The Doors of the Church Are Open

America’s top faith leaders share prayers, heartbreak, and humanity following the Charleston murders.

Within hours, Groundswell, Auburn Seminary’s online platform, collected and continues to deliver some 8,000 prayers from people of all faiths and beliefs in response to the horrific murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Some of America’s top faith leaders shared their prayers, heartbreak, and humanity and we offer them here:

“When we see the faces of those who were lost and learn of their lives, we are devastated not just by the senselessness of the act but also because we know these victims. The civil servants, the recent graduate, the librarian, the track coach, the grandfather, and the great-grandmother. They are representative of the members of almost any black church, assembled under the leadership of a civic-minded young pastor.

“They were hunted down by a young person infected with racialized hatred and mental instability who had access to weapons designed for sport. He has terrorized all of us.

“Across the country many of us sought comfort and solace in the very temples the gunman’s hate attempted to destroy. His actions will not terrify us from remaining true to the history and mission of the black church. In honor of those nine souls and of the countless others who preceded them, we will continue to exist, to protest, to remain open, to stand, and to pray. The black church will continue to serve as a sanctuary against racism and hatred.

“The doors of the church are open.”

— Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago


“There were gun shots in a place of prayer and peace. Cries of terror filled the space where we sing God’s name. Blood soaked the carpets of the prayer hall. Those who survived said that they saw hate in the eyes of the gunman. This is what I witnessed three years ago in the Sikh gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where a white supremacist opened fire and claimed the lives of Sikh Americans. It was the deadliest attack on a faith community since the 1964 Birmingham bombing that took four little girls — until now.

“So today, as I mourn with the families of Charleston, I shed fresh but familiar tears. Whether inside a black church or Sikh gurdwara, bloodshed in our sacred spaces is deep violation — an assault on all of us. That means we must gather together to mourn and help one another become brave. Because ending hate in America is our calling, each of us. Today, we pray. Tomorrow, we organize.”

— Valarie Kaur, leading Sikh activist, lawyer, filmmaker, and founder of the Groundswell Movement


“From President Obama to three African-American women I talked with recently, I’m hearing ‘I’m so tired of this’ spoken with a deep sadness and (for the moment) hopelessness. Part of what it means to be a person — of whatever faith — is the willingness to bear one another’s burdens.

“That first means noticing those burdens, participating in the grieving, listening to the anger, and NOT trying to talk them out of feeling burdened and angry, as if it were unwarranted. As faithful neighbors, our job right now is to listen — hard — and join in the grieving.  And then when we too get sick and tired of this, let’s all do something together.”

Bishop Gene Robinson, first openly gay man elected bishop in the high church, currently Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire


“Just when people of faith in Charleston were in the midst of the spiritual work of Bible study, of connecting their souls to something bigger than themselves and their bodies to the community they love and trust, just when they tried to be open enough to hear God’s words and brave enough to try to respond with honesty and humility, at that moment, a shooter decided to kill.

“These families have lost a sense of safety and stability in their own sacred house of worship. Black families grieve and weep. We grieve with them and pray for our country and our world because whether it is Sikhs in prayer or Jews in prayer or Muslims in prayer or black people in prayer, this is unacceptable. These lives lost have immeasurable worth and we are all diminished by their death.

“May we recommit ourselves to reach across lines of race and faith and all differences to turn the unknown into relationship, relationship into trust, trust into solidarity, solidarity into peace, and peace among us all into taking action for justice for those who grieve today and all days.”

Rabbi Stephanie Kolin, associate rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York


“Cynthia Hurd, Suzy Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson are tragically no longer with us simply because they prayed in a church. Mother Emanuel will never be the same. The families and close friends of those killed will never be the same. America will never be the same. Not just due to the actions of a hate-filled man, but because of a legacy of white supremacy that has gone unchecked for far too long. A lone shooter pulled the trigger, but white supremacy gave him the gun, the bullets, and the deadly vision that black people had to die because they will rape ‘our’ women.

“As a white person, a Christian, a Unitarian Universalist, a lesbian and an LGBTQ faith activist, I know that the white supremacist violence on display in Charleston is the presiding issue of our moment. If we are not addressing this directly and boldly once and for all, none of us will have justice.”

