The Corner

‘The Majesty of the Black Church’

I wrote today about Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the context of the history of the black church in America:

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., has taken an unspeakable crime and made it the occasion for an astonishing Christian witness.

In an unforgettable scene at the bond hearing last week for Dylann Roof, whose own uncle mused about flipping the switch for his execution after he gunned down nine people at an Emanuel Bible study, tearful family members of the victims told Roof that they forgive him and that he should repent.

They were voices of love responding to hate, of unbelievable mercy and forbearance in the face of cruelty and murderous provocation, of an almost miraculous faith.

In his sermon at Emanuel the Sunday after the shootings, the Reverend Norvel Goff Sr. said members of the media wondered how the family members were capable of such heroic grace, before declaring they wouldn’t be mystified if they knew the true “daddy” of those families, God the Father.

Goff’s performance was itself extraordinary — exuberant, joyful, unifying, and supremely confident that “no weapon formed against us shall prosper,” just days after Roof had wielded a murderous weapon within the church’s very walls.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, or “Mother Emanuel,” as it is fondly known, has an honored place in the history of the black church in America, which is one of the glories of our civil society. Betrayed by white churches blinkered by race and beholden to the system of slavery, African Americans forged their own churches in circumstances of repression and profound injustice.

If you haven’t yet watched Goff’s sermon, by the way, it’s worth taking the time to watch the whole thing: