Dylann Roof

Mirror-image news again: Mother Emanuel hosts historic racial-reconciliation service

Mirror-image news again: Mother Emanuel hosts historic racial-reconciliation service

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks for a recent event linked to racial reconciliation in the deep South, a worship service held in a highly symbolic sanctuary.

I will get to that in a moment.

But first, let’s engage in another “mirror image” experiment. This is a common GetReligion device in which we create a news story — an upside-down or inside-out version of a real story — and then ask what kind of mainstream news coverage it would have received.

So, let’s imagine that the leader of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, had traveled south to preach at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Readers may recall that Curry delivered a long and spectacular sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was quite a scene.

Readers will, of course, remember that Mother Emanuel was the site of the massacre by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who gunned down eight worshippers during an evening Bible study.

So let’s say that Curry comes to this holy ground to preach on racial reconciliation. The church is packed and another 400 people watch the service on closed-circuit video in another sanctuary nearby.

My question: Would this event have received significant coverage in local, regional and even national media?

I am guessing that the answer is “yes.”

Now, the mirror-image question: Was it news when Southern Baptists — led by South Carolina Baptist Convention President Marshall Blalock — filled Mother Emanuel for a “Building Bridges” worship service, praying for racial reconciliation in their state and in America as a whole? Yes, 400 more watched a closed-circuit feed at Citadel Square Baptist Church.

Was it news? As best I can tell, with online searches, the answer is “no.” This surprises me, since Southern Baptists statements on race have made news in recent years. Maybe that’s an old story now?

Anyway, here is some key material from Baptist Press:

"I don't know if we've ever been in a more sacred place," Blalock told messengers and guests. "As we gather in Mother Emanuel Church, the place itself speaks to us of the power of faith in Christ Jesus. We're in a place of safety because, while it's where hearts were broken, it's also the place where the life-saving power of God's grace is."

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A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

A motive in Nashville church shooting? Associated Press report cites possible retaliation for Charleston

Earlier this week, I addressed the question of whether the news media underplayed the Tennessee church shooting story.

I quoted a few critics who made that claim.

But I disagreed, maintaining that the level of coverage — which I pointed out was not insignificant — would have been higher if more church members had died:

Sadly, in America in 2017, a mass shooting in which one person dies is not going to dominate the news cycle for long. Such tragedies have become too common.

One reader — who dubbed himself/herself "TooMuchDarkness" — responded to that post with this complaint:

I haven't seen one shred of investigative journalism delving into the background of the shooter, interviewing friend, family, coworkers and classmates trying understand what drove him to commit such a crime. Who are his parents and why are they spared the exposure most murderer's parents get. I'd like to know more but journalists don't seem to care.

Well, actually ...

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Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'

Victim's blood-stained Bible 'reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof'


So powerful.

That's the only way to describe the lede on today's front-page Post and Courier story on victim impact statements to Dylann Roof, the condemned gunman in the Emanuel AME church massacre:

Clutching the blood-stained Bible she had with her when Dylann Roof executed nine family and friends around her, Felicia Sanders told the self-avowed white supremacist in court Wednesday that she still forgives him for his actions. They have scarred her life but haven't shaken her faith.
Addressing Roof the day after a jury sentenced him to death, Sanders said the mass shooting that killed nine black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 has left her unable to hear a balloon pop or an acorn fall without being startled. She can no longer shut her eyes when she prays.
But she will carry on, she told him, and continue to follow the words of God still clear in the battered Bible she cherishes.
"I brought my Bible to the courtroom ... shot up," she said. "It reminds me of the blood Jesus shed for me and you, Dylann Roof."
Sanders, who lost her son Tywanza and her aunt Susie Jackson in the shooting, told Roof that when she looks at him she sees "someone who is cold, who is lost, who the devil has come back to reclaim." 

As many times as I've praised the Charleston, S.C., daily's coverage of the massacre and its aftermath — most recently on Wednesday — I know I sound like a broken record.

But the latest story by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her Post and Courier colleagues is again filled with relevant, compelling religious details such as these:

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As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

As Emanuel AME gunman gets death, looking for faith — and finding it — on victims' side

It's impossible to tell the story of the Emanuel AME church massacre without a huge dose of faith.

All along, we at GetReligion have praised the unsurpassed local coverage of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes and her colleagues with the Post and Courier, the daily newspaper in Charleston, S.C.

