Baptist minister: Black churches were safe spaces, affirmations of humanity

Emanuel AME Church
Mourners pass by a make-shift memorial, Thursday, June 18, 2015, on the sidewalk of in front of the Emanuel AME Church following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.
Stephen B. Morton | AP

It will be a very difficult Sunday for the congregation of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston after nine people were killed Wednesday night at a prayer meeting inside the church.

But even as the congregants cope with the violence visited on the church, they have decades-long history of resilience to lean on.

"The AME church was founded in response to both racism and being excluded from the white Methodist church," said Willie James Jennings, associate professor of theology and black church studies at the Duke Divinity School and an ordained Baptist minister. "Its founders sought primarily to create a church that would care for the needs, concerns, hopes and aspirations of African Americans in America."

Black churches "affirmed the theme for its congregants that God sees, knows, understands and is with you in the midst of your struggle," he said on MPR News with Kerri Miller. "Even if there's injustice and your voice is being denied, here your voice is being heard by God. It's a very important, stabilizing idea to have."

The churches were also a place of safety, he said.

"Against the larger realities of white supremacy they are and continue to be very important places for African Americans to hold themselves, find themselves and be affirmed in their humanity," Jennings said.