Op/Ed By Gloria Winston Al-Sarag
When I was a kid, churches used to be safe havens; the place you could go to, regardless of your religious affiliation, in order to be at peace. Church used to be the place you could go to, to get fed if you were hungry, and to get clothing, if you needed it. Prior to so-called “social service” agencies, the churches had been there to serve the community.
There had been nothing to fear about being in church. But, now, they have become targets. They’ve become a hunting ground for those who have been the most evil in our society.
I spent a day in shock, and utter disbelief, that we, as a society, do not seem to have put a dent in the kind of hatred that had to accompany the despicable act which took place at Mother Emmanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nine people were shot in cold blood, and, for what? Nine people who had been engaged in prayer, and who had unwittingly invited the devil to join them. Every adage imaginable flew into my mind when I had heard of these heinous, senseless murders.
“The devil is alive and well;” “a wolf in sheep’s clothing;” “demons walk amongst us;” and, “tomorrow is not promised.”
Emotionally, a toll has once again been taken upon those who have dared to care, and those who have felt this latest pain. How much more will it take for us to realize we hardly live in post-racial America? There are people harboring hate, and ill feelings, who have just been looking for an opportunity to remind us all is not well.
Ironically, I received the news after finally watching Lee Daniels’ movie, “The Butler.” Netflix made it possible, because I missed it at the movie theater, and had been too cheap to purchase the DVD.
And, as I watched the movie, I had been sadly reminded of the struggle which took place in the 60s, and more.
As a writer, I loved the historical perspective Daniels inserted into the storyline. I was in tears by the time the butler joined his son in a protest, after spending decades avoiding the truths in which his son had been engaged.
I relived the marches which had taken place in the south, “Bloody Sunday,” the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and more.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and certainly was touched by the reminder of the Birmingham church bombing, which had taken the lives of four young girls. And then, before I could pull my covers over my head, the dark side of history had once again repeated itself.
Ironically, the former pastor of Baber AME Church, here in Rochester, had been one of the first faces I saw on TV, and the Internet.
As a presiding elder, now living in South Carolina, he had hardly been able to conceal his anguish, and pain. Mother Emmanuel, it appears, had been one of the churches for which he has oversight. The distinguished pastor and state senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, had been one of the nine victims.
Each name had not yet been released as of this writing, but every life taken was as worthy as the next. The leader of the church had indeed been a man of God, a man of the cloth whom, among others, had fallen victim to a person he, and the others, had embraced. They fell victim to a person they had invited in, and prayed with, before their lives had been taken.
Darkness has fallen on this community, and in America, once again.
“Oh no, not again,” I privately wept. And, I have prayed for all involved. My mind was all over the place, and I also recalled one other thing, which had been that, Dr. Martin Luther King’s mother was also killed while she was in church.
You have to be a person with no feelings, if this tragic event has not made you feel something. Innocent people are gone, because an apparent mad man thought it was the right thing to do.
Once again, it has proven churches may no longer play the role of safe havens.
I certainly remember when church doors were never locked. I had been raised in Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, and our doors were always open.
I used to go visit Immaculate Conception Church, because I had been in awe of its beauty; its artifacts; and the church’s candle-burning ritual. I used to visit Immaculate Conception, and burn candles like I was a Catholic. There had been something so warm, and inviting, about the church. I felt safe, and was never questioned as I went about my routine.
This had also been during a time when religious instruction in the Rochester City Shool District had been MANDATORY, regardless of your beliefs. Our religious instruction classes just happened to be held at Immaculate Conception, which had been in reasonable proximity to my school, Nathaniel Rochester School No. 3.
I think Dr. Marilyn Grant summarized it better than most, when she stated, “Innocent babies in an elementary school, citizens enjoying an evening out at a movie, parishioners engaged in Bible study at their church…not to mention the countless victims of everyday street violence…what will it take for our country to examine our gun laws? How much blood must be shared?”
Besides this horrific act of violence, what has also been beginning to annoy me has been the national media’s take on it. It appears some in the media have been trying to downplay the fact that this was a HATE crime.
It has been very big of them to say so, but, join me in a movement that is sick and tired of the soft pedaling that seems to occur whenever our community has fallen victim to such heinous crimes.
They need to call it what it really is, TERRORISM!
I have signed a petition to members of the media which says:
“The horrific slaying of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston has already been called a hate crime by the local chief of police and local media. But that’s insufficient. This act is part of a long history of individual and, yes, state violence against African Americans. You can give this tragedy the focus and meaning it deserves by calling it what it is: terrorism.”
Click here, if you will sign this petition: