Many of us are waking up to the news of a shooting in Charleston at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The shooter, a 21 year old man now identified as Dylann Roofer, actually attended the prayer service with his would- be victims before taking nine lives. One woman who survived the shooting spree said that he told her he was sparing her life so that she could tell the story.
Now being considered a hate crime, a Charleston police spokesperson says, the victims were “killed because they were black.” The Justice Department is also opening a hate crime investigation into the shooting.
Persons are trying to make sense of this tragedy. But, it doesn’t make sense. And it shouldn’t.
The Church is a place of life and liberty. We are free to express our faith without fear, free to worship without the threat of retaliation for our devotion to God, free to live unapologetically. The pews do not double as coffins. There are no grave markers here.
The Church was not created to be a crime scene. Bodies are to lay prostrate in reverence not covered in blood and riddled with bullets. When in the sanctuary, we are to cry aloud to God not cry out because our life is in danger. And when we bow our heads to pray, we should not have to worry that someone will put a gun to it.
While technology has seemingly made us closer and more connected, there are some boundaries that should remain. While the earth is the Lord’s, the ground of the Church is an intentional gathering place wherein persons are reminded of our sacredness and no one should enter its doors with the intention to challenge that truth.
Today, I am not certain of what my prayer will be for the people of Charleston or the victims of this callous crime. That he was able to pull the trigger and take life in the midst of prayer creates many questions for me. And it reminds me of a hate crime some years ago when children gathered to be reminded of their sacredness at 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Again, I wonder what the murderers were thinking.
Did they pray too? And was it a prayer to kill? Were they hoping that they might take aim at the faith and kill our prayers? God forbid.