Of all the terrible details about what happened in South Carolina, I can’t get over the fact that the shooter went to their bible meeting — Wednesday, when you get the true-blue Christians — prayed with them, and then murdered them. It brought me back a long time, to being a little girl when my father had concluded, and won, a case he was arguing for the congregation of Sardis Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. (Some sort of real estate dispute; didn’t understand it then and therefore can’t recall it now.) One Sunday he announced that we were going to go to services, though we were not a churchgoing family.
We walked in and within minutes my little white-gloved hand was shaking every hand in that church, or so it seemed, and everyone was telling us that they loved my father, he’d done right by them, they were so happy we were there. One lady, who made pearl-beaded necklaces, gave one to me, one to my sister and one to my mother. Dad was the world’s most irreverent joker, and he admitted to me before we went that the pastor was all too aware that the man representing them wasn’t anyone’s idea of an exemplary Christian. And I can still remember a point in the sermon, where the pastor thundered, one arm flung at my father like Moses on Mount Sinai, “We have lawyers to explain the laws of man. But GOD made the lawyer, and GOD made the law!” The congregation shouted affirmation, Dad roared with laughter and I can still see the pastor grinning.
After the sermon, which was the only one I’d ever heard in my young life that wasn’t boring, the choir swung into this song, because my father had requested it. It was his favorite hymn. Mahalia Jackson takes it at about the same tempo as the choir.
All I could think Thursday morning was that there are few places on this earth more kind, more welcoming and inclusive than a black church. How lost in hatred and evil would you have to be, not to feel it.