Thursday, June 18, 2015


"I've had to make these statements [of condolences and tragedy] too many times...time to address the issue of gun control."  President Obama on Emanuel AME church massacre, in grief and sadness.

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston,
Evil entered the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, last night, an historic African-American church that goes back before the Civil War.  A symbol of freedom to this day. A sacred place.  A young white man with a gun, a boy really, shot nine men and women praying together. "I want to kill black people," he announced. The face of evil, and so young. It shocks me. 

The theologian Reinhold Niebhur preached that evil exists in the world.  Always has, always will.  All we can do is fight it as best we can, over and over, generation after generation, crime after crime, war after war, murder after murder, hate crime after hate crime.  

It's hard for me to accept this reality. I tempered my utopian idealism long ago, but I still quiver and quake in the face of evil. How could a kid, the age of some of my own grandchildren, be so filled with hate at such a young age, and how did he get a gun? How could he sit in a Bible study group in a church, pray with people for an hour, then open fire.  Nine good people killed, including the Church's pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney.  An insane presence in their midst, a sick, angry, rageful child turned killer.   Would any of us have even suspected such violence in this place in this time from this boy?  

We've made little progress in dealing with mental health issues in our society, even less in passing laws to limit weapons of war on our streets or guns in the hands of the insane, children, the anti-social, the hate-filled.  Just the opposite.  The NRA has been busy, and successful. Many state legislatures are passing laws that defund mental health programs and loosen gun restrictions, allowing just about anyone to carry guns into restaurants, stores, public places, for example. Wander through Walmart's with a gun  Give a gun to a kid. It's okay.  In fact, the South Carolina legislature itself recently passed a law making it legal to carry guns into restaurants.   Aren't our legislators and our elected officials liable too?   I'm glad President Obama chose to raise the question, with justifiable anger and sadness. 

Maybe some good will come of this once the grieving has passed and the healing begins.  Maybe all good people will band together against racism and hate, against relentless gun violence, against the silent killers of the soul that encompass race and class and poverty.  It's what the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would want, this wonderful man and leader who walked in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and our civil rights pioneers.  The photos of the Charleston community, which I find engrossing and fascinating, show an outpouring of grief, silent vigils and gatherings that include people of all races, backgrounds, faiths, and ages, all coming together to mourn. Is this a sign of hope? Will any change come out of this latest tragedy?    

For a history of the Emanuel AME church:

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