Tragedies Unite Charleston Pastor and Pittsburgh Rabbi

An African Methodist pastor, dressed in a dark suit and white clerical collar, greeted a Conservative rabbi, wearing a black overcoat and matching fedora, in the lobby of a downtown hotel on Friday morning. They spread their arms wide and embraced at length, the rabbi patting the pastor rhythmically on the back as the pastor drew him close. Words were not necessary.

The two men had never met, but for a week they have been bound by the unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations. The pastor was the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, who leads Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine parishioners were shot to death in a racist attack during a Wednesday night Bible study on June 17, 2015. The rabbi was Jeffrey Myers of the Tree of Life congregation in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where 11 worshipers were gunned down during shabbat services last Saturday.

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When a virulent anti-Semite walked through unlocked doors into a house of God that morning and opened fire on believers in prayer, the analogies to the massacre at Emanuel A.M.E. became inescapable. Here within 40 months were two ruthlessly murderous attacks in the most sacred of spaces, victimizing minority communities — one racial, one religious — that share a centuries-long struggle against bigotry and persecution.

In both instances, the gunmen left a cache of hate-filled online commentary and eagerly volunteered their motives.

“I have to do this,” Dylann S. Roof, who was 21 at the time, told his African-American victims in Emanuel’s fellowship hall as he fired 77 shots from a Glock semiautomatic handgun, “because y’all are raping our women and y’all are taking over our world,” according to survivors who testified at his 2016 trial.

Shortly before the assault on the synagogue, which the police say involved four weapons, including a Glock .357, Robert Bowers, 46, explained himself in a social media post. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” he wrote. “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” After his surrender, he told a SWAT officer that he “wanted all Jews to die” because they “were committing genocide against his people,” according to a criminal complaint.

Despite what likely will be overwhelming physical and witness evidence, Mr. Bowers pleaded not guilty on Thursday to 44 federal counts, including hate crimes that will carry a possible death sentence if, as pledged, the Justice Department pursues it. Like Mr. Roof, who was convicted and sentenced to death, Mr. Bowers requested a jury trial.

Pastor Manning heard about the Pittsburgh shootings last Saturday morning when his smartphone vibrated with a news alert. He was at Emanuel, participating in a panel discussion about the Charleston massacre for a visiting group of young lawyers. His heart sank.

“Not again,” he recalled thinking.

He had become Emanuel’s pastor in January 2016, tasked with the complex job of healing a deeply wounded church, which now attracts large numbers of out-of-town visitors. He filled the pulpit once occupied by the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the first person shot by Mr. Roof. (As it happens, Pastor Pinckney, named for the legendary Pittsburgh Pirate Roberto Clemente, was a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan.)

As Emanuel’s 9:30 a.m. service began last Sunday, Pastor Manning arranged for the church bell to peal 11 times in honor of Pittsburgh’s dead, just as it had nine times in 2015 in tribute to Charleston’s fallen. He structured his sermon around Proverbs 18:21 — “the tongue has the power of life and death” — and emphasized that “the words that come out of your mouth can do much harm and/or much good.”

He did not hold President Trump — whom he refers to as “45” — directly responsible for inciting violence. But he referred pointedly to the president’s “undercurrents and untruths.” And he contrasted the powerful eulogy against hate delivered by President Barack Obama after the Emanuel tragedy with Mr. Trump’s instant response that the killings could have been prevented if the synagogue had had armed guards.

By Sunday afternoon, Pastor Manning knew he wanted to be in Pittsburgh, to lend solidarity, to offer solace and advice, to practice what he calls a “ministry of presence.” He and his wife flew up on Thursday night, and on Friday he met for two hours with Rabbi Myers in the hotel coffee shop.

The rabbi invited him to speak on Friday afternoon at the last of 11 funerals over four days, for 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the oldest of the victims. He read from the 23rd Psalm.

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Source: New York Times

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