I doubt that my blog post will have much focus today. To my readers, I ask for your patience.
Last night, around the time nine parishioners of an African-Methodist-Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, were shot to death, I was having dinner with members of my church’s small group at a local Panera restaurant. We laughed, broke bread, and prayed for one another. Normally, we would’ve met at the church that evening studying the Bible, praying for one another, and praising God.
People should feel safe at church to worship and pray. For this reason, I am stunned and angry to hear of the mass shooting yesterday evening at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nine people died, including a state senator who was the church pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. A young Caucasian man allegedly sat in the pews for about an hour before opening fire on the praying group. He allegedly said told a parishioner during a break in the violence, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Law enforcement authorities arrested Dylann Storm Roof this morning in Shelby, North Carolina. They are investigating this massacre as a white-on-blacks hate crime. Frankly, I’m surprised the suspect didn’t kill himself when he was confronted.
This violence has to stop. I realize that it’s a hackneyed phrase, but I use it out of frustration. President Barack Obama, in remarks made today at the White House, was also frustrated and saddened by the news of this latest mass shooting during his term. Among those killings were the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 26 people, 20 of them children, and another 2012 shooting, this time in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee that took the lives of five men and a woman.
“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” a somber Obama told reporters with Vice President Joe Biden standing silently next to him. “It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”
Whatever the solution is, it isn’t arming clergy and parishioners. It definitely isn’t having armed guards at the doors of houses of worship. Furthermore, the idea of churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples locked to the public with security guards to buzz them in seems antithetical with beliefs that doors should be open to those who wish to worship.
So, dear readers, if you have suggestions on how to deal with gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular without arming everybody (including children) and closing gathering places, please let me know. As author and talk show host Tavis Smiley wrote in USA Today, “What kind of nation do we want to be? Who are we, really?”