by Rev. Dr. Keith A. Ogden –
The tragic shooting of “The Emanuel 9” at “Mother Emanuel” AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has caused the African American church and community to recall and relive the painful memories of the past.
We sat in front of our televisions, or scanned through social media in horror, as we witnessed the aftermath of this senseless, ungodly, and unholy tragedy at a place of worship, where we come together to learn, to laugh, to love and to rejoice in the name of our Lord. Our church is a place where we shouldn’t have to worry about safety and security; a place where we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” Now, we must think of safety and security, even while we watch and pray.
It was very painful for me on that Friday, as I sat in the TD Arena at the College of Charleston as they brought the casket of the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney into the arena and I quietly watched his wife and two children process down the aisle. And as I sit quietly in my home or in my pastoral study at the church, I can imagine pastors in African American communities all across America, juggling tight church budgets and wrestling with the idea of proper protection and security for their parishioners as they teach and preach God’s word. We all must take precautionary measures with a sense of urgency and put policies and training in place to ensure that the welfare and safety of each member or visitor is a priority.
This is nothing new: there have always been racist and hateful attacks on the black church. Both the 16th Street Church bombing in Alabama in 1963 and this recent massacre were deliberate attacks on the black church and the black community, attacks on African American lives.
And Mother Emanuel has known its share of pain. In 1822, one of the church’s founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to provoke a slave rebellion in Charleston. Authorities foiled the plot, and 35 people were executed, including Vesey. Later in its history, Emmanuel A.M.E. Church was burned to the ground for its attempt to end slavery, and for thirty years the congregation was forced to worship underground.
It’s especially sad that we must still have this conversation in 2015. The place of worship has traditionally been a sanctuary, where black people have been able to retreat and find refuge from racist practices and oppression. But with the recent spate of church burnings, as with the massacre in Charleston, a message is being sent: “You are not safe in a place that you call home.”
The church of the living God cannot and will not close its doors because of racial hatred. In this day and time, we all need to be aware of security, but we must also be careful not to overreact. We can’t let the demented actions of one man change our faith or our trust in the church and in our God.
Yet we must be conscientious about who enters our churches, and not hesitate to call authorities if anyone sees anything suspicious or out of place. I would rather someone call the authorities and be wrong—than not call and be right, with tragic results.
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, when He said, “Upon this rock, I build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.” And so, at Hill Street Baptist Church, we will keep doing what we have been doing, “Loving God, Loving our Enemies, Loving All People, Sharing Jesus, and Making Disciples.”