(photo from the website of Emanuel AME Church)
America is fast becoming a place of endless mourning, a sorrowful procession to graveyards that seems impossible to stop save for the predictable staccato of gunfire at regular intervals along the way of our unceasing habits of grief.
So much has been written already today about the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and yet, words fail. Rage rises and falls back. We have been standing, paralyzed, at this intersection of the American sins of racial hatred and gun violence for what feels like our entire national life. We recite the dreadful litany: Ferguson and Baltimore, Selma and Birmingham, Newtown and Aurora and Columbine, Trayvon and Michael and Tamir, the list feels endless. We know it will happen again. We keep acting surprised; we suffer willful amnesia. We tolerate all the wrong things — politicians bought out by the gun lobby, misinterpretations of the Second Amendment that allow extremists to build private armories, shameful displays of racial and ethnic hatred in too many places — and get obsessive about silly things. Rachel Dolezal does not deserve one more minute of media attention; we stuffed ourselves senseless on that creampuff while a young man in Charleston was arming himself for yet another horrifying act of murderous terrorism. How many more Dylann Roofs are out there? Plenty. What are we as a nation doing about the hatred that runs riot across the landscape for all to see? Not much. Only mourning. We’re getting so good at that. We know the rituals by heart — the candles and flowers at the scene, the devastated relatives and intrusive media cameras and news anchors solemnly intoning words about the “healing process.”
When will we have the guts to stop this madness?
The nine martyrs in Charleston were an extraordinarily accomplished and devoted group of people, well-educated leaders of the community and families, people of faith who knew well their power to change lives. The Reverend Clementa Pinckney was a true pillar of strength for his congregation and constituents. He gave a remarkable extemporaneous speech at Emmanuel Church in 2013 that related the civil rights history of the church, succinctly stated its mission today and prophetically anticipated the ultimate sacrifice the nine victims made yesterday for their devotion to justice and peace.
In that speech (click here to see it on Post TV) Reverend Pinckney said:
“…You can say that the African American Church, and particularly in South Carolina, really has seen as its responsibility and its ministry and its calling to be fully integrated with the lives of all of its constituents and its community.
“We don’t see ourselves as just a place to come and worship, but as a beacon, the bearer of the culture, bearer of what makes us a people.
“It’s not unique to us, it’s really what America is all about: Freedom. Equality. And the Pursuit of Happiness.
“That’s what Church is all about — Freedom to worship. Freedom from sin. Freedom to be fully what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God.
“And sometimes you gotta make noise to do that…
“And sometimes you gotta die to do that…
“Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that…”
Rest in peace, Reverend Pinckney. You and your fellow believers and bearers of the culture and advocates for justice are in our hearts; your deaths must haunt our souls until we find the courage and strength to confront the great evil that paralyzes us, suppresses rational responses in law and policy, and leaves the nation in a perpetual state of sorrow and mourning.