Jennifer Pinckney had hoped to be in Bible study on the evening of June 17, 2015.
But her six-year-old daughter had other plans.
The two were in the senior pastor’s office at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on the night that Dylann Roof opened fire during the church’s Wednesday night Bible study, killing nine people. Among the victims was Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and Jennifer’s husband.
She and her daughter heard the shots, barricaded the door and hid under a desk in a secretary’s office, according to her testimony during the penalty phase of Roof’s trial.
“Be quiet. Don’t say anything,” she told her daughter. The two survived.
In the years since the attack at Emanuel AME, Pinckney has worked hard to pick up the pieces and to give her daughters a sense of a normal life. She was recently in Atlanta, where her daughters were taking part in a dance competition, and sat down for an interview with RNS.
It has been five years since the tragic events of the Charleston shooting. Can you take us back to the day it happened and what you experienced?
In the beginning, you’re in denial. You don’t always register when things happen. Especially as traumatic as the Charleston shooting. You just kind of think to yourself, “Did this happen to me?”
To be honest, at first, I was a little in denial that it really happened at all. I can tell you that I immediately went into mom mode to protect and be there for my two girls, which was and still is my first priority. I can remember getting home that night and seeing police cars everywhere in our yard and allowing my girls to briefly look out the window as I tried to explain to them the reality of what had happened.
Jennifer Pinckney, widow of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, speaks during a Feb. 9, 2016, event at Duke University on the violence that targeted Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Photo courtesy of Megan Mendenhall, Duke University
How are you and the kids doing?
We have our good and bad days. We are living in Columbia, S.C. I’m adjusting to being a single parent, and the girls are doing well in school and enjoying participating in dance competitions, which they have been involved in since they were little girls.
When did it become real to you that your husband was gone?
Because he traveled a lot it was easy for me to think that he would be coming home, so at first, it was like he was gone on a trip. It wasn’t until they brought his car home that it became real to me. I can remember sitting in his car and crying. That’s when it became real for me. There have been other moments, but I can remember that one vividly.
Are there any other emotions that you had to deal with after your husband was murdered?
There are just different little things I went through, like when I’d go into his closet, the bedroom, the bathroom, I never moved his pajamas that he had left out. Even when I’m looking at my girls, sometimes I can see him in them.
There has been so much said about your husband, who was he to you?
Reverend Clementa Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer Pinckney, top right, sits with her daughters, Eliana, right, and Malana, left in pink sweater, during services honoring the life of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, on June 26, 2015, in Charleston, S.C., at the College of Charleston TD Arena. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
There are many people who think they knew him, but they don’t, which is one of the hardest things that I have to deal with.
Clementa was so relatable to whoever he would meet. He was a tall man, so when he would talk to the girls, he would kneel down to their level to speak to them. He was a calm man. Even when he served in the state Senate, his colleagues would say he would hear both sides and would remain calm in listening. One of his favorite sayings was “Have you thought about it this way?” He was truly an attentive man. As busy as he was, Sunday was our time as a family. He would intentionally block that time off for us even after preaching on Sundays.
What type of pastor was he?
I can still remember his sermons. In fact, after his death, I went back and listened to some of them. Although I was in the room when he preached them, listening to them again ministered to me. His sermons felt like he was ministering to me from his grave.
His sermons have ministered to me through some tough moments in my life.
A lot has changed in America the last three years; what are your thoughts?
(Deep Breath) Yeah, a lot has changed, which is why I think much prayer is needed.
What is your life like today?
After the incident took place there were lots of people around, and the phone was constantly ringing, then after a while, everything just stops and people move on. I’m a mom first, and raising my two girls is my first priority in life. I want to make sure that I do that role well.
How do you raise two girls, whose father was killed because of a hate crime?
You know, I try to teach them just because someone may not like you, you have to go beyond that. You’re always going to run into difficult situations and different kinds of people, and you have to get beyond that person’s ignorance.