In the wake of gunman Dylann Roof receiving a federal death sentence Tuesday, we again point readers to Hawes & Co.'s banner coverage of the decision.

But I also want to call special attention to a national story on Roof's sentencing, via the New York Times: 

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann S. Roof, the unrepentant and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazen racial rampage almost 19 months ago, an outburst of extremist violence that shocked the nation, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.
The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial.

The Times' story is full of strong and appropriate religion content, including this reaction:

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In Bible Belt, after massacre in a church, is executing Dylann Roof a 'security' question?

In Bible Belt, after massacre in a church, is executing Dylann Roof a 'security' question?

Hey journalists. Have you ever watched the local news coverage of a news event in which you -- as a citizen, as opposed to being there as a reporter -- were an active participant?

This has happened to me a few times, primarily when my own local church gets involved in some kind of cause. That's what happened long ago in Charlotte when I took part in a midnight prayer vigil in opposition to North Carolina's use of the death penalty. Frequent readers of this blog over the years are probably aware that I am totally opposed to the death penalty, just as I am opposed to abortion and euthanasia.

This particular event in my past provides the background for my comments on the Washington Post story about the death penalty and the Dylann Roof case down in South Carolina. The headline: "What to expect as prosecutors try to persuade jurors to sentence Dylann Roof to death." 

This story ran, for some reason, under a "National Security" header.

Now, our own Bobby Ross Jr. has tons lots of critiques of media coverage linked to the role that religious faith -- especially concepts of grace and forgiveness -- have played in events surrounding this crime and its aftermath. Click here, please, to look through some of that. It's really hard to cover stories linked to the death penalty without getting into religious territory. This is especially true in the American heartland.

This brings me back to that midnight prayer vigil in Charlotte, which took place in an Episcopal church near downtown. The church sanctuary and nave were dark -- candles only, except for a reader's light on the pulpit -- when the television crew entered. People were praying silently and then, every 10 minutes or so, there would be readings from scripture.

In that era, portable light rigs for television cameras were really outrageous. Then the lights were on the camera guy made him look like an approaching UFO as he walked -- I am not joking -- down the center aisle filming people praying in the candlelight. He kept going until he was past the pulpit and up near the altar, shining those glaring lights back into everyone's eyes during a Bible reading.

People were rather upset. There we were on our knees praying for the state not to use the death penalty and, well, we pretty much wanted to kill that camera guy with a barrage of prayerbooks.

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After Dylann Roof verdict, best stories aren't about the killer — but resilient survivors

After Dylann Roof verdict, best stories aren't about the killer — but resilient survivors

As I noted earlier this week, a big part of me would be happy never to see Dylann Roof's name in print again. Or hear it on the TV news.

But stories about the victims and survivors of last year's rampage that claimed nine lives at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C? I could read those all day — as long as I had a box of tissues handy.

That's why — after a federal jury found Roof guilty on all 33 counts Thursday — my favorite verdict stories were the ones that focused not on Roof but the victims.

A year and a half after the church slaughter, Emanuel AME's demonstrations of faith and forgiveness still resonate in a powerful way. More on that in a moment.

As background: Major news organizations — from The Associated Press to Reuters to the Washington Post — all covered the jury's conviction of Roof. No surprise there.

However, victims were secondary in most of these straight-news reports. I didn't see any survivors or victims' loved ones quoted in the Los Angeles Times' story (although readers did learn up high that Roof wore a "blue cable-knit sweater" as the verdicts were read). Perhaps I missed a sidebar.

But besides its main report, the New York Times had a gripping narrative on "Congregants’ Quiet Agony at the Dylann Roof Trial."

Wow, this is worthwhile reading, full of precise detail and real human emotion:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Each morning they flowed into Courtroom Six, escorted by federal officials from a holding room reserved for survivors and families of the victims. The accused, Dylann S. Roof, never turned from the end of the defense table to acknowledge the parents, widows and widowers, children, grandchildren and fellow congregants of the nine African-Americans he confessed to killing in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Felicia Sanders, who survived the rampage but lost her son and her aunt, watched from the first of six rows of wooden benches, along with her husband, Tyrone. The Rev. Eric S. C. Manning, who now inhabits the office once occupied by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was among those killed, sat one row back. The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, whose wife, Myra, led the evening Bible study that Mr. Roof joined, always took his place in the fifth row, along with John Pinckney, the former pastor’s father.

