Mother Emanuel — What Can We Say?

A Brutal Interruption

Thursday should have been Pope Francis’ day in the headlines with the release of his encyclical on the environment.   But the Pope was interrupted by the brutal reality of death in the oldest black church in the South, affectionately known in Charleston as “Mother Emanuel.”

Our daughter, whose husband’s roots in the Low Country go back to the 1700’s, said that it felt like 9/11 in Charleston.  Everyone was in shock, not really wanting to watch the painful news coverage but unable to tear themselves away.

What Can We Say? 

Days like these always remind me of Shakespeare’s closing words in his most painful tragedy, “King Lear,”

The weight of this sad time we must obey.
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

Everyone says what they ought to say — words of sadness, pain, shock, sympathy.  Everyone says we should pray for Charleston.  Perhaps if we spent more time praying before these tragedies happen, they would not happen with such stunning regularity.

But if we speak what we feel, words of sympathy and prayer are not enough. My friend, Donna Claycomb Sokol, is the pastor at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist in the heart of Washington.  She wrote:

“My emotions keep switching between being heartbroken and angry. Who in the hell purchases a gun for their child who is prone to wear clothing with apartheid South Africa flags attached? How is it that the President offered one of the most prophetic words I’ve heard spoken today when he pointed out how we keep allowing massacres to happen? When will the madness stop? If anything could ever cause me to run for Congress it would be to play a role in enacting tougher gun laws in this nation. I HATE GUNS! And please, dear church, please name racism as a sin – a horrible sickness of our heart as individuals and as a nation…How long, God? How long?”

Donna spoke two words we need to say whether we want to or not: “guns” and “racism.”

It Is About Guns 

President Obama spoke what he felt when he said, “I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise. I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.” He named the truth that “innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”    

Acknowledging the political realities in Washington that make reasonable gun control seem like an unreachable goal, he went on to offer this challenge:  “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries…with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.”  

That’s not a popular thing to say when Congress is something like a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NRA.  NRA board member, Charles Cotton, had the shocking audacity to blame the massacre on pastor and SC Senator Clementa Pinckney because he supported tougher gun regulations and opposed a bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed guns in churches. Cotton said, “Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead.”

The Fox News contortionists trotted out E. W. Jackson, a black pastor and failed political candidate, who said that pastors have an obligation to carry guns in order to protect their congregations. You can count me out on that one!

How long, O Lord, will we continue to endure a gun-addicted culture which refuses to acknowledge the need for reasonable gun control?  When will followers of Jesus take Jesus seriously in his call to the way of non-violence?

It Is About Racism

Again, the Fox News propagandists and some of the political candidates tried to define this tragedy as an attack on Christians and on religious liberty, but it just won’t wash.

There’s a reason the shooter chose to kill black people in one of the most historically significant black churches in America, and it wasn’t because they were reading the bible or praying. Who knows?  He might have even chosen the date because of the importance of Juneteenth as the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the end of slavery in America. What we know is that he is a young man who has been infected with the cancer of white supremacy which is still very much alive among us.

The President again spoke the truth. “This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”  The sad though often unspoken truth is that the subtle cancer of racism continues to infect our lives, relationships, politics and even our religion.

But the President also offered a word of hope when he said, “I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.”  

He quoted Dr. King’s words in the aftermath of the murder of four little girls in a black church in Birmingham more than fifty years ago.

“They say to each of us,black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.”

Dr. King promised that “God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”

So, the Pope’s encyclical will have to wait.  In this moment we need to absorb the pain, acknowledge the evil, and recommit ourselves to be the agents of God’s love, grace, justice and peace in this world.  May it be so, Lord.  Amen.

Grace and peace,

Jim

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19 thoughts on “Mother Emanuel — What Can We Say?

  1. You write and say what I feel so deep within. Thank you for knowing how to use words so well. Love Judy

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. This nails my sadness & anger re what happened in Charleston, including how it trumped (what an awful coincidence that word now is) Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. I went to a Prayer Service last night at the AME-Z church (no AME in my hometown of Little Washington, NC) at which 3 of my UM colleagues participated along with the white mayor and 6 African-American pastors, and not one named gun violence or easy access to guns in their comments/prayers, and we sang only one hymn, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” Having worked on the UMH 1989 & taught worship several times for both DDS and the Summer COS, and having been involved with Church & Society in the NCCUMC and GBCS, this drove me nuts. We have a dearth of pastoral leaders who can connect the dots between the Bible, Wesleyan Christianity, and the Contemporary Situation (my old homiletics teacher & Dean of Duke Chapel, Jim Cleland, always stressed tying the text and the times together in our sermons), and that is about to drive me into the arms of a denomination that produces preachers who can, even if they’re Lutheran or Episcopalian. How long, O Lord, before our beloved denomination recovers its willingness to take seriously again the call “to spread scriptural holiness across the land.” And thank God for you and some others, good friend, who do this magnificently, including our mutual friends Hope Morgan Ward & Ken Carter. Blessings on you for this summer, and keep the columns coming.

