Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pinckney, then and now

I have a love-hate relationship with the Sunday morning talk shows. They're too important to miss, but almost all of them feature John McCain and Donna Brazile, the one evading the obvious and the other patiently explaining why Hillary is a good candidate.

This morning's shows are a notable exception, featuring live broadcasts of the beautiful and moving worship service at historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, its first since the horrifying massacre of Wednesday night. As an atheist, I am happy to pay tribute to a group that has spent the week steadily living out some of the most powerful words in the Bible: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Listening to the opening prayer of Emanuel's presiding elder, I was reminded of a word, "gravitas," a quality we see too little in politics or in the culture at large.

Finally, I was reminded, alas, of the egregious religious illiteracy among the Chardonnay-sipping media, as seen when Jake Tapper asked Van Jones "So what about all this willingness to forgive? Is this some AME thing?"


Pardon me while I take a moment to beat my head against the pavement. If Jake can't do any better than that, Brian Williams may not be the only one who needs to assume a lesser role in the news.

I visited Charleston for a weekend in '81 and attended worship services at historic St. Michael's Episcopal Church on Meeting St. I saw the grave of Revolutionary War patriot Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, one of our founding fathers. They were a noble generation but sadly tainted with the barbarity of chattel slavery. As Samuel Johnson said at the time, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?" Now, more than two centuries later, Pinckney's namesake, the late pastor of Emanuel Church, has been struck down by a vestige of the very dehumanizing impulse to which our ancestors were tragically blind. How much longer will we let this pollute our society?

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