A prayer in a sanctuary

A prayer in a sanctuary June 18, 2015

This was a prayer given by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney before a community event held in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2013:

God, we welcome and invite you into this place, your house.

Screen shot 2015-06-18 at 4.37.30 PMWe thank you for the spirit that dwells here. The spirit of Denmark Vesey. The spirit of R.H. Cain. The spirit of Dr. King. The spirit of many of the unsung heroes of our people.

But we also thank you, God, for all persons who come seeking to expand their horizons and seeking to learn more about what our country is made of and what makes us who we are as a people and as a country. We pray for safe travels for all who are here, and for the safe return of them as they go back home.

We pray that our time spent here today will be seen as an act of love as well as an act of righteous indignation in the face of injustices.

And we pray that all persons here today may feel your presence, and be drawn closer to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Pinckney was murdered last night in that same holy place, the sanctuary of that same house of God. He and eight of his parishioners were fatally shot during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at the church.

This mass murder was an act of terrorism. It was, as U.S. law defines terrorism, “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents … intended to influence an audience.” It was violence intended to send a message — violence intended to silence the spirit of Denmark Vesey and the spirit of R.H. Cain and the spirit of Dr. King and the spirit of Clementa Pinckney and the spirit of all the many unsung heroes. It was violence intended to counter the claim that black lives matter.

We will be told, in the aftermath of this act of terrorism, that it was the work of a lone individual — an aberration resulting from the aberrant behavior of a single disturbed man. But that claim is not credible. It requires us to ignore what we have seen and known for generations. It requires us to pretend that we are too ignorant to recognize the clear pattern, to pretend to forget that we have seen this same violent terror carrying this same violent message before, endlessly repeated. And it asks us to pretend that we do not know that we will see it again and again.

We cannot pretend to be so ignorant while thinking of a place like Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. That church was burned down in 1822, rebuilt 12 years later and then forced underground when black churches were outlawed in South Carolina. The burning of that church is also, sometimes, dismissed as an aberration — an unusual event linked to Denmark Vesey’s failed attempt to lead a mass-escape of enslaved people in Charleston.

But the burning of black churches has never stopped. The National Church Arson Task Force in 1998 investigated “670 arsons, bombings or attempted bombings between January 1, 1995, and September 8, 1998″ targeting black churches throughout the United States. The most recent such statistic I can find is from 2002, when 240 such church arsons occured in the U.S. This is not ancient history. It hasn’t stopped.

It never stops. Black churches, black people, have perpetually been targeted by violence in this country — by premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets and intended to influence an audience.

Here is the link to the full video of the late Rev. Pinckney’s remarks at that community event in 2013.

It seems right, today, to listen to his voice, and to join with him in that prayer in that sanctuary:

God, we welcome and invite you into this place, your house.

We thank you for the spirit that dwells here. The spirit of Denmark Vesey. The spirit of R.H. Cain. The spirit of Dr. King. The spirit of many of the unsung heroes of our people.

But we also thank you, God, for all persons who come seeking to expand their horizons and seeking to learn more about what our country is made of and what makes us who we are as a people and as a country. We pray for safe travels for all who are here, and for the safe return of them as they go back home.

We pray that our time spent here today will be seen as an act of love as well as an act of righteous indignation in the face of injustices.

And we pray that all persons here today may feel your presence, and be drawn closer to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 


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