The suspect in the shooting that killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, reportedly confessed to the horrific act and, in doing so, told police he wanted to start a race war.
Instead, as shown by the outpouring of forgiveness from family members of those gunned down during a Bible study Wednesday night at the historic church and at gatherings such as a prayer vigil held Sunday afternoon at Bethel AME Church in Hinesville, it appears the immediate response is unity and forgiveness, not division and strife.
After an opening song and message, the Bethel prayer vigil started with a solemn reading of the names of all nine who were slain in Charleston:
- The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, Emanuel AME Church senior pastor and South Carolina state senator
- Cynthia Hurd, 54, employee of Charleston County Public Library for 31 years
- The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, an Emanuel pastor
- Tywanza Sanders, 26, business administration graduate from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina
- Ethel Lance, 70, longtime Emanuel member and former custodian of Charleston’s Gaillard Municipal Auditorium
- Susie Jackson, 87, Lance’s cousin, longtime church member
- Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, sang in Emanuel’s choir
- The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74, previously pastor of another Charleston-area church
- Myra Thompson, 59, wife of the Rev. Anthony Thompson, the vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston
Then a litany written by Bishop Adam J. Richardson of the 11th Episcopal District was read, called “The Doors of the Church Are Still Open.”
Several community leaders attended, including Donald Lovette, the chairman of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners; Liberty County NAACP President Graylan Quarterman; Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes; and Pastor Richard Hayes, the president of the United Ministerial Alliance of Liberty County.
Lovette said in part, “There is no excuse not to make our stand against evil and wrongdoing known right now.”
“The last few days have demonstrated that tragedy unites America,” he said. “I’m inclined to believe, however, that if we demonstrate that unity in every walk of life — on our jobs, in our schools, wherever we go — if we can show that same unity, perhaps we wouldn’t be here this evening because of tragedy.”
Quarterman said that while the community mourns for Charleston, people are “more hurt than mourning.”
“When folks mourn, not a whole lot changes,” he said. “When people are hurt, things change because they are moved to action.”
Quarterman thanked Hayes for reminding the more than 120 people gathered at Bethel AME Church that the occasion was for prayer. But the NAACP president added that the Bible says that “prayer without work,” and several audience members quickly responded, “is dead.”
He said he was at the service Sunday “to petition a call for inclusion, and not exclusion.”
He said people have been afraid to talk about race, politics and religion. The local NAACP, he said, will soon host a community mass meeting to allow people to have a candid conversation about those uncomfortable topics.
The Rev. Herman Scott, pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church, gave the closing remarks. He touched on several points, including that it’s OK to recognize differences among people of different races, but to still come together in unity despite those differences; that black congregations must continue to forgive even though they are targeted; and that churches must increase their security to prevent a repeat occurrence of what happened in Charleston.
“As a black preacher, to say to us, ‘We’ve got to forgive those who keep hitting us,’” he said. “We’ve got to forgive. We’ve got to encourage our congregations to forgive.”
Scott also referred to a security consulting program that churches can access for free. He encouraged all pastors to make their churches more secure while still keeping the doors open to all who wish to worship.
“Pastors, when you go back to your churches, do something different. Sit somebody where they can see what’s going on,” he said. “… What doors can you close? We used to open up all the doors, but you better look at that back door. Close it. You don’t know who’s coming in. Lock it.”