There are people who will steal, but never from a church. There are those who will kill, but never in a house of God, where the faithful congregate to worship and seek God’s blessings for themselves and others.
This is why the June 17 massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, was particularly sinister. Nine African-American men and women were killed while gathered in church for their usual Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting. That evening, the churchgoers had welcomed the young white stranger who would take their lives before the night was over.
The public outcry against this hate-filled act continues to reverberate.
Because the accused 21-year-old killer was toting a Confederate battle flag in an online posting, debates were rekindled over whether that particular flag should come down at the South Carolina state capitol.
Vigils and community meetings once again underscored that “Black Lives Matter.” Many churches focused on beefing up security, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley expressed concern that parents would have to explain to children “how they can go to church and feel safe.”
These reactions to the killings at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church are understandable. However, they are not focusing on the obvious, on what I call the white elephant in the church that fateful night.
This white elephant is God’s urgent call to his people to prayer meetings and not away from them as the devil would have it.
If a flag bearer falls, shouldn’t another lift the flag on high?
If those gathered while seeking God are slain, shouldn’t others courageously come forward and do likewise in their own places of worship to express solidarity?
Today, Mother Emanuel, as the Charleston church is called locally, has a seating capacity of 2,500. It was established in 1816 in response to discrimination, burned to the ground because of hatred and rebuilt. Though the church boasts a large population, only a small number was present for Bible study and prayer when the slaughter occurred.
This is typical of Christian churches across America: heavy attendance at services on weekends but only a small sprinkling of people present midweek to offer in unison prayers so vital for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.
I have witnessed such sparse attendances over the years as I sought out Wednesday night prayer meetings in every city that I’ve ever worked in. I went to the meetings because I found solace in turning to God with other like-minded people in dealing with whatever life sent my way.
Therefore, my personal response to the evil unleashed in Charleston is to hearken to God’s apparent call to become more resolved than ever to regularly attend Wednesday night prayer meetings in my local church and to invite family members and friends to go with me.
This is a nonviolent but powerful thing that all people regardless of age can do to thwart evil.
Rather than be driven away from churches out of fear, Christians should flock to them. That particularly egregious act in Charleston requires an orchestrated and thunderous response — on our knees and with our heads bowed in prayer.
Greene was an associate editor at Catholic News Service for nearly 22 years prior to her retirement in December 2011.