Today, we’re mourning.
We’re mourning Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton, and Susie Jackson.
They were killed last night at a prayer meeting at their church.
All were members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As a United Methodist minister, for me the racially motivated killings are a painful reminder of how the AME church came into being in the first place.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, described slavery as “that execrable sum of all villanies.” Yet when the Methodist church began as a denomination, free blacks in the northern United States were not free to worship alongside whites in the Methodist church. This led Richard Allen and others, who were members of St. George’s Methodist church in Philadelphia in 1787, to begin a movement that would give African Americans a way to worship in the Wesleyan tradition without being seen as second class citizens. As a result, in 1816, the African Methodist Episcopal Church was founded. This was the first denomination in the West that came into existence for sociological reasons instead of theological ones.
Emanuel AME Church became a leader of the denomination. It was burned down once, but it was rebuilt. During the Civil Rights movement it played an important role in South Carolina. After her husband was killed, Coretta Scott King led a march from the church. The congregation has thrived. In addition to serving as a South Carolina leader in religion, the church’s pastor, Clementa Pinckney, served in both the South Carolina State House and State Senate.
We’re mourning him today because last night, a young white man opened fire in the middle of a prayer service, laying bare the the old wounds that have torn us apart.
The issues of religious violence lead the headlines of newspapers almost every day. Usually we see the Christian/Islam division, but in the United States the black/white divide among people who all claim to be Christian, even in perverted ways, is always close to the surface.
Now would be a very good time to shout from the roof that divisions of race have nothing to do with the reign of God. Wesley was right about slavery, and I think he would agree that racism is “the sum of all villanies.”
I pray that everyone who theologically follows the Wesleyan movement – and, indeed, everyone who recognizes the inherent glory of peace and equality – will lock arms and walk together in a way that forever puts racism in its grave.