina,” he wrote. “And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church, are dead.”
On Fox News, one commentator suggested that “pastors must start carrying guns.”
Tithes and offering? Check. Bible? Check. Hand gun? Check. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.
And so it goes. But other voices are being heard.
Dr. Mark L. Williams, executive leader of The Church of God, a 129-year-old Pentecostal denomination with more that 15 million adherents worldwide, including 1.2 million members in the U.S., issued a statement: “We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as they mourn their loss and we stand firmly with all Americans who oppose racial animosity and violence.”
The Church of God was among the first church movements in America to declare its support for integrated congregations, yet there are still Black and white churches in many places in America where it’s said that the country is largely integrated except on Sundays.
And so it goes.