‘Our faith will not be stolen’

TRIBUTE: White ribbons commemorating shooting victims on a railing outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
TRIBUTE: White ribbons commemorating shooting victims on a railing outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. AFP/Getty

I have been considering my feelings — as a man, as a black man, a churchman, a Christian, as a leader in the African Methodist Episcopal Church — about the murder of nine congregants in Charleston, South Carolina. Every AME member, especially in the Deep South, is connected with Mother Emanuel Church there

So, how do I feel about the ambush, rooted in racism, resulting in the deaths of pastors, preachers and parishioners we actually know? How do I feel about the ruthless, premeditated and racially motivated murders of members of our international fellowship?

I feel “SAD” — an acronym I invented for myself for this moment:

I feel a profound sense of sorrow for the slain and for the families who must try to pick up the pieces and live on. I am saddened that a sanctuary, literally a refuge of safety, a house of worship, was violated. Hatred intruded upon sacred space where every person of faith should feel an atmosphere of safety and solace. Dylann Roof felt no compunction about methodically unleashing violence so horrific as to defy any semblance of logic, and with no regard for the God who was being worshiped or the implications of a faith being studied. This small band of Christians received and welcomed him, his questions and his presence. Most of our sanctuaries, until now, have been temples of hope, spiritual discipline and trust.

I feel anger that African Americans still have to insist on having our humanity respected in a land for which blacks have suffered, bled and died. Why can we not have that needful conversation about race in America? It never seems the right time for that conversation in what is alleged to be post-racial America. I am angered that we do not have the collective will to resolve the matter of gun violence with sensible gun-ownership laws.

Having more guns does not solve our problem; it only exacerbates it, our reality seems to disproportionately affect African Americans. Virtually every gun-related death that reached the level of public awareness has involved unarmed blacks. The political reality of our country makes it difficult to address reasonable gun laws. A misguided man with a brand-new gun was a disaster waiting to happen. And it did.

I am dismayed. This caught all of us off guard. Who could have imagined that such an atrocity would be unleashed on a small group of people practicing their faith?

Still, I see a glimmer of hope. We still affirm that, as Dr. Martin Luther King state, “Unmerited suffering is redemptive.” Dylann Roof wanted a race war; what actually occurred was an outpouring of love, sympathy and tears from white people, and prayers for him offered by black people.

Our faith will not be stolen, even with violence so heinous as the murder of nine innocent people. While we are called to a heightened sense of vigilance to protect the lives of those who frequent houses of worship and study, we still encourage ourselves with the exhortation of Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Adam J. Richardson is the bishop for 11th District (Florida) of the AME Church.