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Charleston church sends message of forgiveness

26 June 2015


United: the congregation holds hands during a service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, on Sunday

United: the congregation holds hands during a service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina, on Sunday

PRESIDENT OBAMA will deliver the eulogy at today's funeral of the Revd Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina State Senator and pastor who was killed during last week's shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

He was one of nine people who were killed when a white man opened fire during a Bible-study meeting at the church, which, as one of the oldest Black-led churches in the United States, is referred to as Mother Emanuel. The church, and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination, is due to celebrate its bicentenary next year.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, has been charged with nine murders and illegal possession of a firearm. In a "manifesto" published before the crime, Mr Roof said that he wanted to use killings to spark a race war; but the reaction of the public in South Carolina has been very different.

On Sunday, some 2000 people marched together in Charleston in a peaceful multi-racial act of remembrance and unity, singing the gospel song "This little light of mine".

Emanuel AME held its usual services last Sunday, led by the Revd Norvel Goff, who has been appointed interim pastor. "A lot of people expected us to do something strange, and to break out in a riot. Well, they just don't know us. We are people of faith," he said.

"The doors are open at Emanuel this Sunday, sending a message to every demon in hell and on earth that no weapon, no weapon . . . shall prosper."

Speaking after a memorial service on Thursday of last week for his mother, Sharonda, a teenager, Chris Singleton, told BBC News: "We already forgive him for what he's done, and there's nothing but love from our side of the family."

At Mr Roof's first court appearance last Friday, a succession of the victims' families spoke of their forgiveness, and urged Mr Roof to "repent, confess, and turn to God". The New York Times reported: "It was as if the Bible study had never ended."

The Bishop of the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina, the Rt Revd Charles vonRosenberg, has described the Charleston massacre as an "unimaginable tragedy", and called for "prayer, response, and self-examination".

Other church leaders have also commented on the shooting. "Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement. Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do as disciples of Jesus Christ," the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the US, Elder Heath Rada, said in a joint statement with other denominational leaders.

In the UK, the National Church Leaders Forum, representing the leaders of Black-led churches in Britain, issued a statement condemning the "act of evil, racism and blasphemy. . . Dr Martin Luther King Junior reminded us that haters always lose in the end, for 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.'"

The President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Kenneth Howcroft, and its Vice-President, Gill Dascombe, wrote to the AME saying that they were "horrified and deeply saddened" by the murders.

The good of Christian forgivenessAngela Tilby

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