What would you like for people to remember about your husband?
That he loved God, he loved and respected everyone. It’s also important to note that no matter how busy he got, the girls and I came first. He would always take time for us. Clementa would hear everyone’s point of view. Many of his colleagues called him one of the most peaceful people that they knew.
Do you sometimes ask yourself why this didn’t happen to someone else?
I don’t because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else.
How have you handled the pressure of being in the public eye?
Before the tragedy, most people didn’t even really recognize me. When the tragedy happened and the media started coming around and started coming to my house, I had to go into protection mode to make sure that my girls were cared for.
When Jesus wanted to teach a lawyer the universal truth about what it means to be a neighbor, He told a story about a man from one ethnic group who helped a man from another ethnic group who had been beaten and left for dead along the Jericho Road. This anonymous brother’s keeper has been venerated as the Good Samaritan, and schools, hospitals, and streets are named after him. But today, if Jesus were telling this story, I wonder if He would only focus on one person helping another person. Today’s Jericho Road is not a one-person problem. If we’re to understand what it means to be a neighbor and straighten out our Jericho Road, we’ll need a national body of determined individuals who come together to fix a dangerous curve in our historical road that has caused damage to many for far too long.
What do I mean by straighten out our Jericho Road? First, a little context. In biblical times, the Jericho Road was the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a flourishing city. The rich and famous built their vacation homes in Jericho. Religious leaders spent their days off there, perhaps resting under a palm tree. But the road to Jericho had many twists and turns where evil people lurked and attacked unsuspecting travelers. Far too many people taking the four-hour trek down the Jericho Road found themselves victims of evildoers.
Some would question why anyone would knowingly travel such a dangerous roadway, but a better question would be: Why should anyone be unable to travel to Jericho in safety? Are we to surrender our freedom because some would want to deny our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Why are we told to go back to Africa when our forefathers and foremothers helped build this great society—for free? When we gather for Bible study in our own churches, do we have to fear that evil people are going to jump out of nowhere and attack us?
Today’s Jericho Road is a twisted state of mind
Our Jericho Road is not offenders lurking on some mountain path over in Israel. It’s individuals with twisted states of mind who believe they can wait in their own dark shadows and then, without warning, jump out and attack people because they don’t like how they look or falsely believe that individuals searching for peace and rest are a threat to them. How do we straighten out such a mindset? Do we need metal detectors at every church door? Should we take off our shoes off before we enter our places of worship, not because we’re standing on holy ground, but because we want to ensure no one is hiding a bomb in their shoes?
When our nation has experienced natural disasters and terrorist tragedies in the past, we’ve come together, stepped up with celebrity telethons, public service announcements, days of silence, and other forms of active support to tell ourselves and the world that we’re better than this… that we shall overcome all terrorist threats to a humane society.
Go public against racial hatred
When a group of African Americans tried to cross a bridge in Selma and were denied, the country rallied. People of all ethnic stripes came against forces that wanted to infringe upon the God-given dignity of others. In one collective voice, they said, “No more. Not on my watch. Never again.”
Do we have enough Good Samaritans today who are willing to go public with their determination to end racism? Can we get enough people to just say no to racism so that our national consciousness reaches a tipping point that ends racial injustice? Will we call out and straighten out our own family members, friends, co-workers, and associates when they espouse ideas and actions that would undermine the safety and sanctity of others?
There’s been a lot of talk about having conversations about race, but as we all know, talk is cheap—unless it’s meant to broaden our understanding and respect for people who are “other” to us. Should we have such honest and transparent conversations, we’d quickly find out that underneath the skin, we’re all pretty much the same, with the same dreams and aspirations for ourselves and future generations. But until people, famous and anonymous, lock arm in arm and publicly declare that life matters and that racial hatred is wrong and will not be tolerated here, we can expect more of the same.
