Evil visited Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church during an evening service last Wednesday night. With visceral wickedness it trespassed and lingered near a gathering of God’s faithful assembled that night to study and discuss the Scripture. With malicious intent it snatched away nine lives in a violent act of hate.
Killed at the hand of the lone gunman were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a 31-year employee of the Charleston County Public Library; Susie Jackson, 87, a long-time member of the church’s choir; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 45, a student admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, pastor of the historic “Mother Emanuel” church and a 19-year member of the South Carolina state legislature; Twanza Sanders, 26, a recent graduate of Allen University; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a staff member at Emanuel AME Church and former pastor of Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw, S.C.; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, a high school educator and track coach; and Myra Thompson, 59, who was teaching the Bible study at the time of the killings.
Family, friends and colleagues who knew them have described each as wonderful people, caring for others in selfless ways.
The vile writings of the admitted killer, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, of Lexington, S.C., have identified his intention to incite a race war as a result of the killings. Regardless of who carries it out and why, evil’s purpose is always to divide and destroy.
But those left behind at “Mother Emanuel” and across the greater Charleston community have shown the world a far different response than what this evil act intended. In the days that have followed the slaying of their brothers and sisters that night, theirs has been a response that stands as a witness to the overcoming and overwhelming power of love and forgiveness.
In the opening comments of his sermon, standing and preaching for his fallen brother and other parishioners at the reopening of Emanuel AME Church, Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff Sr. thanked many across their community, state and nation for prayers, support and encouragement extended to their church in its time of tragedy and mourning. He went on to thank the residents of the city of Charleston and the state of South Carolina. He accurately described the church and community’s response. “We have shown the world how we as a group of people can come together to pray, and work out things that need to be worked out to make our community and our state a better place.” Indeed they have.
Where evil intended riotous response, only forgiveness has been offered. Where evil intended hate to blossom, only love has been extended. Where evil intended violent discord to erupt, solidarity of purpose and unity has flourished.
There are many lessons to take from how the people of Charleston have responded to this insidious act of hate. Most importantly among them is that while evil and its author will be present in the world, Charleston and the people of “Mother Emanuel” have clearly provided witness to the truth that love and its author will overcome it.
The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown