Race relations in America were severely challenged by riots and the destruction of property in Ferguson, Missouri (2014) and Baltimore, Maryland (2015). However the response of the survivors to last year’s shooting in Charleston, S.C. offers a hopeful example of the power of forgiveness.
Pastor Clementa C. Pinckney and eight members of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church were murdered while bowed in prayer during a Bible Study. Immediately after the slaying, survivors of the incident shocked the world by forgiving the shooter. Their trust in a loving and forgiving God, won the respect and the attention of people across the globe.
To mark the first anniversary of the slayings, ACLC clergy participated in a prayer and panel discussion in Charleston, S.C. The event was hosted by the Rev. Anna Miller, Pastor of the Wesley United Methodist Church, and took place from 6:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. on Friday, June 24, 2016. There were about 60 participants, including ten ACLC pastors, State Senator J. Seth Whipper and State Representative Terrance Alexander.
Two participants of the program were Rev. and Mrs. William Robinson. Before relocating to Edisto Island, S.C. they lived in New York and hosted several ACLC Prayer Breakfasts at the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Harlem. They were very moved by the memorial program and felt a lot of hope for reconciliation. Rev. Robinson said, “Dr. Michael Jenkins is a charismatic leader and gave a powerful message. I was also very impressed with the delivery and presentation by Rev. Tom Cutts. I felt proud to know them both, and proud to be a part of A.C.L.C.”
Another ACLC pastor and his wife in attendance were Bishop Mosby Nelson and Mrs. Rosa Nelson. Before moving to Columbia, S.C. they had hosted several ACLC Prayer Breakfasts in their church in Florida, the Central Faith Mission Ministry of Miami.
Ms. Becky Butler of Mt. Pleasant, S.C. commented, “I was impressed that the presentations evidenced strong spiritual basis even more than political. I felt hopeful more than I have in the past, though I know the road is a hard one.
Before the event, an informal dinner was held with some of the speakers and out of town guests at Virginia’s On King. The panel discussion was one among several memorial events held in Charleston and across the country. ACLC clergy helped organize a similar memorial program in Harlem on Friday, June 17, 2016.
The prayer and panel discussion was facilitated by Rev. Dr. Luonne Abram Rouse, the Pastor of Huntington Cold Spring Harbor United Methodist Church in Huntington, New York. The panel included Pastor Miller, Representative Alexander, Major Consuela Wilds-Glover, Dr. Michael W. Jenkins, Rev. Dr. Willie Wade, Rev. Dr. Timothy Bowman, Rev. Tom Cutts, Rev. Johnny Cesar, and Ms. Pauline Doty.
Each panelist offered their remarks, and prayed specifically for one of the nine victims slain at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
Dr. Rouse said, “We gathered in Charleston where a model for healing and reconciling was revealed. The transformative power of forgiveness was sparked by the families of the Charleston victims, and forgiveness remains the primary motive for all reconciliation.”
Representative Alexander, who is also the Pastor of Wayside Chapel Baptist Church in Florence, SC, remarked, “The moral conscience of the nation rests on the shoulders of the black church, because of who we are. Moral development in America will move forward beneath the steeples of black churches.” Rev. Alexander added, “I knew Senator Pinckney personally. We spent countless times together as legislative leaders in South Carolina through the years.” He also discussed the “burden of inclusion” and how blacks have been invited to give their “presence without power”.
Dr. Michael W. Jenkins, the ACLC Chairman Emeritus, noted that the forces of darkness picked the wrong church and the wrong city to try to tear apart the multi-racial fabric of America. Dr. Jenkins said, “Pastor Pinckney taught his church well.” Comparing the response of the people of Charleston with those of Ferguson and Baltimore, he commented, “When tragedy struck, instead of being tempted to act in vengeance and violence, the survivors trusted a loving and forgiving God.”
When people came to Charleston to create another Ferguson, the church people of Charleston told them to leave. Dr. Jenkins added, “Only faith leaders can heal the body of Christ and transform the nation. We can take the evil out of people only with love. There is no other way.” Quoting Zechariah 4:6 he concluded by saying, “we will succeed not by might nor by power, but by the spirit of the Lord.”
Rev. Anna Miller, the Pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, said she and her congregation knew many of the people who were murdered. She shared about the continued suffering of the survivors of Mother Emanuel and the members of Wesley. She said, “People cannot speak of the incident. They are afraid even to breathe. They feel suffocated.” Before the survivors had time to grieve, the incident attracted international attention and church services were filled with visitors and well-wishers. “We never had the opportunity to talk just among ourselves and have an honest conversation,” noted Rev. Miller.
One of the panelists, Ms. Doty, is a grief counselor. After hearing Rev. Miller’s impassioned remarks, she offered to conduct small group sessions to help facilitate the grieving process and healing.
Rev. Tom Cutts, the ACLC National Executive Director, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Rev. Cutts explained how he is meeting members of the black Cutts family in Georgia whose ancestors were slaves to white Cutts families. He commented, “We are trying to fulfill the dream of Dr. King, and are searching for ways to sit together at the table of brotherhood.”
One couple, Mr. Sammi and Mrs. Doreen Rugema, brought their six children, ages 6 to 16, to the program. Mrs. Doreen Rugema said, “It was wonderful to have leaders like Dr. Jenkins and Rev. Cutts with us in Charleston for this historical event. They are able to penetrate barriers and embrace everyone regardless of race or color, with love and compassion, and make such a powerful statement in events such as this. Our children were moved by the program.” Even though the program was nearly three and a half hours long, the young people remained attentive and listened carefully to each presentation.
Mr. and Mrs. David Doose attended the program. Mrs. Sanae Doose has been a member of a local ministerial alliance for 20 years, faithfully attending every weekly meeting. She was happy that ACLC finally came to Charleston. She said, “I was hoping ACLC would acknowledge the incident at Mother Emanuel, and this event has been an answer to my prayers.”
It was decided that in the near future there will more ACLC programs in Charleston that will help mend the multiracial fabric of America.
Contributed by Rev. Bruce Grodner, ACLC National Outreach Director