It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. If that is true, then good people must take just actions until evildoers realize that we the people are intolerant of racial injustice. What Jesus taught must still be shared: We are all neighbors. We all are made in the image of God. Christ died so we could all experience our universal oneness in Him. When a Black child is murdered in the streets, we all suffer. When a White child is murdered in her elementary schoolroom, we all suffer. We are all human. No one else needs to be senselessly gunned down to make this heart-wrenching point.
(RNS) Inevitably, after the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, people are beginning to talk about arming congregants for self-defense. It is a sad image: 25 souls sitting around at Wednesday night prayer meeting, some packing heat in case the next church attacker should happen to be among them.
A mother and son stand at a makeshift memorial for victims of a mass shooting, outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, on June 22, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Carlo Allegri *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GUSHEE-COLUMN, originally transmitted on June 24, 2015.
Some people consider it a ridiculous idea, or dangerous, or even sacrilegious: Guns don’t belong in the house of the Lord Jesus, who taught turning the other cheek and peacemaking; guns don’t belong in the hands of angry people, and Lord knows people sometimes get real angry in church. Imagine an enraged deacon calling for a vote on whether to fire the pastor, gun in hand. (This might affect the church’s democratic process just a bit.)
Others have been in favor of guns in church for a long time. “Open carry” and/or “concealed carry” legislation has already been passed in numerous states, with application to numerous public places, including churches.
In Georgia last year, local church leaders found themselves on opposite sides of the issue, breaking down pretty neatly along left/right lines — yet another reminder that political ideology almost always seems stronger than shared Christian commitment in our red/blue culture. In the end, opponents managed to get an opt-in rather than opt-out system, so that churches would have to declare “guns welcome here” rather than having to declare the opposite. (An interesting addition to the run-of-the-mill messages on church signs.)
My most core Christian convictions center in the lordship of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life but did not take anyone’s life — and taught his followers the same pattern. When he could have defended himself, he did not. When the early church could have defended itself, it did not. Martyrdom and not defensive violence became the Christian paradigm. The early church dreamed of and worked for a renewed world and an end to its bloody violence.
But eventually Christians came to a theoretically limited embrace of violence, first in defense of the (supposedly Christian) Roman state and then its successors after the fourth century. Sometimes they embraced violence in the name of both state and church — for example, in suppressing heretics. Christians tended to support and participate in the violence governmental leaders ordered them to commit in criminal justice and in war, though just war/just violence theory set some limits — which gradually became refined over time.
Just-war thinkers always drew a sharp line between defensive and offensive violence, between justified and unjustified force. But just-war theory was primarily focused on the defense of the community or the state, not the individual Christian or the congregation. Romans 13:1-7 was read to authorize state violence as a deterrent, as defense, and as punishment of the wicked for violating communal peace and harming innocent people. But responsibility for executing that violence was left in the hands of government and its officials, which could and did include individual Christians but was separated from the function of the church. I could be shown to be wrong, but my reading of the Christian tradition is that the idea of heavily armed congregations hunkered down in self-defense in their houses of worship is a foreign concept.
But maybe that’s because for most of Christian history and in most places Christians did not need to feel afraid when they gathered in church. Excluding Muslim-Christian violence on those particular frontier lines — and after Christians in Europe and the colonies figured out how to stop killing each other over doctrinal differences — the average Christian didn’t need to be afraid of violence when she went to church.
This, of course, has not always been the case for the historic black churches in the United States, as Emanuel AME’s own history attests — though most white American Christians did not really notice before last week. As the center of African-American communal life, and often as the focal point of resistance to racist injustice, the black churches have periodically been victimized by violence. And yet I am not aware of any general pattern of African-American churches arming themselves in self-defense.
Perhaps that will change after last week. Certainly a general posture of open hospitality to the stranger could well be threatened.
