CHICAGO (ELCA) – The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), released a statement June 18 in response to a shooting where nine people were killed at a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C. Local authorities are calling the killing racially motivated.
“It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism,” said Eaton.
Two of the victims – the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Simmons of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston – were graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, an institution of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. The Columbia, S.C.-based seminary is one of eight ELCA seminaries; Lenoir-Rhyne is one of 26 ELCA colleges and universities.
“The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own,” said Eaton.
“Racism is a fact in American culture. Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?
“I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage,” she said.
In response to the shootings the Rev. Albert Starr, director of ELCA Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries and program director for ELCA African Descent Ministries, said, “I cannot begin to imagine the grief and sorrow that has gripped the families and members of that faith community. I am asking God this morning to teach me how to pray now, not just for this tragedy but for the racist and systemic hate that continues to be so embedded in the fabric of this country. Again, the cry and call will come demanding solution for a sickness that the U.S. public has not yet effectively diagnosed or even fully acknowledged.”
The Rev. Herman R. Yoos III, bishop of the ELCA South Carolina Synod based in Columbia, S.C., offered a pastoral message to members of the synod.
“Rev. Pinckney was a friend and classmate to many of our pastors in the (ELCA) South Carolina Synod,” said Yoos, adding that the news “comes as a shock to all of us, because he is beloved by all who knew him.”
“This is a deeply personal loss for us not only because so many of us were friends and partners in ministry with this child of God, but also because as the body of Christ, we stand in solidarity in the name of Jesus with our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer,” Yoos said.
“To see this tragic loss against the backdrop of the recent shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston by a white police officer, we cannot help but recognize that as citizens of South Carolina, we continue to struggle with serious issues related to racial injustice,” he said.
“Recently I wrote an article about the need for a new conversation about racial relations in our society,” said Yoos. “Our ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton also encouraged all Lutherans to be engaged in such honest conversations around the racial injustices that permeate our society. It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we can bear one another’s burdens and be instruments of reconciliation.”
The full text of the ELCA presiding bishop’s statement is available at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/long_season_of_disquiet_letter.pdf.