Christians are uniting in prayer and benevolence across racial distinctions in Charleston, S.C., after a 21-year-old man massacred nine Christians in a June 17 prayer service at historic Emanuel AME Church, said neighboring Southern Baptist pastor Keith Biggs.
“Everyone together – white, black, Hispanic, everybody – we’re coming together in unity to see this not only [as] an attack on people, but an attack on the body of Christ,” said Biggs, associate pastor of Citadel Square Baptist Church, which neighbors the site of the crime. “I mean, who can walk into a church and sit for an hour and have prayer, and then just begin to kill everybody?”
The FBI identified the shooter as 21-year-old Dylann Roof of Columbia, S.C., whose uncle told police he believes Roof received a .45-caliber handgun as a birthday present, Reuters reported. Roof was arrested on the morning of June 18 in Shelby, N.C.
In what police are calling a hate crime, a man identified as Roof sat calmly in the church during the prayer service and without notice shot worshippers and fled the scene. The church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among those killed. The other victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; and the reverends DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, according to news reports.
A 5-year-old child escaped murder by pretending to be dead, and a woman was purposely allowed to live so that she could tell police what had happened, it was widely reported.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“As everybody said on TV, it goes deeper than just hate. To me, this is something that’s very demonic to be able to do that. It’s a big spiritual warfare, so we’re coming together,” Biggs said. “We’ve just got to pray and seek direction, see how we can help one another, see how we can pray to get this action and so forth out of here. Everybody is very calm right now and just looking for answers.”
Biggs said the two churches have a growing friendship and that the Baptist church loaned Emanuel AME the use of its parking lot during a funeral a few weeks ago, as the churches are in the same block.
“The parking in Charleston is just very hard for everybody. They knew they had a lot of people coming in. Right after that happened, Bro. Pinckney had written us a card, just of his appreciation and so forth. So we had a connection where we worked together as a church in the resources that we had,” Biggs said. “We’re down here today, everything is shut down because of all of the security, but we have already contacted one of their members, Charles Williams, who’s a friend of mine … who happened not to be at the meeting, but was out of town on vacation. And we let him know … that our church is available for anything that they need at any time.”
While Citadel Square Baptist Church pastor David Walker was in Columbus, Ohio, attending the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting, Biggs said he and other church leaders have already planned a special prayer emphasis June 22 during the Sunday worship service.
“Sunday we will make sure that our membership will come together and pray [during] a portion of our service,” Biggs said, “and then again we will sit down as a church and put our heads together to see what we can do to extend even more in the days, weeks and months to come.”
Both churches have security systems, Bigg said, and the Baptist church “will revisit everything to make sure everyone is protected.”
“Just be praying for us,” Biggs requested.
The SBC has placed a renewed emphasis on prayer for spiritual awakening, and included a nearly three-hour prayer service June 16 during its annual meeting in Columbus. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also hosted a citywide prayer meeting June 13 in Charleston.
“This last Saturday we had 5,000 or so in our coliseum for statewide prayer,” Biggs said. “We’re in the middle of [spiritual warfare], but God is faithful and He will come out on top. We’ve just got to be faithful, strong and trusting.”
Haley posted a statement on her website after the tragedy.
“Michael, Rena, Nalin and I are praying for the victims and families touched by tonight’s senseless tragedy at Emanuel AME Church,” Haley wrote. “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Please join us in lifting up the victims and their families with our love and prayers.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)