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Pastoral Word Regarding the Massacre of African American Worshippers

At Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina

On June 19, 2015
The expression Massacre or Slaughter of the Holy Innocents traditionally has
referred to the enraged and wanton murder of the babes in Bethlehem initiated by King
Herod in his fruitless effort to track down the young child Jesus so that he could destroy
him and thus alleviate the threats he felt Jesus posed to his throne. This reference and
expression also became in vogue after the murder of young school children at the Sandy
Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.


when one reflects upon the fact that the word innocent refers to being free from evil or
guilt or lacking the intent to injure, irrespective of age, I submit to you that the massacre
of nine worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston on December 10, 2015
by a deranged, young hate filled white racist whose sole purpose in attending Bible study
at an historic black church, was the premeditated and conscious-less murder of African
Americans is yet another latter day example of the slaughter of the Innocents.
I further assert that this latest barbaric incident of racial hatred is part of an
ongoing saga of disdain and disregard of black life that has been institutionally practiced
and culturally engrained in our country, which has become adept at explaining away and
failing to confront the anti-black phobia, paranoia and cancer that is destroying its very
soul. From the murders of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida to Michael Brown in
Ferguson, Missouri to Eric Garner in New York City to Freddie Gray in Baltimore to
Walter Scott in North Charleston to innocent black teenagers being assaulted at a pool
party in McKinney, Texas to the slaughter of the innocents in Bible Study this week in
Charleston the ugly truth is that violence against African Americans is not a regional
issue, but runs through the veins of this country from sea to bloody sea.
Further, when legal systems of this nation send the message over and over again
that African Americans are the enemy and that their lives really do not matter, then it
creates a climate for the birthing and emergence of a new generation of vicious racists
such as the cold blooded young Dylan Roof. With all of the possibilities that a young
person could think and dream about, whence comes this unwarranted hatred of African
Americans except from the context and climate that sends the message that blacks are
sub-humans deserving only destruction and that one can murder them without fear of

incrimination? The heritage of white racism that produced barbaric acts of violence
against African Americans that led to the most heinous crimes during the time of slavery,
and segregation still is alive and well in this supposed post racial America today. The
twisted mind that conceived of quartering, lynching, hanging, raping, and bombing is not
a relic of the history books, or an image to be viewed on old black and white television
footage, but has made its way into the internet age, and is being updated and downloaded
at this very moment.
There are some deeds that are so brutal that they awaken in all persons of decent
conscious and goodwill the common humanity and the "imago dei" that we all share.
Thank God that violence against Innocents has not become so commonplace that we can
still be touched, moved, shamed and pained by outrageous acts against each other. Those
of us who feel most moved with sorrow by what happened in Charleston, South Carolina
are encouraged by the interracial and interfaith revulsion to this latest massacre of
Innocents. However our prayer and hope is that this event will not quickly become
yesterdays news.

There is an ongoing fight and struggle that must be waged to

overcome our historic and ongoing warfare against our institutionally protected and
culturally engrained legacy and lifestyle of racial hatred. That fight and struggle must
continue to be waged everyday, in every way, and in every place where racism raises its
Medusa like head, whether in our families or among our friends or professional
associations or in our churches.
We must tear down the rampant structures of racism still present in the justice,
educational, and financial systems of this country, as well as its racist symbols. For
example there is a need for those who share the sorrow of blacks in South Carolina to
join in with the fight to ban the public display and affirmation of the Confederate flag as a
viable symbol and representation of America. For those who claim this flag as a symbol
of their heritage, I have four very shocking new flashes to bring to them. Flash Number

Flash Number Two---THE CONFEDERACY



NOT COMING BACK!!!! Why would anyone in their right mind want to hold on to a

flag that represents a lost war, a lost cause, and a dead way of life as their rallying symbol
for their future? The Confederate flag is the Swastika for African Americans and it is
hypocritical for any state to claim it cares for its black citizens while it popularizes such a
repulsive symbol representing a past that is gone forever.
Let me end this word with an illustration that I have used before. Many years ago
when I was a teenager I used to hear a preacher respond to the preached word by yelling,
Preacher hold on to your hope. In this dark season when so many of us are struggling
with anger, bitterness, cynicism, and pessimism, I hear the words of that preacher ringing
in my spirit from my childhood, Preacher hold on to your hope. As we stand at this
Calvary moment, that preachers praise is a contemporary word for usHold on to your
hope. Release, your fears, but Hold on to your hope. Release your bitterness, but
Hold on to your hope. Work through your anger, but Hold on to your hope. Cry
when your must, but Hold on to your hope. No matter what unexpected tragedies and
trauma shake us up, Hold on to your hope. When it seems as if our living and serving
and trying to do the right thing are all in vain, Hold on to your hope. When our hearts
seem on the verge of breaking, Hold on to your hope. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
has reminded us, We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.
We must hold on to our hope in light of the awe inspiring example of Christian
witness demonstrated by the families whose loved ones had yet to be buried, but still
were able summon a strength that can only come from God to say to the unrepentant
murderer of their family members with sincerity I forgive you, and God have mercy
on your soul. While the demand of retributive justice, the precedents of history, and
fundamental nature of human reason each called for an expression of anger and
vengeance on behalf of the dead, these grieving men and women, boys and girls have
demonstrated the depth of their faith, and their identity as true disciples of the Lord Jesus
Christ. Hold on to your hope because their lives are the embodiment of that great
hymn born of the civil rights movement that concludes, and theyll know we are
Christians by our love.
Hold on to your hope because the devil is a liar. Hold on to your hope
because we shall overcome. Hold on to your hope black and white together. Hold on

to your hope because we are not afraid. Hold on to your hope most of all because
God is on our side and that same God will see us through.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, Led us into the light,
Keep us forever inn the path we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, May we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

The Rev. Dr. William D. Watley,

Senior Pastor, St. Philip AME Church, Atlanta, GA
The Rev. Matthew L. Watley
Executive Minister, Reid Temple AME Church
June 21, 2015