Last night, June 17, 2015, a white gunman opened fire in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina killing nine people. Among the slain are the three men and six women, including the church’s pastor. The Charleston Police Department Chief called the terrorist attack a hate crime.
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1818, is the oldest AME church in the southern U.S. One of its founding members was Denmark Vesey, a former enslaved African who planned what would have been the largest revolt of enslaved Africans in the history of the U.S. Vesey used the church to meet secretly to prepare for the revolt, planned for June 17, 1822. Vesey’s revolt never happened as he was betrayed by one of those in his confidence. He was tried, convicted, and on July 2, 1822 hanged. The same day, a white mob burned the church to the ground. The church was rebuilt by in 1834.
Offers of prayer filled online comment sections under reports of this story. “Prayers for the families,” seemed the scripted response from the black community. But if prayers don’t extend to the very house of the Lord, what good are they? When nearly 193 years later a building that is supposed to be covered in the blood of the Lord and protected by his spirit is once again decimated, reason and logic tell me that prayers aren’t enough.
I make no secrets of my disdain for organized religion, and typically, I make no judgments on those who embrace it. But my love and fight are first, most and always for black people. And for us, the unwavering addiction to Christianity can and has often been fatal. We’ve been bowing our heads and asking for strength in the wake of merciless attacks for centuries.
(Mourners form prayer circle outside the scene of attack. Photo credit: Yahoo News)
We’ve assembled, prayed and caught the Holy Ghost. We’ve wept at the altar and cried out for relief. We did it in Birmingham in 1963. And we will no doubt do it in Charleston in 2015. And we’ll march through the streets arms locked with our white sisters and brothers singing the Lord’s words. And if the path continues, we’ll do it the same in 2047 when the next white man decides to desecrate the house of the Lord and pile up black bodies.
If the church is truly the backbone of the black community, I understand why we are prey for white supremacy. If we are looking for guidance to pastors and leaders who teach us peaceful protest will win over the evil, extinction is inevitable. If we ignore that the entire reason the AME was founded was because black people needed their own spaces to worship, and as such, we need to be willing to maintain exclusively black spaces for our own protection and community building, the enemy will continue to invade and destroy our territory. If we are prepped for the world in a church where the pastor’s Maybach is funded with tithes from congregants who catch the city bus, we are conditioned to accept financial exploitation. If the church is our backbone, it’s no wonder we’re paralyzed.
That white boy should never have been allowed in the church without being vetted. We should always be wary of white people coming into our spaces. ALWAYS. And I realize that black Christians believe that the Lord wants us to love and embrace each other regardless of race because we’re all his children, but if that is truly the case, why do we need the “African” Methodist Episcopal Church?
There is no progress in this country. It is no coincidence that this church was attacked on the very same day that Vesey’s revolt was planned. White people are showing us that the most sacred of our spaces is not safe from them. White supremacy has proven to you that it knows no limits, respects no sadness and issues no warnings.
So here we are again, feeling hopeless. And here we are again praying for peace and holding vigils. And while we pray and weep, the next attack is being planned. And the attacker hears your prayers and hears you begging for your life. And he doesn’t give a fuck if you crawl to the altar screaming out to the Lord for mercy. He only knows that he will be not be stopped until everything black that prospers is crushed and the spirit is permanently broken.
You cannot fight on your knees. If our churches are good enough for us to die in, they are surely adequate for them to die in. Slaughter them at the altar they come to challenge.