I keep thinking about one stubborn fact of my own (limited) experience: I have never attended a Christian church that employed armed security, and I have never visited a Jewish synagogue that was not guarded by armed security. I first noticed it at a prosperous synagogue many years ago in northern Virginia, but since then have seen it elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. I will never forget when my wife and I visited the historic Great Synagogue in Rome — where a 2-year-old boy had been murdered, and 34 children injured, in a horrific 1982 attack on a Shabbat service. A machine-gun-toting Italian police officer guarded that synagogue the day we were there. Armed security was certainly present in Jerusalem when I visited a synagogue in that city.
People regularly victimized by violence, including in their holy places, will seek to protect themselves. I cannot fault them for it. I fault those whose crimes have evoked this response.
Bottom line: Mosques, synagogues, churches and other holy places should not require armed security. But sometimes, in our wicked world, they face real threats to the unthreatening people praying there. State officials bear primary responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable. If they won’t or can’t do their job, it is terribly sad but not inappropriate for houses of worship to pay for the level of security required to keep their children and senior citizens from being murdered. This is preferable to the other solution — arming lightly trained or untrained civilians whose weapons probably risk doing far more harm than good.
May none of us ever stop yearning and working for the day when all this killing will end.
Copyright 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.
Senior Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, speaks to those gathered during the Watch Night service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on December 31, 2012. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Randall Hill
Those are the words used by fellow state senator Marlon Kimpson on CNN Thursday morning to describe the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor and politician who was among nine people killed when a gunman, believed to be white, opened fire Wednesday evening at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Pinckney’s sister also died in the shooting, said J. Todd Rutherford, the minority leader of the state’s House of Representatives. Her name is not known and the other victims, two men and five women, were not immediately identified.
Rutherford, who has served in the State Legislature with Pinckney since 1998, told the New York Times that his colleague was “a man driven by public service” whose booming voice inspired his congregation and constituents.
Pinckney, 41, was married with two children and had served in the state Senate since 2000, according to an online biography on the church’s website.
The pastor was a magna cum laude graduate of Allen University with a degree in business administration and went on to earn a master’s degree in the same subject at the University of South Carolina, the site said. He then obtained a master’s of divinity from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
According to Rutherford and the website, Pinckney started preaching at 13 and received his first appointment to be a pastor at 18. At 23, he was elected to the South Carolina House of Representativesthe youngest state legislator in South Carolina history, and in 2000 was elected to the State Senate. Washington Post columnist David Broder called Pinckney a “political spirit lifter for surprisingly not becoming cynical about politics,” the site said.
A black mourning cloth was draped over Pinckney’s seat in the senate chamber in the capital, Columbia, Wednesday, according to news reports.
In 1999, Ebony Magazine named Pinckney as one of 30 African-American leaders of the future. He and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Eliana and Malana.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard told the Charleston Post and Courier that he visited Pinckney’s wife and daughters after the shooting. saying that the family is “surrounded by friends.”
In April, Pinckney helped lead a prayer vigil for Walter Scott, a black South Carolina man who was shot dead by a police officer as he tried to run away.
The veteran civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton, who was also involved in the vigil, tweeted on Wednesday night: “Rev. Clements Pinckney, a SC legislator is among the 9 killed in SC church. I am reminded that he helped lead our prayer vigil for Scott.”
The church is one of the nation’s oldest black congregations. It is housed in a 1891 Gothic Revival building which is considered a historically significant building, according to the National Park Service, which said that the church is the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore.
The congregation was formed by black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church who broke away “over disputed burial ground,” according to the park service’s website.
In 1822, one of the church’s co-founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to start a slave rebellion in Charleston, the website added. The plot was discovered and 35 people were executed, including Vesey.
The Rev. Joseph Darby of the AME Church in Beaufort, S.C., described Pinckney as “an advocate for the people.” He told MSNBC that “he was a very caring and competent pastor, and he was a very brave man. Brave men sometimes die difficult deaths.”
Copyright 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be reproduced without written permission.
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