On Wednesday evening June 17, 2015, a young white man who was raised in/associated with the Lutheran church (ELCA) sat for a hour-long Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. After receiving hospitality from this group of faithful followers to whom he was a stranger and after sharing in the group’s study and prayer, the white man shot and slain nine people as an act of racist violence and terror. Six years later, words fall woefully short in the face of such evil actions perpetuated by false narratives of white body supremacy wedged within the institutions of our American society, including the Lutheran church of which Augsburg University is affiliated. Sorrow and rage, heartache and grief, anguish and death: the evils of racism, white nationalism, and systemic oppression have yielded these foul fruits. White America and the predominantly white church of the ELCA (of which I am a part) are the “what” that fomented that young white’s man act. We are complicit.
But God. God calls us to confess, repent, and repudiate our (white-bodied peoples) role in the systems of discrimination and oppression calculatingly designed to marginalize Black, Indigenous, People of Color. God is always calling us – individually and communally – to life and companionship within the beautiful beloved community. But this can only happen by way of truth-telling. So, we commemorate the Emanuel Nine and name the truths of who we are and who God is calling us to be. We speak truth, we confess, we seek forgiveness, we lament, we listen, and we act for the sake of reconciliation and reparations…we act ever-so-imperfectly in order that all may live. May we the privileged be purged of our false narratives of supremacy as we recommit ourselves to God’s vision of abundant life for all humanity, and indeed, all of creation.
The truth calls us to remember and honor the Emanuel Nine, so we name these saints of God here and now:
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
Cynthia Maire Graham Hurd
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders
Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons
Rev. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
From the prophet Amos, the fifth chapter:
“Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
just as you have said.
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate…
…let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
(Amos 5:14-15, 24)
God of justice, God of righteousness:
Hold all who grieve and weep at the atrocities committed on June 17, 2015 at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. For racism, yet again, violated the sanctity and sanctuary of your church, and the study of your word of life was cut short by violence and death. We name the evil that besets our land and the norms of our nation and churches rooted in white supremacy and systems of racial injustice. We repent of our own complicity in these systems that marginalize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. And we pray for your ever-flowing stream of mercy to sweep us along into a new day full of actions working to dismantle the white-bodied supremacy within and around. On this day, we honor and remember the Emanuel Nine, whose lives were cut short by a terrorist act of hatred. God of healing, continue to comfort the family and friends of the Emanuel Nine even as we trust you hold your dear saints in eternal light and love. Establish justice at the gates and justice in our hearts as we learn together to walk your way of goodness and truth. This we pray, in lamentation, amid suffering, and through the hope that is in you, Christ Jesus, the embodiment of reconciliation and love. Amen.
[The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has created prayers, litanies, and laments for the commemoration of the Emanuel Nine produced; these resources can be found here:
By Rev. Justin Lind-Ayres