In the evening of June 17 2015, the devil walked into a church and killed nine people as they went about their business of bible study. As I read the news of the shooting deaths my mind started to bleed. I could not discuss or speak at length about the pain and sadness I was feeling so acutely. It was akin to someone reaching inside of my chest and stripping my heart out. It was an ache so intense, one I could not describe.
The victims ranged in age from 26-87 and were described as active members of Emanuele AME church one of the oldest African American churches in the South. Yes the victims were all black. They were sons, mothers, husbands, friends and grandmas. Their only crime according to the devil was being born in black skin. When the devil came to church, he came with a mission. The devil was a 21 year old white man alledgedly with a penchant for hating black skin. According to all accounts he entered the church and sat in bible study for an hour before standing to open fire and reloading 5 times. Now in my mind I can imagine the church members must have welcomed him with open arms. I wondered if they were suspicious of the young white man sitting amongst their ranks. I think of my own church of childhood, a southern black church in a tourist town. Had a stranger come to join bible study on a random evening there would have been suspicion, especially a white stranger. Of course he would have been welcomed in love and friendship as that is what true Christians do but the curiosity would have been present. I wondered if the devil opened his bible or if he made eye contact before he unloaded his weapon. While he sat for an hour, did he feel anything other than hatred for any of the victims? Some will talk about his mental state and argue his mental capability at the time of the crime. Others will say he was not insane as insane people don’t carry out a plan with such intricate details over months. Many will be angry. All of us will grieve.
For centuries, the church has been a source of refuge and comfort for the black community. It has been a pillar and source of strength to a race that has labored long and hard to gain equal footing in an often hate filled environment. Black people have a long and deep love affair with the Lord. The act of the killing is hurtful but to come into a place where for so long African Americans have found solace makes it even more heinous. No one expects to be murdered in church. This hurts but it not only hurts me, it hurts us all. It hurts and tears at the core of our being as humans. No matter our race, color, religion or other beliefs it has damaged us all. Evil is with us and breathes our air but it will never win and will never steal our collective humanity. I still believe we have that.