Mother Emanuel Church

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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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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