During a Honolulu interfaith prayer vigil held in the wake of the shooting deaths of nine people in The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, local clergy urged attendees to speak out against racism and violence directed toward black people throughout the nation.
About 25 people gathered for prayer and song Thursday at the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. The event was organized by its pastor, the Rev. Jonipher Kupono Kwong.
Rabbi Peter Schaktman and the Rev. Kyle Ann Lovett, a United Church of Christ minister, led the vigil, reading excerpts from an Esquire Magazine online article titled "Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable." (See the full article by Charles P. Pierce at bit.ly/1Bqx7mp.)
Lovett read this excerpt: "Not to think about these things is to betray the dead. Not to speak of these things is to dishonor them. … The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence. It must reject the false comfort of learned disbelief and the narcotic embrace of concocted surprise. There is a ferocious underground fire running through American history. It rages unseen until it flares again from the warm earth."
According to Associated Press reports, police apprehended a 21-year-old man described as a white supremacist Thursday, a day after he gunned down six women and three men in a church that survived tenaciously through two centuries of bigotry.
The lead pastor of "Mother Emanuel," founded in 1816, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among the dead. In a 2013 sermon he recalled his church’s history, saying, "We don’t see ourselves as just a place where we come to worship, but as a beacon and as a bearer of the culture," according to news reports.
One vigil attendee, Natasha Smith, who attends First Unitarian and a Mormon church, said, "As a black woman, I’ve grown up experiencing a lot of grief, and when I saw that (shooting on television) last night, my heart just broke." With the tragedy "coming on the heels of McKinney (a recent fracas at a pool party in Texas) and so many other incidents that have been racially divisive, the dam just broke. And can our community take one more thing?"
Smith said she came to the prayer meeting when she could not find consolation on social media.
There are "so many people NOT talking about these issues, not talking about the pain that our community is going through, that Charleston’s going through, the pain of these families. … It’s very important to reverence the pain and sorrow of others."
Smith continued, "When race is brought up or this violence … people are turning the other way, and we can’t; we have to look at it. We have to confront ourselves We have to confront the hurt that we are all experiencing because this is not just not one group, one church, somewhere away from here. It’s all of us. We should all be bound together in a love for one another in a spiritual community, no matter your faith."
The CathedraL of St. Andrew, headquarters of the Episcopal Diocese of Honolulu, held another vigil Friday evening. Also, it rang church bells for 10 minutes beginning at noon, in conjunction with a national observance by the Bishops United Against Gun Violence.
The Rev. Walter Brownridge, dean of the cathedral and an African-American, said St. Andrew’s vigil served as an "an opportunity to pray and process this tragedy. … It was an act of solidarity for us to be with the people in Charleston. We’re thousands of miles away, and I’ve had people come up to me with tears in their eyes to talk about how they feel about this."
Brownridge said he hopes people will commit themselves to "pray and work for peace, for the end of violence (especially gun violence), and to strive for racial justice and reconciliation."
First Unitarian Church of Honolulu’s Kwong said in a news release, "As people of faith, we have to say enough is enough. Racism has no place in our country and certainly no place in our houses of worship. May these nine precious souls not die in vain. May their memories live on in the form of our high resolve to eliminate racism from our hearts and our spirits."
Rabbi Schaktman said in the release that people of all faiths "cannot help but be shocked at this desecration of God’s image" and that the massacre in the church was a violation of "sacred space. Hatred and death intruded into this sanctuary of love and life."