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The Emanuel AME shooting requires prayers, not politics

Written By | Jun 19, 2015

LOS ANGELES, June 19, 2015 — The mass shooting at Emanuel African-Methodist-Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is horrendous news to wake up to. The response was fast and filled with pain.

What happened at Emanuel was the worst kind of evil. And prayers, not politics, are needed.

Some politicians and people in the media think that evil is a passé concept, that the world’s ills can be eliminated with more dialogue and understanding. They would rather blame inadequate laws or insanity than acknowledge that evil exists or that people decide to do evil deeds.

They are unable to accept that you can legislate all you like—when people are committed to evil, evil acts will be committed.

It was the deadliest attack on a place of worship in the United States in 24 years, and the evil act of a 21-year-old white male from Eastover, S.C., killed nine good people:

  • the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the senior pastor and a South Carolina state senator
  • Depayne Middleton Doctor
  • Ethel Lance
  • Susie Jackson
  • Cynthia Hurd
  • Tywanza Sanders
  • Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
  • Myra Thompson
  • the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.

The massacre is being treated as a hate crime by both the South Carolina authorities and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The shooter could not have chosen a more resilient, God-fearing place than Emanuel AME for his heinous acts. Nicknamed “Mother Emanuel,” the church is 197 years old; it has a history of activism going back to the days of slavery. It was formed by free blacks and slaves and is one of the oldest African-American Episcopal churches in the southeastern United States.

In the late 1820s the church was burned to the ground after a planned slave revolt went awry. In 1834, when all-black churches were outlawed, the congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshiping underground until 1865, when it was formally reorganized and adopted the name Emanuel, which means “God with us.”

In 1872, a wooden two-story church was built on the present site on Calhoun Street in downtown Charleston, but was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1886. The present Gothic Revival structure was completed in 1891 and restored and re-stuccoed between 1949 and 1951.

That is a powerful history and evidence that this church can rise from disaster. And it will rise, despite the impact of a sudden and violent loss.  This type of blow is incalculable, and the victims’ families need to be enveloped with love and prayers and be given practical assistance during their time of grief.

Practical assistance does not include political grandstanding.

Politicians need to say nothing or should limit their comments to expressions of support, not agendas. People are reeling from their loss, and this is not the time for the president and presidential candidates to mount a soapbox.

It is in poor taste and is uncalled for.

South Carolina Sen. and 2016 presidential candidate Lindsey Graham was the first to step in it. Graham was previously scheduled to be on TV’s “The View,” and since he is from the state, the host led with a question about the shooting.

What was Graham’s take? The shooter was crazy, and this was a result of religious persecution: “But it’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.” Graham added, “this is a mean time we live in.”

The Post and Courier reported that one woman was left alive so that she could tell everyone else what had happened there. That argues against insanity; this young man was coldly deliberate.

In contrast to Graham, Tim Scott, the state’s junior senator and the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate from the south since Reconstruction, avoided inflammatory conclusions. He said in a statement that he will be leaving Washington to return home to South Carolina as soon as possible, and tweeted this remark:

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 1.36.00 AM

As a black man and a professed Christian, Scott could have a lot to say about the motives and agenda of the shooter, but he wisely focused on the senselessness of the tragedy and expressed his empathy for the families, members of Mother Emanuel AME and the city of Charleston.

He later tweeted:

  • As reports come to light that a suspect is held in custody, I hope for swift justice for Pastor Pinckney’s congregation&the people of CHS

  • Today’s prayer circle at Morris Brown AME will help our community begin to come to terms with what has happened & start the healing process.

  • We can and will work every single day to replace hate with love, pain with kindness, and hostility with good will.
    12:55 PM – 18 Jun 2015

President Obama would do well to follow Scott’s lead. After the saga with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge police, questionable remarks after the Trayvon Martin shooting and his grandstanding over Sandy Hook, the president should err on the side of common sense and good taste.

But when Obama leads with the words, “we don’t have all the facts,” and “let’s be clear,” you know it’s going to be bad.

We don’t have all the facts, but we know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing; but let’s be clear: 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. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say this recognizing that the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it.

This statement is insensitive and inaccurate. While the U.S. has had its share of horrific mass killings, a New York Daily News article, “Timeline of the worst mass shooting incidents across the globe over the past two decades,” shows that Norway, Britain, Germany, Finland, Australia and France have all suffered at the hands of mass murderers. France, where last year terrorists killed the staff of Charlie Hebdo, has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.

After making his statement, the president hopped on to Air Force One on his way to California to do more fundraising. No doubt he’ll repeat his gun-control message to the limousine liberals who will attend.

Obama once again missed an opportunity to show solidarity with the black community and the Christian community.

Gov. Nikki Haley broke down in tears during her statement: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Instead of words of condolence, Obama took the opportunity to tell gun-loving Americans that they are to blame; the lack of gun control is the cause of such tragedies.

Another agenda-driven, wrong conclusion by someone who should know better.

Many of the 2016 presidential hopefuls stayed silent or offered thoughts and prayers, not risking comments that would stick out like a sore thumb.

As the Book of Proverbs encourages,

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Dr. Ben Carson was more detailed in his statement and managed not only set the right tone, but also to pinpoint a causation that people, particularly politicians, like to avoid.

The tragic shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday are a manifestation of the evil that has gripped our society. Many of us have allowed the purveyors of hatred and division to create conflict between the races, the genders, religious groups, age groups and income groups. The Bible says that a house divided against itself cannot stand. With external jihadist forces trying to destroy us, why would we aid them by engaging in self-destructive behaviors stimulated by hate? What do you think?

I join with millions of Americans in praying for comfort for the families who lost loved ones in that tragedy. Someone close to me lost relatives last night in that tragedy. We all lose when senseless tragedies like this remove vibrant lives from our midst. May God give us the ability to rise above hatred and join hands and recognize that our strength is in our unity and love heals all wounds.”

The killer will face justice, and we can only hope it is swift and decisive. His motives and evil designs will be revealed soon enough; there is no need for ideologues to stir up a hornet’s nest that only deepens confusion and causes more destruction. Has anyone noticed that the more we foment anger and agendas, the less progress we make?

We don’t need any more racially charged, destructive protests. Al Sharpton should plan to stay home. Instead of marching, we need to get on our knees and pray, unify behind the people of Charleston to help turn this tragedy around and restore peace to a city and state that desperately need it.

Jennifer Oliver OConnell

Jennifer Oliver OConnell offers witty, insightful, and direct opinion, analysis and musings on local and national politics and popular culture, with occasional detours into reinvention, food, and Yoga. Jennifer also teaches Yoga, and coaches clients on careers and reinvention. You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website.