One thing that being six hours away from my usual time zone has done is disrupt my accustomed television news watching habits, so I have not seen as much coverage of the horrific mass murder at Mother Emanuel Church as I would have, but I feel compelled to offer some thoughts about it.
First, I continue to send my thoughts and prayers out for the loved ones of those who were killed and for Mother Emanuel. Their prayerful response in the face of such unspeakable loss has been amazing. I also love that other faith communities and the people of Charleston have been so supportive and have encircled them with love and assistance.
I was heartened to see so many stories about the lives of the wonderful people who were killed. Those who attend weekday services or study groups tend to be the core of the faith community, as you see exemplified here – ministers, long-time volunteers and staff, multi-generational church families. In hearing the stories of the nine lives lost, my mind goes to the members at the heart of faith communities that I have known. The loss to Mother Emanuel is profound, yet they act with profound grace.
I have also appreciated seeing so much about the history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest AME church in the south which has already overcome numerous horrors inflicted on it by racism.
One point of controversy in the media seems to be what to call the shootings. Mass murder – definitely. It also is clear that the gunman was motivated by racism against African-Americans. In most states, it would be classified as a hate crime, but South Carolina has no such category in their statutes. I think a case can also be made for calling it domestic terrorism, as it was designed to make black people fearful for their safety. Some people seem to think that this should be named as only one thing, but I don’t have a problem with calling it a mass murder, a racist hate crime, and domestic terrorism. All those labels seem to fit.
The label that does not fit is anti-Christian. The gunman did not kill these people at a Bible study because they were Christian, only because they were black. He traveled by many other Christian churches to get to Mother Emanuel. Because it is a storied black congregation, which, due to its long history of standing for justice, is accustomed to welcoming those of all races and nationalities, he was welcomed to participate in the service and Bible study. Reportedly, their exemplary Christian behavior almost convinced the young man to spare their lives; that he did still follow through on his plan to kill them makes the crime even more incomprehensible to me.
The other point of controversy is the Confederate battle flag which flies on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol where Rev. Pinckney, who was also a state senator, lay in state. While there will be a vote to remove it permanently, the legislature did not have time to vote on Governor Haley’s proposal to remove it before his coffin was brought to the statehouse. There has, however, been a great deal of movement against selling and displaying the Confederate battle flag in the last week with several major retailers removing the flag and apparel featuring it from their stores and websites. The flag has been used to intimidate black Americans for decades and I hope that it will now finally fade from view.
I wish I could say that this mass murder would finally spur the US Congress to enact better gun control laws in the United States, but they have failed to act after so many others that I doubt this additional massacre will motivate them. No other developed country is so dangerous – or so heavily armed. Those two things go together.