Dr. Sharon Groves, faith organizer and strategist and former Human Rights Campaign religion and faith program director


“As a white Christian from Mississippi in NYC, I stand resolutely against the hateful actions of a 21-year-old white man who brutally murdered nine African Americans at Emmanuel African Methodist Church, the oldest independent denomination founded by African Americans in the world. The shooter, according to witnesses, said he was at the church ‘to shoot black people,’ unveiling a racist hate crime that has shocked the nation.

“It’s important in this moment that whites step up and confess the sin of racism in America and condemn this violent racist mass murder. As pro-reconciliation/anti-racist whites, we need to repent through dismantling systemic racism within our institutions, churches, and communities; become humble, supportive allies in the #BlackLivesMatter movement; and seek to be accountable to black communities.”

“White Silence = White Complicity.”

Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, associate professor of Systematic Theology at New York Theological Seminary


“Living God, help humanity see how the same violence of heart that destroys precious human lives with bullets of hate destroys the planet for pockets of money. Humble us, convert us, teach us to love, make us instruments of healing and peace. Amen.”

Brian McLaren, author, speaker, activist, and networker among innovative Christian leaders


“During this holiest month for Muslims, a time for reflection and refocused attention on one’s relationship with God, I sit here and pray for the victims and families of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre and the Charleston community. May God bring them patience, resilience and solace. May God strengthen the American people and instill in us the moral courage to stand against hate and injustice that continues to take the lives of our brothers and sisters. May God breathe love into our hearts and clear our path towards justice and equality. In the end, we are all God’s children and we must work to uplift, protect, and empower all of us.”

Linda Sarsour, Muslim community activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York


“There are moments that define each of us as human beings. And there are moments that define us as a nation. Our response to the massacre in Charleston — 52 years after four girls were murdered at 16th Street Baptist — will define us as individuals and as a nation.

“Will we continue to deny, lie, and hide from the devastatingly real and ongoing effects of centuries of deeply embedded racism? Or can we rise up from this tragedy and collectively affirm one another’s humanity, fight for one another’s dignity as our own? 

“Will we continue to allow politicians owned by the gun lobby to obfuscate and perpetuate the ravages wrought by deadly weapons that flow freely on our streets, available for purchase by any hate-filled or broken-hearted person with a credit card and a grudge? Or will we finally now — after yet another mass shooting — stand up together and say NO MORE? 

“Let our grief and anguish unite us as a nation, with a fierce and sacred commitment to do better. Let this moment be the moment.”

Rabbi Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles


“When the AME pastor thanked the multi-faith crowd for coming out to support the vigil in honor of the nine slain in Charleston, a member of the audience yelled out, ‘We are all AME tonight!’ And the audience jumped to its feet with loud applause. This is what solidarity looks like. This is what love looks like. This is what theology looks like. Fighting terrorism and white supremacy requires that we truly hear one another, truly love one another, and truly see God in one another. #WeAreAllAME.”

Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, leader of PICO National Network and the Prophetic Voices Initiative in Oakland


“God is love. Love enough to comfort you in your pain. Love enough to cherish you and make you free. Which is what made enslaved Africans gravitate toward the Love. Gather in fields and open clearings and seek the Love.

“In our freedom, we walked out of churches that denied our humanity and made our own spaces to communicate with the Love.

“Love created Emmanuel AME. Love gathered a pastor and his flock. Love made them open the doors and allow a stranger to sit with them for a while.

“Hatred made him kill. Black people. Praying. In love.

“Love looks like this: Prophetic grief. Tears falling heavy, wailing, and moaning. Followed by feet on the ground. Work to cure our nation of racism and the violence. Right now.

“Because of Love.”

Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York


Let us repeat, together, “The doors of the church are open.”

Image courtesy of jalexartis.

  • bakabomb

    We should also repeat that this was not an attack on Christianity. Roof merely thought people in a Bible study group would be a less dangerous target than a group of young black men on a streetcorner.

    He was both right and wrong. Right, in that streetcorner youth gain strength from their anger. Wrong, because Christians gain more strength from our faith. It was solidarity in faith that saved the Church in the days of the early martyrs 2000 years ago, and it’s solidarity in faith that makes us invincible today.

  • Rachida Djebel

    Allah yarehamou x nine …. We who are muslims say this upon death of our fellows… We are all creatures of Allah/God/Le bon Dieu who inch’Allah will give comfort to all who have been and are still touched by this tragedy… Al Rahman all Rahim (the most merciful, the most compassionate