Last night a 21 year old man entered a historic African American church, Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC and said that he intended to shoot black people. And he did. Six women and three men were killed. The only name released thus far is that of the pastor, The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, also a state senator, and incidentally, a graduate of a Lutheran seminary.
Mother Emanuel is no stranger to hatred. The church was formed as a result of discrimination against black members in a largely white congregation. Denmark Vesey, a freed slave and member of the church, plotted a slave rebellion in 1822 which led to his secret trial and execution and subsequent burning of the church by white supremacists.
In a 2013 speech about the church, Rev. Pinckney said, “…And that is what church is all about: freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that.”[i]
We often speak of the church building as a place of sanctuary, a place of peace, a place of rest. It is all those things at times…but also at times it needs to be a place of noise, a place of struggle, a place of unrest.
As we pray for peace, may we not rest until there is also an end to individual and systemic racism. We owe that to those who died at Mother Emanuel whose name proclaims, “God with us.”