Last night, a peaceful Bible study group was shattered by an act of senseless gun violence in Charleston, S.C. It is with profound grief, sadness and tears that Church World Service reacts to the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, an historic congregation of the CWS member African Methodist Episcopal Church. The nine lives lost are a stain on a political system that refuses to confront and address the rampant gun violence currently plaguing the United States.
The importance of Mother Emanuel cannot be overstated and the sacrilege of a hate crime happening in her sanctuary must not stand. Mother Emanuel AME is the oldest African-American church in the South, hosted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1962, was a center for organizing during the Civil Rights movement and continues its prophetic witness to social justice today. This church has been a force for positive change since it was founded and proudly continued this legacy under the leadership of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator, was one of the nine precious children of God who lost their lives last night. When elected, he was the youngest African-American legislator in South Carolina history. He is being remembered today as the “moral conscience of the General Assembly” of South Carolina by fellow State Sen. Marlon Kimpson. As CWS, we knew him as an advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees.
That such a voice has been lost to the epidemic of gun violence is a travesty.
Moving forward we must claim the spirit of Denmark Vesey, one of the early freedom fighters who worshipped at Mother Emanuel AME Church in the early 1800’s. As a free black man he refused to turn a blind eye to the injustice of slavery and was passionate in confronting this seemingly intractable system. His kind of courage and fortitude will be needed as we dry our weeping eyes and, over the weeks and months ahead, confront the powerful forces who are arrayed to ensure that no sensible legislation is ever passed to address this issue.
Make no mistake about it: gun violence is a pox on this nation. As President Obama stated in his remarks, in no other highly developed nation does this kind of gun violence happen with such frequency. Mother Emanuel AME now shares the sad story of so many others. It is up to us to organize and recommit ourselves to ending this kind of gun violence and racial hate crimes. Enough is enough!
The Rev. Dr. EARL TRENT, JR., Senior Pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., the fourth pastor at this 103-year-old historic church. Dr. Trent is Chair of the CWS Board of Directors.