Dylann Roof, the accused murderer of nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C., reportedly wanted to start a race war. Instead, the members wept, grieved, worshiped and forgave.
And this time, some of the mainstream media actually got it: They appeared to grasp the spiritual grace that enabled people to forgive the killer.
The Los Angeles Times pooled four reporters for a moving, evocative account at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, site of the Wednesday shooting. They reported church bells ringing at 10 a.m. across Charleston and note that the town is nicknamed the "Holy City." They report as do other media, that the church is known as Mother Emanuel for its long heritage.
The reporters note the many people weeping and embracing, black and white alike. And they quote an amazing 11 people, including a woman who rose before 5 a.m. to be first in line for the service.
The 1,600 words are also salted with religious references. The story notes hymns like Total Praise and Amazing Grace. It quotes the Rev. Norvel Goff, a presiding AME elder for South Carolina, opening the service with "This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice, rejoice and be glad in it!" -- and the story locates the passage in the Psalms.
And the article quotes a fervent prayer at length:
Presiding Elder John Gillison then reminded them, "We still believe prayer changes things, and changes people."
"We ask, oh God, that you will guide and direct those families that have been victimized," he said, "through the window of faith, we see hope."
"They were in the house of the Lord studying your word, but the devil also entered," he said, adding, "The devil cannot be in control of your church."
"May we be inspired here, Lord, may a kindle of flame be ignited in our hearts of love. May we talk about it at our breakfast table, our dinner table. May we talk about it at work: love," he said.
Then the congregation sang a hymn, repeating the refrain, "You are worthy to be praised."
The Times also links to a thought-provoking video with Bishop Allen T.D. Wiggins of The Hope Church in Orlando, who preached on how the bereaved in Charleston could forgive.
"See, it's one thing to profess Christianity; it's another thing to live out Christianity," the T-shirted Wiggins says, then continues:
They did not offer forgiveness because they were Americans. They did not offer forgiveness because they were culturally appropriate. It was the right thing to do.
Nor did they offer forgiveness because the offender asked for it. They offered forgiveness because they themselves had a transformed heart and mind by the Spirit of the living God.
The Dallas Morning News ventures into the philosophical and theological with a look at its own St. Paul United Methodist Church -- like Emanuel, called the Mother Church for its age and respect in the community.
Headlined "That could have been us," the story says St. Paul was literally built by former slaves, who even brought bricks to build with. The newspaper also asks Pastor Richie Butler about its open-door policy, a risky practice of pretty much every church:
The story of a stranger coming into a church and sitting for an hour before shooting has shaken St. Paul’s members because of the church’s open-door policy. People can, and do, wander into the church — a homeless person one day, a businessman in a suit the next.
"That could have been us in Bible study," Butler said.
But even in the face of shock and sadness, Butler and members of his congregation say their faith is strong. They will continue to go to services on Sunday. They will continue to welcome strangers into their community. Because that is what their church is all about.
DMN says Butler was originally going to preach about domestic violence, itself a rather risky topic, falling on Father's Day. But after the Charleston shooting, Butler chose to expound on John 10:10, in which Jesus says: "The thief comes but to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly."
"On Wednesday, the enemy came to kill, steal and destroy. But we don’t dwell on the destruction. We dwell on the rebuilding, and the possibility," Butler said.
"And I think that applies to us collectively, but also individually," he said. "Because we all will face moments of destruction and death and hurt and grief and pain, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a child. But that moment doesn’t define us. It shouldn’t define us."
These perceptions had exceptions, of course. The Chicago Sun-Times attended an interfaith service where leaders of several congregations spoke. Their theme was preventing Roof's stated goal of provoking racial civil war in America.
The Sun-Times notes that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians and others attended and heard leaders of several faiths as well. It was interesting that liberal media dared to quote a minister decrying the "the face of evil has shown itself in our society, to see the darkness, the evil, embodied in such a way."
Don’t look for anything deeper here, though. Even Baptist pastor Cy Fields, president of clergy network, mildly urged listeners to "use this as an opportunity to spread love throughout the land, so that we can live as a community of brotherhood." If the newspaper dug for anything deeper, it was deleted.
Oddly, one of the most vacuous reports from yesterday was NBC's interview with the pastor of Roof's family church in Columbia, S.C.
The Rev. Herman Yoos of St. Paul Lutheran Church says he was glad to see the family at Sunday service, but that they're grieving and don’t understand the shooting. Even more trite, he says that we need to "build bridges" and "confront the reality of racism," and that his congregation is in "solidarity" with the nine families in Charleston.
Now, I don’t expect hard-hitting gospel language from an oldline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America minister, but NBC could asked more directive questions. Even after answering tmatt's question last week -- "Young man, where do you go to church?" -- we're no closer to knowing what kind of religious instruction Dylann Roof got, or the role of his church in its community.
NBC did better with its accompanying video, which includes the Father's Day sermon at Emanuel Church. The Rev. Norvel Goff, the AME elder, notes that media people have asked how the families of the nine victims could speak of forgiveness.
Amid applause and "Amens" from the congregation, Goff proclaims:
If you knew the nine families' Daddy, you would know how the children are behaving. After all, our Daddy said we ought to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
If you knew our Daddy, you would know he says, "Weeping endures the night, but joy comes in the morning."
Yes, if you knew our Daddy, you would know that some days are up, and some days are down, almost level to the ground. But if you knew our Daddy, you'd say, "When I looked over my life, and see what the Lord has done for us, my soul cries out 'Halleluljah!' Thank God for saving me!"
Goff then leads a prayer for the church and for the grieving families. The camera pans over the congregation, showing white and black worshipers praying hand in hand. He finishes with, "I want you to hug three persons next to you. Tell them it's going to be all right."
He may have reassured the congregation, but the reporting is reassuring to me. You know that Bible verse, "Where sin abounds, grace much more abounds"? Well, perhaps when darkness looms thick, mainstream reporting gains clarity.