A Presbyterian Perspective on Racism

June 29, 2015 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

Lamenting with Mother Emanual

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson: nine human beings, children of God, African American, lost forever when they were shot the evening of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, during a Bible study being held at Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

These losses are yet another reminder in this a dreadful season of hate crimes that #BlackLivesMatter. I pray we remember and learn from the response of Myra Thompson’s family and others to these murders. They forgave the alleged murderer. They advised him to repent. I am convinced that Mother Emanual AME Church shaped them each so beautifully and for that, I give thanks. The nine were from families formed by their faith, committed to learning more, and able to think and act theologically even in the midst of an unimaginable traumatic and heinous events.

As I have learned more about this congregation over the last week, the merciful response of the Thompson family seems less surprising. Some commentators have noted that dozens of other churches could have been hit that night, but it was this one, the oldest African American congregation south of Baltimore. For almost two centuries, this congregation has been home to everything from anti-slavery activism to the civil rights fight to a current pastor who served as a state senator.  Unfortunately, members of this congregation are all too familiar with responding faithfully to violence based on racism.

On Wednesday nights at Second, like Emanual, there is a Bible Study. For almost two decades and less than two blocks away, women at Second have gathered to tend to their theological education, too.  Both studies will continue, I understand.  They, like Emanual, will renew safety protocols but as Cress Darwin, the pastor of Second, said in his sermon last Sunday, they “will not… refuse entry to people who are seeking community in the fellowship of the living God.”  When they see Emanual AME, and they have and can see their church building, I imagine they will never forget what took place on June, 17, 2015.  Every Wednesday night, I expect they will remember those events and be reminded, I pray, of their faith.

Second PC(USA) in Charleston, S.C. has a unique Presbyterian perspective on racism and the events of June 17. It seems that they are lamenting, and so I invite us all to lament. But they have already been learning from their neighbors that a phoenix of hope can arise from the ash heap of death and lament.

We can all give thanks for those who think, believe, and act theologically. Congregations that think, believe, and act theologically matter. Pastors and leaders of those congregations that do it matter. Going to and inviting people to Bible Study and church events still matters. Each time they do, and we do this, it makes a statement to the world about God’s power of love and grace. We can give thanks for those who formed Clementa Pinckney and Cress Darwin and all their parishioners including their theological schools.