Commentary: No sanctuary: why black churches are still under attack

Commentary: No sanctuary: why black churches are still under attack
June 26
00:00 2015

By Matthew R. Drayton

Like most Americans, I woke up this morning [June 18] to the news of another attack on a Black church. Nine people were shot to death during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. This time, the alleged shooter is a 21-year-old white male who looks like he wouldn’t harm a fly. 

While the motives for the attacks are still unclear, and under investigation, early reports indicate that this was another hate crime. FBI statistics from 2013 show that of 3,407 single-biased hate crime incidents, 66 percent were motivated by anti-black or African-American bias.

Black churches have been under attack for hundreds of years, dating back to slavery. Be it bombings during the Civil Rights Movement, or Black churches being set on fire, the Black church has been under perpetual attack since its inception. Why is a place that is supposed to be a sanctuary constantly under attack by people who want to exercise their racial hatred? How can people be that evil to go to a house of worship to murder and vandalize?

Do those who attack and vandalize churches do it because they feel churchgoers are peaceful, non-violent, and weak, or do they do it because of the symbolism, and to break their victim’s spirit?  Since as early as 1758, the Black Church has played a major role in the Black community, at times being the only place where Black people could get a break from oppression and express themselves.

What would make a 21-year-old shoot and kill nine people in a Black church in 2015? Trained hatred is likely the cause of this attack. A person born in 1994 cannot possibly hate persons of another race enough to murder them in cold blood, unless they were taught that hatred from the time they were a child. Babies don’t come into this world hating anyone!

It’s clear the Black Church is still viewed as the foundation of the Black community. It’s also still a prime target for those who want to hurt the Black community, and make a strong statement while doing so. The difference now is Black churches can do more to prevent these attacks, than they could during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.  Intimidation didn’t work then, and it won’t work now.

The time has come for Black churches to implement security measures to protect themselves. I realize locked doors, metal detectors and armed security don’t look good at a house of worship, but Black churches have been victimized too long. I truly believe no one would think twice if security measures were put in place at Black churches. Churchgoers should be allowed to worship without the fear of being attacked.

How many senseless hate crimes must we witness before we realize we are all in this together? I have spent the majority of my adult life working with people of all races and ethnicities and have learned that, if you invest a little time in getting to know and understand those who are different, you become more tolerant. Unless we stop teaching hate to our children, there will always be hatred in America. 

If the alleged shooter in the Charleston murders is found guilty, his life and his family’s lives will change forever. The people who are responsible for his views and behavior will have to live with that. The nine victims of this tragedy have already paid the ultimate price, and their families lives will never be the same.

My heart goes out to the victims, their families, and the people of Charleston. The time has come for Black church leaders to protect their parishioners, and adapt to the times we live in. That is the only way the Black Church will become the sanctuary it is intended to be.

Retired Army Sergeant Major Matthew R. Drayton is a corporate speaker, life coach, consultant, leadership expert and author of Succeeding While Black. He has also been mentoring youth for over a decade and is currently the Executive Director of Great Oak Youth Development Center, a Fayetteville, N.C.-based non-profit organization that mentors at risk youth. For more information, visit

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