Friday, June 15, 2018

A Tangled Mercy at Mother Emanuel Church

Three years ago on June 17, a white terrorist shot and killed nine African-Americans in the Emanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That tragic event is linked to the early history of that church in an engaging 2017 novel titled A Tangled Mercy.
The Early History of “Mother Emanuel”
Between 1815 and 1818, Hampstead Church was founded in Charleston, South Carolina. Later its name was changed to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and it became the largest African-American church south of Baltimore. Through the years it has been affectionately called Mother Emanuel Church.
Denmark Vesey, who in 1822 was the primary leader of the thwarted slave revolt in Charleston, was one of the church’s founders. Vesey and more than 30 others were executed by hanging on July 2 that year. Soon afterward the church building was burned down.
Mother Emanuel Church was not able to rebuild until after the Civil War. The plans for the new building constructed then were drawn by architect Robert Vesey, Denmark Vesey’s son.
After an earthquake demolished that structure in 1886, the current building, which seats some 2,500 people, was completed in 1892.  
Worship at Mother Emanuel Church on June 21, 2015
The 2015 Shooting at Mother Emanuel
On the evening of June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old white man named Dylann Roof went to Mother Emanuel Church and joined a dozen other people in Bible study and prayer.
When the small group began to pray about 9 p.m., Roof pulled a gun from a fanny pack and began shooting those around him. He fatally wounded nine people, including Clementa C. Pinckney, the pastor who was also a state senator.
Roof was soon apprehended. He confessed that he committed the atrocity at Mother Emanuel Church in the hope of igniting a race war. Before the shooting, a website showed him posing with emblems associated with white supremacy and with photos of the Confederate battle flag.
As was widely reported, not long after that tragic shooting the South Carolina General Assembly voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds.
Early last year Roof was sentenced to death. He is now waiting on death row in a federal prison in Indiana. 
There has, for good reason, been fear of Islamist terrorists in the U.S. since 9/11/01. But between 2001 and 2015, more Americans were killed by homegrown right-wing extremists than by Islamist terrorists.
Even though it may be the worst act of domestic terrorism since 2001, Roof’s is just one many terrorist acts committed by white supremacists in the U.S. in recent years.
A Tangled Mercy  
Thanks to Jason Edwards, my friend and former pastor, I heard about A Tangled Mercy, a new novel by Joy Jordan-Lake, a friend of Jason’s since his seminary days at Baylor. Soon after learning about Joy’s book, I began reading it and found it to be quite intriguing. 
In alternating chapters, she told the story of events in Charleston in 1822 and in 2015, skillfully weaving the stories together.
Part of the 1822 story was about one of “the amazing Grimké sisters,” as I called them in a 2016 blog article (see here), and about Denmark Vesey (whom I also introduced in that article).
The chapters about 2015, of course, lead to the shooting in Mother Emanuel Church.
If you are looking for a good novel to read this summer, I recommend ATangled Mercy. (I chose it as the best of the 23 novels I read last year.)
One of my favorite quotes in the book is near the end: “A life worth living is one of compassion. And a life of compassion will include many tears” (p. 425).


  1. The first comments received about this article were the following ones from Thinking Friend Greg Hadley in Niigata, Japan:

    "Yes, this is such a helpful post, Dr. Seat."

    "Tears can water our souls for greater harvest…unless of course there are too many tears, and then they wash away the best of who we are."

  2. And then there is this comment from Thinking Friend Andrew Bolton in England:

    "Thank you, Leroy, for another good blog. I will put the novel on my to read list!"

  3. It is sad that there is so much hate and so many grudges (including mine), and groups who seek to fuel that - left and right, and even in the Church. God grant us forgiveness, and more people of goodwill.