As though the murder of nine people in the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church June 17, 2015 in Charleston wasn’t horrifying enough, since then a number of black churches in the south have burned down. While it’s possible not all of them were the result of domestic, racist-based terrorism, if even one was, that’s one too many.
It’s heartbreak and rage-inducing.
Over the years I’ve met people who have worked on the FBI’s anti-terrorism task forces and I believe they are doing everything they can to find the people responsible and bring them to justice. But in the meantime, people are angry, people are frightened, and this all feels far too much like the bad old days.
I wasn’t old enough in the 50s and 60s to stand beside people who fought for human rights, but I’m sure as hell old enough now. And in truth there may be little I can do. But I know that when I am feeling angry, frightened, alone and persecuted, having someone simply say they stand beside me, that they are on my side, has meant a great deal. And so, that’s what I’m going to do.
I haven’t been going to church much in the last few years. I haven’t felt really at home in church, although I am still a person of faith. This Sunday, however, I’m going back to church. I’m going to the African Methodist Episcopal church in the town where I live. A couple of women in my faith group are joining me. And my dear friend, Sr. Rita, a Catholic nun in the order of The Sisters of Saint Joseph, has put a call out to the nuns in her community suggesting they go to the AME churches in their cities.
I’ve had a few people tell me I shouldn’t do this. They don’t think we’ll be welcome, they think we’ll make people uncomfortable, and if that’s the case I hope someone will tell us and we’ll leave, of course. But I went to the AME church in Nova Scotia years ago when I lived there, and people were always as welcoming and kind as one could hope for in a house of God. I expect the same in New Jersey.
What can any of us do in the face of injustice and bullying and racism? We can say to the innocent, “I am with you. You are not alone. We stand together.” I’ve spent my professional life as a writer writing about the marginalized, the outsiders, those who stand tall before the misuse of power, and I believe in letting my feet follow my pen, so to speak.
Do you think you might join me? Or do something else? I welcome your thoughts.
UPDATE: My Best Beloved and two friends just returned from services at our local AME Church. It was wonderful. People were so welcoming and the sermon was spot on. I’ll certainly be going back. I’ll say it again — the pew should be full of people who stand in solidarity with those who have been subjected to such horrific racist bullying — also known as murder and arson.