Mourners of the Tragic Killings of the ‘Emanuel Nine’ Gather for Comfort, Commemoration in South Carolina

June 21, 2017

Keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. Joel Gregory of Baylor’s Truett Seminary urges worshippers to ‘cling to what is good’ despite the evil

Follow us on Twitter:@BaylorUMedia

Contact: Terry Goodrich,(254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (June 21,2017) — The two-year anniversary of a white supremacist’s killing of nine black people at a Bible study is a day when “pain and hope, treachery and triumph, awful and awesome come together,” the Rev. Dr. Joel Gregory, professor of preaching at Baylor University, told hundreds gathered for an ecumenical service on Saturday.

Gregory, holder of the George W. Truett Chair of Preaching and Evangelism at Baylor’s Truett Seminary, spoke at Charleston’s Gaillard Center at the commemoration of those who died in the tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015.

Gregory urged victims’ families, survivors, community members and dignitaries to follow the biblical exhortation to “Abhor that which is evil and cling to that which is good.” (NASB)

“I know that there are nine families where every Christmas witnesses an empty chair, every Easter listens for a voice that will never be heard, and hands will reach out to grasp a hand that will never be held again,” Gregory said. “Yet for the rest of us who do not have such intimate, daily recurring reminders, we must join in solidarity to stop and remember. If we do not, we rob the departed of their dignity and minimize the magnitude of the malicious and malignant act that took them.”

He said that the person who only hates evil degenerates into “a cynical, negative, sour, embittered shell who finally sees evil only. On the other hand, those persons whose naïve eyes only see the bright pastels of good deny the very reason for the Gospel. We need redemption.”

Gregory told those at the service to remember the Passover meal embedded in Judaism, which looks back to the pain of slavery, but “it looks forward in its ringing climax, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’

“Even so also the Lord’s Supper, the meal celebrated by millions weekly all over the planet,” Gregory said. “It looks back at pain, the very death of the Cross. But it looks forward in hope to the time we will eat it together with Jesus anew in the Kingdom. In the heart of faith is a memory-keeping meal that joins together pain and hope, the awful of the past and the awesome of the promise. So also, this memorial is both pain and hope, and it must be that way.”

On June 17, 2015, “good people were gathered in God’s holy house to study God’s holy word,” Gregory said. “In all of Charleston there was not more goodness than the goodness in that room. Into that room walked with forethought, intention and premeditation a perpetrator who joined in that righteous circle of biblical discussion. A different race, he was welcomed, seated, encouraged, and embraced. As painful as it is, we cannot honor and dignify the Emanuel Nine without recognizing that disturbing fact.”

But he said that the perpetrator — Dylann Roof, now in prison after he was convicted of hate crimes — does not have the center stage he wanted.

“His very existence is a shadow that is cast by the light of the luminous goodness of the Nine shining, lustrous, luminescent souls so quickly taken,” Gregory said.

Forgiveness for that is not easy.

“This day I cannot conceive of directing someone to forgive who has experienced a pain I have never experienced. For that matter, what I think I should do is far from what I would do,” he said.

But he implored listeners to hold onto what is good even as they despise the evil.

“The tragedy of 2015 did not close Mother Emanuel, the massacre in its hall did not silence the praise of God, the vileness of demonic hate did not shatter the beautiful windows of its storied sanctuary, the falling of the Emanuel Nine did not empty its pews,” he said. One day, “a child will look at the picture of the Emanuel Nine and will be reminded that the evil done there did not end the good that will be done there.”

For the full text of the Rev. Dr. Joel Gregory's sermon, visit Abhor Evil, Cling to Good.

For video of that sermon, visit Remembrance and Encouragement.

For coverage of the ecumenical service from The Post and Courier, visit Remembering.

For coverage from WCSC-TV in Charleston, visit Second Anniversary.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, the Master of Theological Studies, or the Doctor of Ministry degrees that are centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ and consistent with historic Baptist commitments to prepare persons to carry this gospel to the churches and the world. Within the M.Div. degree program, students can choose concentrations in Biblical Studies and Theology, Christian Education, Ministry Leadership, Missions and World Christianity, Worship Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Sports Ministry, and Youth/Family/Student Ministry. Truett Seminary also offers four Dual Degree programs – an M.Div./MSW and MTS/MSW through a partnership with Baylor’s School of Social Work, an M.Div./Master of Music through a partnership with the Baylor’s School of Music, an M.Div./MBA through a partnership with Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, and an M.Div./J.D. degree through a partnership with Baylor’s School of Law.