It was a Thursday evening, two weeks ago, when I got a call from my friend, Bluffton Town Councilman Fred Hamilton. He asked me to say a few words at the prayer vigil for the recently slain Sen. Clementa Pinckney, to be held the following day at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton. I, of course, agreed. Clem and I first worked together when I was still on County Council. Together, we successfully petitioned the State Infrastructure Bank for funding to rework Highway 17, after the Air Force bus tragedy some years ago.
He was a friend and colleague. His death, as well as the place and the circumstances of his passing, had left me shaken and feeling unsettled.
Nonetheless, Rose and I put our hearts together and somehow managed to put some thoughts together. Unpolished but heartfelt, I hope my remarks were well received. The text is included here:
“The senseless death and the desecration of the Church are simply beyond the pale. We come together today all across our state to pray for the families of the victims, including our friend Clementa Pinckney.
“We must recognize there are ties that bind us all. God sees no differences in us, and we must remain vigilant to not allow our differences to divide us, and to continue to build the bridges between our various communities – for it is those bridges that allow us to share a common humanity with all our neighbors.
“Even here in lovely Bluffton, our bridges might benefit from a little maintenance. I refuse to let this heartbreaking episode pass without gleaning some positive lesson.
“I am reminded of what the Biblical Joseph said to his brothers when he saved them from famine: ‘You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good.’
“In truth, as I get older, a lot of what I witness around me, from growing children to the reliable May River tides, seems to organize itself in my mind as parables. Often the stories are clear and without any clouding of doubt.
“However, with the murder of my colleague and members of his Bible study fellowship, the outline of the parable is still murky and unclear. The sadness and the anger do not allow a dispassionate understanding – that will come later.
“For now, our comfort in the face of this barbarous tragedy is found in faith – the common faith that bridges, and that ties us one to the other, as we endure this loss.”
With the passage of time, it does seem that the parable-like nature of this story is becoming less murky and the teaching intent more clear. The iconic image of thousands of South Carolinians, black and white, walking together across the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston is a powerful metaphor, a symbol that calls us to leave the offensive trappings of our divided past and begin a future of unity and progress.
In my view, we are called to not only walk the bridge, but to also become the bridge that others, in time, may cross.
Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.