7 August 2015
Chautauqua Institution, New York
I was there when we remembered the nine members of the Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church killed by a stranger they had welcomed in the name of Christ. One by one an image of each precious child of God appeared on the screen and we were invited to call their names.
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd. Say her name.
Susie Jackson. Say her name.
Ethel Lee Lance. Say her name.
The Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor. Say his name.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Say his name.
Tywanza Sanders. Say her name.
The Rev. Daniel Simmons. Say his name.
The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Say her name.
Myra Thompson. Say her name.
I was there in the tender silence after the names had been read. A tender silence that lasted only a moment I saw someone, a white man, stand. I heard him say something loudly. I did not know who, I was too far away. I did not hear precisely what he said, I attribute that to poor acoustics and my ears being older than I am often willing to admit. I saw and heard but did not know who this was and what this intrusion was.
Now, thanks to the Rev. T. Denise Anderson, I know. She heard. She saw. And in a powerful reflection, she names the speaker and what was said. And I am appalled at what happened. And I am appalled I made no effort to learn what happened and respond.
A long-time social justice activist, Ed Loring, stood and called the name of the person who opened fire upon those who welcomed him into Mother Emmanuel on June 17, 2015. As the Rev. Anderson notes, I have no idea what point he may have been trying to make. That does not matter.
This was a moment to grieve and remember the people who died. Nothing less. And nothing more. It was completely inappropriate and offensive to name anyone else; it was certainly not the moment, not the place to name someone who targeted the people because of the color of their skin. There can be no defense for the outburst.
Perhaps in another setting, where the context was set differently, it might have been appropriate to include this name. Perhaps. People who commit mass murder are sometimes motivated by a desire for publicity; remembering their names feeds that desire. And while individuals are responsible for their actions, the shooting at Mother Emmanuel was fueled by an ideology of white supremacy that has been insufficiently challenged by those, like me, who benefit the most. Hold the person accountable to be sure. But hold the system accountable. And hold those of us who have allowed the system to remain accountable. With that contextual understanding and interpretation, it might be appropriate to include this name. It might.
But in this worship space, where we remembered and named those who died, this act, rooted in privilege, was an affront. In this sacred moment, where we remembered and named those who died, these words, rooted in privilege, were wrong.
I was there. I heard someone, I heard something. And I failed to do anything more. And that reminds me, as the Rev. Anderson writes, “The work surely ain’t done. Surely, it ain’t.”
It surely ain’t. In our society, in our church, the work ain’t done.
In me, the work ain’t done.
God grant me grace to join the work more fully and effectively.
See you along the Trail.