In the last two days, I’ve been praying and processing, reading, thinking, and talking about the murders this week at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I am shocked to the core, grieving, reeling with the news, and all the feelings I have in response. We have all been hearing powerful responses from people all over our country. When I find them, I have been posting them on the St. Paul Facebook page, and my page. One of responses that I come back to again and again, in particular, is by Pastor Kenneth Wheeler, an African-American ELCA colleague. Pastor Wheeler calls on white colleagues to speak up, speak out about the evil of white racism. And many have been. Here, I want to post some responses I found helpful from church leaders. The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church have responded with a statement I will post here, and below it are two more responses, one from ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and another from our New England Synod Bishop Jim Hazelwood.
THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS COUNCIL STATEMENT CONCERNING EMANUEL AME CHURCH IN CHARLESTON, SC:
June 18, 2015
The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church joins with our components and worldwide membership in expressing our grief and sympathy on the senseless and tragic attack which took the lives of The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor, and eight other congregants of Mother Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina. Mother Emanuel is the oldest black church in the south and one of the most historic churches in the nation. The senseless and evil action which took the lives of those who gathered at Mother Emanuel to study and pray is indicative of a major crisis facing our nation and its people. While we are pleased that Dylann Storm Roof, the assailant and alleged murderer has been arrested, we do not believe this matter has been concluded.
First, we join in grief with Mother Emanuel Church in the loss of her pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lance, members of that church family. We also grieve with the State of South Carolina, which also lost an outstanding state senator and leader in the person of the Rev. Pinckney. Second, we pray and ask for the God of love, mercy and grace to comfort; restore and give peace to family members and of all of us who have been shaken and saddened by this tragedy. May our faith be strengthened and our hope restored.
Finally, we call upon the nation’s political leadership, faith institutions and other organizations in this country to face the reality that race remains a problem in this nation. “The arrest of Dylann Storm Roof, the assailant and alleged murderer does not end this matter. In fact this matter makes even clearer that race is a major problem in our nation that must be dealt with,” said Bishop Julius McAllister, President of the Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “The nation can no longer live in denial and act as if it does not exist. Every week there is some incident, which involves the negative consequences of race,” he added. “The AME Church will join with other faith communities to stress the need for the United States to face, discuss and meet head-on the problem of race in this country,” said Bishop John R. Bryant, Senior Bishop of the AME Church.
“African Methodists in South Carolina are strong and faithful, we will not shy away or lessen our commitment to equality and social justice,” said Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, Presiding Bishop of South Carolina. “This will make us stronger and more determined to advance God’s kingdom on earth. This tragedy will not weaken, but strengthen us. African Methodism will become stronger because of this tragedy,” he said.
The problem of race has not decreased but increased over the last several years. Listen to what has been said, “We want our country back.” The question is from whom? Mr. Roof stated that he had to kill blacks because of what blacks are doing to “his country.”
The recent Charleston, South Carolina tragedy; the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in Staten Island; Akil Gurly in New York; Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio; and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, our nation’s president has been called “a monkey,” disrespected and had his citizenship questioned, are all indicative of a systemic race problem.
In September the African Methodist Episcopal Church will be joining with our sister communions and other partners to constrain this nation to address the issue of race in this nation. Details will be announced next month.
The Council of Bishops calls on all of our churches, and other communions and congregations to join together this week, and in particular this weekend wherever we worship to pray for those who lost their lives, their families, Mother Emanuel Church, and our nation.
Contribution to assist with the burial and expenses related to those who lost their lives can be sent to:
“Mother Emanuel Hope Fund”
C/o City of Charleston
P. O. Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402
For further information contact Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, Bishop of Urban and Ecumenical Affairs and Chair of the Social Action Commission of the AME Church at Reginald.email@example.com.
Bishops of the AME Church:
Julius McAllister, President, Council of Bishops David R. Daniels Jr.
John R. Bryant, Senior Bishop Samuel L. Green Sr.
John F. White, Secretary, Council of Bishops Jeffrey N. Leath
Clement W. Fugh, Ass’t Sec. Council of Bishops Reginald T. Jackson
McKinley Young E. Earl McCloud Jr.
William P. DeVeaux Sr. John H. Adams
T. Larry Kirkland Frederick H. Talbot
Adam J. Richardson Jr. Frederick C. James
Richard F. Norris Frank C. Cummings
Vashti M. McKenzie Philip R. Cousin Sr.
Gregory G. M. Ingram Henry A. Belin Jr.
Preston W. Williams II Robert V. Webster
Wilfred J. Messiah Zedekiah L. Grady
Paul J. M. Kawimbe C. Garnett Henning Sr.
James L. Davis Carolyn Tyler Guidry
From ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.
Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev.Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel.
The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.
We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?
The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.
I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 West Higgins RoadChicago, Illinois 60631-4101773-380-2700800-638-3522ELCA.orgLivingLutheran.com
And from New England Synod Bishop Hazelwood
Our hearts are breaking today as we take in the news of another mass shooting. Today’s crime, apparently motivated by racial hatred, has taken the lives of nine innocent victims while they were gathered in prayer and Bible study. Among those victims is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, pastor of the church and close friend of several ELCA bishops and pastors, as well as our Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in South Carolina. Pastor Pinckney was a graduate of that seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., who is also among the victims.
I have joined with other religious leaders in the state of Rhode Island in issuing the following statement:
We reach out in loving concern to the people of Charleston, South Carolina, and especially the members and friends of the individuals who were slain while attending a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night. We not only honor the life of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who lost his life shepherding his flock, but we also honor those who were gathered in prayer and reflection. Houses of worship must be safe havens for all who are in distress and seeking God. When any sacred space is violated, all faith communities are diminished.
Churches and synagogues and temples across this country are responding with various forms of worship, prayer, church bells or moments of silence. I ask that all of our congregations consider setting aside a moment of silence this weekend in worship, in order to honor and remember those who have died in this tragedy, as well as those grieving the loss of loved ones. In this long year of racially related tragedies, I am mindful that the work of racial reconciliation, the prophetic call of justice and the task of being the people of God is before us, perhaps in ways we have not seen in years.
As I reflect on my years in the ministry, I realize that I never feared for my safety while conducting a Bible study or leading worship. I suspect for many of you reading this email, that is true as well. We do live in two societies, and among our many challenges is the task to be faithful people of deep reflection, honest assessment and seekers of reconciliation that is possible in Christ.
– Bishop James Hazelwood