|A Statement from The Right Reverend William H. Stokes on the Shootings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Weep with those who weep…”
The heinous shootings and resulting deaths that occurred yesterday at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina as people gathered for Bible study and prayer are an abomination – an offense against humanity and God – that must be condemned by all persons without hesitation or equivocation.
I call all people of the Diocese of New Jersey to pray for the repose of the soul of Pastor Clementa Pinckney and the eight others who were killed, to pray for the people of Emanuel A.M.E. Church and all of our brothers and sisters of the A.M.E. Church, to pray for the city of Charleston and, indeed, to pray for our nation.
Sadly, this shooting appears to represent a confluence of evils that have plagued, and continue to plague, life in the United States: endemic racism, an “original sin” in our nation’s origins which has never been adequately addressed or resolved; a cultural propensity to violence combined with easy access to guns resulting in frequent mass shootings and too many Americans accepting this as somewhat normative and to be expected; a pattern of deranged behavior by young men who are clearly mentally ill and who live in a country with a broken mental health system.
This morning, on behalf of the people of the Diocese of New Jersey, I phoned Bishop Gregory G.M. Ingram of the First District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which includes the A.M.E. Churches in New Jersey, to offer him and his church our deepest condolences, to assure him of our prayers as well as our commitment to strive for justice and peace among all people as our Baptismal Covenant calls us to do.
In the wake of the massacre at Emanuel Church in Charleston, some will be inclined to withdraw in fear; to close and lock the doors of our church buildings and to shut out the stranger. This is not the response Jesus Christ or his gospel calls us to. Fear is contrary to faith. As scripture tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). As people of faith, our response should not be to withdraw and hide, but rather to step forward and reach out in love; to be bold in our witness to the gospel and to our Lord, who is the Prince of Peace.
Next week, on Sunday morning, June 28, beginning at 7:15 AM in Salt Lake City, Bishops United Against Gun Violence – a coalition of more than 60 bishops of the Episcopal Church, a coalition of which I am a part, is sponsoring an event, “Claiming Common Ground Against Gun Violence.” This will be a prayerful procession through the streets of Salt Lake City during the church’s General Convention. The gathering is intended to urge people of faith to seek common ground in efforts to curtail gun violence across the nation.
It is my hope and my request that the people of the Diocese of New Jersey who will not be in Salt Lake City will join us in spirit by praying with us during the time of the walk, perhaps keeping vigil, and remembering to pray during Sunday services over the next two weeks for peace and an end to gun violence which is a scourge in our nation, and to pray especially for those killed in Charleston yesterday.
Moreover, in the wake of the Charleston shootings, which all evidence strongly indicates is a hate crime, as well as in light of all of the incidents of racial injustice and violence which have confronted us in the past and which continue to confront us in the present, I call upon the people of the Diocese of New Jersey to recommit ourselves to anti-racism training and to the hard work of meaningful and concrete racial justice and reconciliation. I pledge myself to this work.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend William H. (Chip) Stokes, D.D.
Bishop of New Jersey