Statement from New York Theological Seminary on the killings in Charleston

Statement from New York Theological Seminary on the killings in Charleston
June 18, 2015




For the statement written by NYTS professor Dr. Efrain Agosto, please click HERE.


Once again we are stunned by the news.  Once again our heads spin with rage and our hearts break with sadness as we hear of the brutal murders of nine members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  For the immediate moment we must stop and mourn the loss of more Black lives.  We are going to gather in prayer for the families that have been touched, some of them right here in our midst in New York City.  But we cannot keep going on being stunned, shocked, angry, and sad.  We have to do more.  We have to look at the killings in Charleston as yet one more episode in a much longer history that has to end.  Racism has infected nearly every sector of our society; its malignancy is reflected in our justice, educational, and healthcare systems to name a few. The Black church in America has been the place of hope, empowerment and safety for millions of African Americans throughout the years, many have found comfort and inspiration in the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

The killings in Charleston were immediately being called a “hate crime.”  From the first accounts the killings were motivated by racism.  One of the victims was the pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a popular state Senator, making it a political assassination as well.  Let’s call this action by its real name: terrorism.  Yes, terrorism, forged not by minds of “radical jihadists” from Muslim-dominated states but home-grown right here in the USA, out of the deep and pervasive history of racism that has been forged in Christian America.  We have lived now with more than 350 years of terrorism in this nation, directed toward people of African descent.  It has become part of the fabric of US cultural life.

Terrorism works by instilling fear in the hearts, which in turn drives people apart.  The fact that these killings in Charleston took place during a Wednesday night prayer service is especially telling, and especially poignant.  The Wednesday night prayer service in many Black Churches is an especially sacred time. It represents the space and time where people are allowed to share their stories as testimonies of the transforming power of God.  People are face-to-face with their pastor and with each other, interacting and building solid relations in the process.  Sunday morning is often when the pastor is up high, preaching from the pulpit.  But Wednesday night is when the pastor comes down from the pulpit and gets close to the people.  Often there are not even ushers working the aisles on a Wednesday night.  The fact that not only has an act of terrorism been launched again, but this time in the midst of such a close, intimate service of worship makes this moment of terrorism especially heinous.

But it also points the way forward.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct in his assessment that “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”  Terrorism cannot be overcome by more terrorism.  In the end only the power of love can do this.  But it has to be love coupled with justice, which means love that is first and foremost directed towards those who are the targets of such violence.  That is why we need to keep loving, keep praying, keep marching, keep worshipping, keep protesting, and keep telling anyone who will listen – including God – that Black lives matter, that we are tired, and that we must bring an end to this violence.

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  1. […] For the Official Statement from New York Theological Seminary, please click HERE […]

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