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Families of slain Emanuel A.M.E. victims forgive killer

By Jazelle Hunt/Washington Correspondent
On July 13, 2015
Pastor Jonathan Newton

Pastor Newton of Metropolitan AME Church in D.C.
says Black Christians have used forgiveness often
to lend moral weight in the fight against racial injustice.
Credit: metropolitanamec.org

(NNPA) – Though suffering and deep in pain from the loss of their loved ones, members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina displayed the finest reflection of Christian values.

Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, 70, one of the nine killed by Dylann Roof, struggled to find the right words.

“I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul,” said Collier, her voice trembling with emotion. “It hurts me, it hurts a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.”

Speaking for her family, a sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, had a similar message.

“We have no room for hate,” she said softly. “We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul. And I also thank God that I won’t be around when your judgment day comes with him.”

One by one, they took turns, sharing their grief without rancor. How could they be so forgiving?

“To understand the Black Christian tradition and faith that has nurtured Black people for centuries is to know that they live by a deep, resilient faith that God is on the side of justice, God is on the side of love,” explained Rev. Forrest Harris, president of American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee and a scholar on the Black Christian church.

Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and NAACP national board member, said Blacks should not bear the brunt of suffering – or forgiveness – in the U.S.

“I do not feel in my spirit that Blacks should have to be the sacrificial lambs all the time,” said Brown. “The pain is so great and it’s insulting that America has still not confessed to its wrong and its evil. And that evil is racism.”

Relatives of the nine slain in Charleston refused to be overcome by the evil of racism.

According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, nearly 80 percent of Black people say religion is very important in their lives, with 53 percent attending church every week (compared to 39 percent of the overall population). Church is especially important to Black women who are unrivaled in their dedication to their faith (84 percent) and attend church each week (nearly 60 percent ).

Pastor Jonathan Newton, executive minister at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C., points out that the lesson of forgiveness is not only God’s way, but also served Black Christians well during the Civil Rights Movement by lending moral weight to the cause.

Like Mother Emanuel, Metropolitan A.M.E. was founded in the early 1800s and has a storied legacy within the course of Black history. Hundreds gathered to pray for its sister church in Charleston – later, the church received a bomb threat, as a few other South Carolina A.M.E. churches did the previous day.

“[After the shooting] one of our A.M.E. bishops sent around to the churches a litany to explain that the church doors will remain open; we will continue to do what God calls us to do. But while we forgive, we still step up security,” said Newton.

The A.M.E. church is indeed grounded in resistance. Free Blacks in Philadelphia founded the denomination in the late 1700s when White Methodist Episcopalians refused to pray along side them and used force to interrupt their worship. The Black parishioners began their own church and successfully sued for the right to be an independent congregation.

This is not the first time a White supremacist has targeted a Black church.

A study found that there were more than 300 racially motivated church bombings or burnings in the 1960s, and an additional 200 between 1989 and 1996. In 2008, two White men were convicted of burning down a COGIC church in Springfield, Massachusetts in reaction to President Barack Obama’s election.

“This sounds trite, but the first thing is prayer. We believe that prayer changes things, but also prayer brings calm, reasonable, rational thinking,” said Newton.

“[Then] we deal with it, and not try to suppress…we talk about the anger, the hurt. Our faith is what makes us strong through using political actions and our educations … in our strides to social justice.”

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