Wednesday night, June 17, nine people were massacred by a 21-year-old white male while attending a Bible study and prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The survivors were one young girl shielded by her grandmother; the pastor’s wife and daughter, who were upstairs in the pastor’s office; and a 20-year-old, who the killer spared so she could to tell his story to the world.
These people were mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, daughters, sons, aunts and uncles, persons with careers and aspirations, coming together on a Wednesday night to study, pray and praise the Lord. Because of the church meeting earlier that evening, the Bible study could have been cancelled, but some members chose not only to stay and study God’s word but also to welcome a stranger into their midst. Embracing strangers was customary, for they understood the biblical words, “Whosoever will, let them come.”
It is no surprise that most of the victims were women. Women comprise approximately 80 percent of Black church congregations. Three of the women were active in the ministry—the Revs. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Depane Middleton-Doctor, a recent transfer from the Baptist Church, and Licentiate Myra Thompson, a lifelong member of Mother Emanuel, whose license to preach was renewed that night; three women active in the ministry, successors of Jarena Lee, the first woman licensed to preach in the AME Church in 1819.
Most Black New York churches have roots in South Carolina. Several of the victims had family members in Harlem—St. Luke and First Bethel—and in Queens—St. Matthews Community and St. Mark.
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” This violence was an act of domestic terrorism. The assailant’s objective to kill and destroy the Black race and cause a race war was fueled by extreme hate, racism, fear and ignorance that exists in the USA.
For too long, African-American people have been terrorized in these United States. Since slavery, when we were forcibly taken from our homeland, purchased and used as chattel to build this country, the lives of Black men and women have been devalued while we have born the brunt of greed and capitalism in these United States. When will this hate and violence end? What will happen to the families of the victims? Is not the church sacred?
While the U.S. government strives to eliminate terrorism from other countries against its citizens, it has yet to recognize, confront and eliminate the terrorism that exists against its African-American citizens. Despite some progress, we still bear the burden of the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, although overturned, “that the Black man (or woman) has no rights that the white man must respect.” However, Black lives do matter. All lives matter.
Our belief that the God who led the people of Israel and Egypt into the Promised Land is the same God who will deliver and free our people. The God we serve is a liberating God who loves everyone. We are the sons and daughters of Richard Allen and Jarena Lee. We will continue with fervor to carry out the mission to minister to the spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional and environmental needs of all people and spread the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.
We can no longer sit idle. We must be change agents and work together to tear down systems that harm and annihilate any group of people. We must exercise our rights to vote, become involved in our communities, teach and tell the stories of our heritage to our children, be actively involved in their educations and pay attention to the legislation our leaders introduce that affect our communities.
The AME Church, the first Black denomination, represents resilience, forgiveness, empowerment, restoration and renewal. God is not dead. God is still alive. We cannot let fear or anger deter us from what is most important, our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and our commitment to eradicate racism, sexism and other societal illnesses.
The Rev. Kimberly L. Detherage Esq. is connectional president, AME/Women in Ministry and pastor, St. Mark AME Church, Jackson Heights, N.Y.