On June 17, 2015, an assault on the Holy City of Charleston took place in the heart of who we are. In the sanctity of one of our most historic churches, sacrificially restored by the congregation and their pastor, The Reverend Pinckney, this assault took place. NINE members of the congregation including their minister, South Carolina State Senator Pinckney, lost their lives at the end of a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME. A five year old boy, I hear, witnessed it but played dead. He and we all who hold Charleston dear to our hearts are scarred for life.
That this murderous rampage could happen here means the pure evil out there is creeping in and can happen anywhere. This crime should not be named among us. It is an assault to the identity internationally and at home of the Holy City of Charleston; to the religious freedom of these Christians gathered last night, who died for their faith; to the plan for good and not for evil that this young man’s Creator had in mind in bringing him into this world; to the unalienable Rights of Man upon which our Founding Fathers established These United States of America; and more personally, it is an assault to our beloved Mayor Joseph P. Riley, who has worked tirelessly for forty years to promote fairness and harmony in race relations as a top priority, always in the forefront of his mind.
“Two Roads From Which to Choose, the Road to Glory or the Fools Highway”, were the words of my Maranatha album of my 14th year that I happened to be listening to on my record player for the first time in decades these past two weeks. My heart had been pleading for the lost as I sang along with these never forgotten, foundational words from my own youth. We must pray for the lost, such as this young man, and spread the Light and plead the protection over our land by the blood of Christ and of these martyrs. “For only in Thee can we live in safety.”
It is now the 19 of June. I have had it on my mind that Lafayette was here and wrote of Charleston. I researched it today and found that it was on this very day, June 19, 1777, that this 19 year old Frenchman wrote to his beloved wife of his first impressions of America. He came here to fight for our Liberty, because he believed that somewhere in the world man should be allowed to live without being under the thumb of tyrannical governments taxing them every which way, in the age when it was “the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Here is a passage from his second letter from South Carolina, where his ship first hit America, he having been entertained for two weeks at the rice plantation of the Huger family, and then in the City of Charleston at the Huger house from 1760 on lower Meeting Street. His impressions of Charlestonians can be paralleled to Charlestonians still today.
“They are as agreeable as my enthusiasm had painted them. Simplicity of manners, Kindness, Love of country, and Liberty, and a delightful Equality everywhere prevail. The wealthiest man and the poorest are on a level; and although there are some Large Fortunes, I challenge anyone to discover the slightest difference between the manners of these two classes respectively towards each other. I first saw the country life at the home of Major Huger. I am now in the City where everything is very much after the English fashion, Except there is more simplicity, equality, cordiality, and courtesy here than in England. The City of Charleston is one of the handsomest and best built, and her inhabitants among the Most Agreeable that I have ever seen. But what charms me most is that all the citizens are brethren, (brothers and sisters in Christ).”
Lafayette had had a five hour dinner with General Wm. Moultrie and General Howe, trying as he said to speak a little English before writing to his wife at a late hour.
“Considering the pleasant life I lead in this country, my sympathy with the people makes me feel as much at ease in their society as if I had known them for twenty years, the similarity between their mode of thinking and my own, and my love of Liberty and of glory.”
All this enthusiasm for Charleston and America despite Lafayette ending his letter with a description of exactly how it has been this week, “The heat is dreadful. I am devoured by insects! So you see, even the best of countries have their disadvantages.”
It is a comfort to know that this quality of all of us being brothers and sisters in our shared faith and on the same level regardless of wealth or color can be traced throughout our history. It remains our identity.
This troubled young man who committed this heinous crime, who dwelt on the negative in race relations, which warped his thinking, was not a resident of Charleston. He came into town and chose this prominent church highly visible on Calhoun Street on the anniversary of the tragedy of nine firemen dying in the Sofa Super Store fire. So much good was wiped out with the taking of nine good, civic minded, upstanding citizens, role models, who contributed so much to the good of our Charleston society. Their place shall not be filled. Nine gaping holes in nine families. Nine gaping holes in their church leadership. Nine gaping holes in our community. Nine tragic losses multiplied to all who knew them and to all across the world who hold the Holy City of Charleston dear to our hearts.
And yet, “We Shall Not Be Moved.””We shall overcome.” “Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his fellow.” Those martyrs were laying down their lives for each other. Love will hold us together, from sea to shining sea. What charmed Lafayette most is still what is most charming in Charleston today: we are all brethren, on a level, regarding each other as equals. That unity is the love of God spread abroad in our hearts that makes us one with each other and, we hope, with you the visitor.