Charleston shooting survivor wants to carry on husband’s work

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DURHAM, N.C. — The first lady of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church offered two enduring images: her late husband’s smiling face lying in a casket, and the bullet holes that riddled the church walls when she went to clean out his office a week later.

“Clementa was a peaceful person,” said Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the late preacher and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, during a visit to Duke University to talk about race and faith. “He was all about peace.”

Jennifer Pinckney survived the Charleston massacre that took her husband’s life and the lives of  eight others. “I want him to smile down on us. I want him to be proud. I want to carry on his work.”

Pinckney started a foundation in her husband’s name to continue his support of public education and health care access.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred people in Duke’s Page Auditorium on Tuesday (Feb. 9), Pinckney steered clear of politics and of the legal proceedings against accused shooter Dylann Roof, preferring to talk about her husband as a father and a pastor. Roof will return to court in South Carolina on Thursday for a pretrial hearing.

“I don’t even want to turn my TV on,” Pinckney told about a dozen reporters who gathered for a press conference on campus Tuesday. “We’re all in the process of trying to heal.”

But Pinckney’s friends Chris Vaughn and Kylon Middleton, both pastors who attended the forum alongside her, dove into the issues of gun control, racial inequality and social justice.

Middleton, pastor of Mount Zion AME Church, also in Charleston, pointed out that his denomination arose in rebellion against Methodist churches that gave whites priority at the prayer rails.

“The AME church itself was born out of social-justice protest,” he said. “Religion and politics can’t be separated when we have poverty right outside our doors. We cannot divorce ourselves from the plight of everyday people, whether white, black or purple. It really doesn’t matter. We all should have access to certain things.”

Moderator Eboni Marshall Turman, director of Duke Divinity School’s Black Church Studies program, lamented that a gospel of prosperity and respectability has taken root, even though black churches were birthed in the experience of suffering and poverty.

“We go and get our feel-good on Sunday morning, and when that feel-good is over with, we go on our way,” said Vaughn, pastor of Jerusalem Branch Baptist Church in Salley, S.C. “That’s why we need real church, to be able to do real work in the community. More conversations need to take place that make us feel uncomfortable. When we feel uncomfortable, we move.”

Though the Charleston victims’ families have talked about forgiveness for Roof, Middleton said he and others will watch the court proceedings closely to make sure justice is done.

Roof is charged with a federal hate crime and could face the death penalty.

Pinckney offered searing images of that fateful day in June that took her husband’s life.

She described waiting in another room with her 6-year-old daughter, Malana, for the pastor to finish with a Bible study.

“She heard everything that was going on,” said Pinckney of Malana. “Within that moment, she asked me, ‘Mama, is Daddy going to die?’”

— by Jesse James DeConto | RNS

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