    Charles

    On Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 8:23 AM, Jim Harnish wrote:

    > jimharnish posted: “A Brutal Interruption Thursday should have > been Pope Francis’ day in the headlines with the release of his > encyclical on the environment. But the Pope was interrupted by the brutal > reality of death in the oldest black church in the South, affectionat” Respond > to this post by replying above this line > New post on *Jim Harnish* > Mother Emanuel — What Can > We Say? by > jimharnish > > *A Brutal Interruption* > > Thursday should have been Pope Francis’ day in the headlines with the > release of his encyclical on the environment. But the Pope was > interrupted by the brutal reality of death in the oldest black church in > the South, affectionately known in Charleston as “Mother Emanuel.” > > Our daughter, whose husband’s roots in the Low Country go back to the > 1700’s, said that it felt like 9/11 in Charleston. Everyone was in shock, > not really wanting to watch the painful news coverage but unable to tear > themselves away. > > *What Can We Say? * > > Days like these always remind me of Shakespeare’s closing words in > his most painful tragedy, “King Lear,” > The weight of this sad time we must obey. > Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. > > Everyone says what they ought to say — words of sadness, pain, shock, > sympathy. Everyone says we should pray for Charleston. Perhaps if we > spent more time praying before these tragedies happen, they would not > happen with such stunning regularity. > But if we speak what we feel, words of sympathy and prayer are not enough. > My friend, Donna Claycomb Sokol, is the pastor at Mt. Vernon Place United > Methodist

    • I can and do make those connections. Sadly, the church has told me this is unwelcome and I will not be re-appointed. Too much preaching “politics.” As an act of eccliastical disobedience, I am doing it anyway. July 1st I begin looking for a denomination that embraces what God is asking from us rather than the status quo. Jesus weeps still.

  3. Amen Jim. But who of our political candidates will “own” these issues. Who will lead and who will wrestle this to the ground. Thanks for YOUR leadership. Barbara

    *From:* Jim Harnish [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] *Sent:* Friday, June 19, 2015 8:24 AM *To:* barbara@eventmakers-fl.com *Subject:* [New post] Mother Emanuel — What Can We Say?

    jimharnish posted: “A Brutal Interruption Thursday should have been Pope Francis’ day in the headlines with the release of his encyclical on the environment. But the Pope was interrupted by the brutal reality of death in the oldest black church in the South, affectionat”

    Respond to this post by replying above this line

    New post on *Jim Harnish*

    *Mother Emanuel — What Can We Say?*

    by *jimharnish*

    *A Brutal Interruption*

    Thursday should have been Pope Francis’ day in the headlines with the release of his encyclical on the environment. But the Pope was interrupted by the brutal reality of death in the oldest black church in the South, affectionately known in Charleston as “Mother Emanuel.”

    Our daughter, whose husband’s roots in the Low Country go back to the 1700’s, said that it felt like 9/11 in Charleston. Everyone was in shock, not really wanting to watch the painful news coverage but unable to tear themselves away.

    *What Can We Say? *

    Days like these always remind me of Shakespeare’s closing words in his most painful tragedy, “King Lear,”

    The weight of this sad time we must obey.

    Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

    Everyone says what they ought to say — words of sadness, pain, shock, sympathy. Everyone says we should pray for Charleston. Perhaps if we spent more time praying before these tragedies happen, they would not happen with such stunning regularity.

    But if we speak what we feel, words of sympathy and prayer are not enough. My friend, Donna Claycomb Sokol, is the pastor at Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist

  4. Jim, I think you spoke so well of the current condition of much of America. The gun lobby continues to say, “guns don’t kill people, people do. If a gun is sitting on the counter, it will not kill anyone.” Well, a bomb sitting on a counter won’t kill anyone either unless a human makes explode.” There is a song from South Pacific that says, “they must be carefully taught” speaking of teaching children to hate. What we need is for them to carefully taught to love!!

    I really appreciate your writings and am so glad I get to read them. Thank you for speaking the truth!

  5. I believe responsible gun ownership & safety are achievable, but racism will always exist, even among Christians as well as other faiths. There seems to be a human condition of fear of others who are different from ourselves, which is passed down through generations, just like some cancers.

  6. Pope Francis can still have his day in the headlines. Leading on the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel is exactly what the Pope should be doing not messing around with these partisan political issues. When evil confronts us, like it just did, our religious leadership should rise up and confront it. My pope seems to be a bit confused about his role as a religious leader and that of a politician.

  7. Jim,
    thanks for your posts and especially the sobering warning of what happened in SC.
    I plan to visit the pastor of the local AME Church and offer my encouragement and any support he needs. Maybe this should be a step forward for all of us.
    One note of the quote from the pastor of the Mt. Vernon Church. We all heard the news of the father buying the hand gun for the shooter. Now we learn that he did not buy the gun for his son. Often news reports come too quickly without all the facts. I offer this as a heads up for any future response.
    Thank you again for your insights along the way. Trust your retirement is going well there in sunny(hot) Florida!
    Russell Williams
    Colorado Springs

  8. Thank you for this piece, Jim. It is all connected. We murder each other, we murder the planet and we worship the idols that make us feel both legitimate in that violation and facilitate our carrying out these crimes against God and ourselves. Even in a world view devoid of the Divine it should be obvious that we are murdering ourselves in the process. In my world view, in a Creation imbued with the Divine, we pursue and permit evil, spitting in God’s face and plunging a spear into His side as surely as those who nailed His hands to a cross. This is the true curse of Cain, the scar in our nature we carry to this day. Only Grace – and a whole lot of Grace-ful activism – will ever heal it away.

  9. Well-stated, Jim. When it comes to guns, one of the things that constantly surprises me is how well the gun and entertainment industry have convinced the American people that “packing heat” is the ultimate in personal protection. In my 70+ years, I can think of many people that I knew personally that were hurt or killed by their own gun. Yet I cannot think of one person I know, who successfully used a gun to defend themselves. I can state categorically, no one that I know will ever be killed or hurt by my gun because I do not own a gun. You can call me pro-dog.

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