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'Just who is Dylann Roof?': Do we really need to know what makes a mass murderer tick?

'Just who is Dylann Roof?': Do we really need to know what makes a mass murderer tick?

Jennifer Berry Hawes has an incredibly difficult job. I don't envy her.

Hawes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., is covering the trial of Dylann Roof, who confessed to last year's mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church.

Regular GetReligion readers will recall that we repeatedly have praised Hawes — a former full-time Godbeat pro — for her reporting on the Emanuel AME aftermath. We have used adjectives such as "amazing" and "powerful" to describe her stories. 

But I can't say that I "enjoyed" her front-page Sunday story on Roof.

In the story, Hawes delves into this question:

Just who is Dylann Roof?

My immediate thought: Do we really want to know?

Of course, the journalist in me recognizes that such stories are necessary and important. But there's a part of me that would be happy never to see Roof's name in print again. Or hear it on the TV news.

In a post on a different shooting rampage last year, I wrote:

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Who would Jesus execute? Dylann Roof facing death penalty in rampage at S.C. black church

Who would Jesus execute? Dylann Roof facing death penalty in rampage at S.C. black church

In a story on federal prosecutors seeking the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the New York Times introduces a compelling religion angle way up high.

Jesus even makes an appearance. But, surprise, this faith hook vanishes almost immediately. Strange how things like that happen.

The lede from the Times:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Rev. Sharon Risher often thinks these days about what she calls her “humanness”: the passing impulse to crave the execution of the white supremacist accused of killing her mother and eight other black churchgoers last year.
“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Ms. Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”
But after delays, the Federal District Court here will begin on Monday the long process of individually questioning prospective jurors for the capital trial of Dylann S. Roof, who is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes, in the June 17, 2015, killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Mr. Roof, whom a judge on Friday declared competent to stand trial, has offered, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, to plead guilty. The government has refused to make such a plea agreement.
The 17-month path to Mr. Roof’s first death penalty trial — the state of South Carolina is also seeking his execution — has been marked by public demonstrations of forgiveness and reconciliation. But the federal government’s decision to pursue Mr. Roof’s execution is widely questioned, and it is in defiance of the wishes and recommendations of survivors of the attack, many family members of the dead and some Justice Department officials. Even South Carolina’s acrimonious debate about the display of the Confederate battle flag outside the State House was less divisive in this state, polling shows.


Like I said, Jesus makes only a cameo appearance in the Old Gray Lady's report. 

As the story progresses, readers are left to decide for themselves exactly what it is that one can't do if "you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ." Is craving an execution the spiritual problem? Or is Risher opposed to capital punishment itself? Can one forgive Roof yet still see the death penalty as just punishment if he's convicted? 

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Take down that Confederate flag: Southern Baptist Convention rejects a symbol of the past

Take down that Confederate flag: Southern Baptist Convention rejects a symbol of the past

You may not have noticed, but there are actually two mass shooting stories in the news this week. One is the ghastly murder of 49 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

The other is the startling news that the Southern Baptist Convention has denounced the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate and bigotry.

Shooting story? The latter hearkens back to June 2015, when Dylann Roof shot nine people dead at a church in Charleston, S.C. As one result of the public revulsion at the act, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took down the Confederate flag taken down at the Capitol.

Now the Southern Baptists, convening in St. Louis, are following suit -- though not without some opposition, as the Religion News Service reports. Veteran RNS writer Adelle M. Banks ably captures the striking symbolism:

The Southern Baptist Convention, born in 1845 in a split over its support for slavery, passed a resolution calling for Christians to quit using the Confederate flag.
"We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters," reads the resolution adopted Tuesday (June 14) at the convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
Former Southern Baptist President James Merritt, who said he was the great-great-grandson of two Confederate Army members, helped draft that language, which included striking a paragraph that linked the flag to Southern heritage: "We recognize that the Confederate battle flag serves for some not as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, but as a memorial to their loved ones who died in the Civil War, and an emblem to honor their loved ones’ valor."

As a longtime specialist on evangelical Christianity, Banks also quotes one of the most-qualified Southern Baptists: Russell Moore, president of the its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Moore says the convention "made history in the right way," and that it's "well past time."

Banks collects other eager quotes. An Alabama minister and author calls the action "the most wonderful surprise." A spokesman for the denomination’s executive committee says the convention delegates decided to "take one bold step."

Even more vivid prose ran in the Washington Post:

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