The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine worshippers were gunned down in 2015, condemned President Donald Trump’s response to the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.
“Words do matter,” the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning told his congregants during an emotional sermon on Sunday. “The words that come out of your mouth can do much harm or much good. The choice is indeed yours.”
Manning criticized Trump for claiming “armed guards” likely could have prevented a gunman’s attack on the Tree of Life Congregation, which left at least 11 people dead and several others wounded.
He contrasted Trump’s remarks to former President Barack Obama’s response to the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church (commonly referred to as Mother Emanuel).
“We were comforted by President Barack Obama, who came and sang ‘Amazing Grace,’” Manning said. “He began to use the eloquence of his speech to provide comfort at a time in which we all needed much comfort.”
But Manning said he was baffled Saturday as he watched Trump respond to the shooting in Pittsburgh, one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in U.S. history.
“I was becoming more outraged and outraged,” Manning said, “because as opposed to saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and violence has no place in the United States, and hateful speech will no longer be tolerated,’ there was a meltdown on his part, saying maybe just maybe if they were armed we wouldn’t have had this problem. Words do matter.”
Manning called on Trump to use his words to heal people ― and also encouraged members of his church to get out and vote if they want to see change.
“The tongue has the power of life and death,” Manning said. “Sometimes we don’t think that other people are paying attention, but they are indeed paying attention. They hear exactly what you’re saying and sometimes people unfortunately utter certain thoughtless phrases that instead of lifting up a certain people, they begin to rally around a dog whistle.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was in office during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, also said a few words during Sunday’s service at Mother Emanuel.
“I suppose that Mother Emanuel might be feeling a special weight this morning after the tragedy and the violence in Pittsburgh yesterday, and how it must bring back the tragedy and violence in this community and in this sacred place,” Patrick said.
He continued: “There’s been so much poison, so much poison, so much hate ... but I also know what you know ― that we don’t have to sow just hate, that we can also sow grace. ... I know that we can sow better seeds in our politics.”