How Emanuel AME Church reacted to the 90 seconds of terror that unfolded within its walls last year has some people mentioning the Charleston congregation in the same breath as the pope and others who have sought world peace.
The church on Monday joined Pope Francis as a nominee for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, an honor typically chosen from hundreds of disparate political, religious and cultural pioneers who have helped civilizations in all corners of the globe cope with strife.
Inspired by the response to the mass shooting that befell the church and claimed nine parishioners’ lives on June 17, a group of Chicago-area political leaders led the Nobel effort and others, including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., joined in. Though they announced the push months ago, the officials said they had followed through with the nomination by Monday’s deadline.
Liz Alston, the Emanuel historian who contributed to the entry, said she and other members of the Calhoun Street church were in awe of the nomination’s significance.
Past prize laureates from the U.S. include President Barack Obama, who was honored for his diplomatic efforts, and Al Gore, the former vice president lauded for advocacy on climate change.
“The mere fact that the church is in the same realm as Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the highest honors,” Alston said. “That our church contributed to peace in this world is just phenomenal, and it’s unequaled in Charleston history.”
The five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee typically receives more than 200 nominations and keeps candidates secret for 50 years. Its first judging meeting will be Feb. 29.
In addition to the pope, this year’s nominees include Nadia Murad, a woman who champions the rights of Islamic State rape victims, and the Afghan women’s cycling team, which is backed by 118 Italian lawmakers who said the athletes promote “the most democratic means of transportation for all mankind.” Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who revealed broad American surveillance programs, also was nominated.
Lawmakers of national governments and past winners can make nominations.
Two days after Dylann Roof, who is white, started shooting during a Bible study at the historically black church in what authorities called a hate crime, the victims’ family members stood during his bond hearing and extended forgiveness. Another two days passed before thousands of community members, black and white, joined hands to form a “unity chain” across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
But not everyone was happy about the news. Many of the shooting victims’ families have complained that the church’s leadership ignored them while hosting big publicity events when they should have been ministering to those whose lives are left in shambles.
Nadine Collier, whose mother Ethel Lance was killed in the shooting, was the first to speak about forgiveness at the bond hearing. To her, the Nobel Peace Prize nomination is one more way the real victims of the shooting are being overlooked. Collier is among the victims’ families and survivors of the shooting who aren’t attending Emanuel AME anymore.
“I know from my heart that what I said was something my momma taught me,” she said. “They didn’t do a thing.”
If anything, she added, the Rev. Norvel Goff, the church’s interim pastor, sowed discord with the families, not peace, by neglecting their spiritual needs. He has said that his door was open.
Meanwhile, in Thornton Township, a collection of municipalities south of Chicago, leaders were captivated by the display. Frank Zuccarelli, the township’s supervisor, said it was mesmerizing in light of rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore that resulted from racially charged deaths there.
Four U.S. congressmen from Illinois, a state senator and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, nominated Emanuel. An Illinois state senator, two college professors and Clyburn also signed on. Butterfield said in a statement Monday that what America witnessed in the shooting’s wake qualified the church for the prize, which recognizes entities that have done the most “for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Many of the leaders, including Zuccarelli, traveled to Charleston after the shooting and witnessed how the church ensured that calm prevailed, he said.
“If anyone was responsible for promoting the peace, it was Mother Emanuel and the church leadership,” he said. “They demonstrated more love, peace and forgiveness than we have ever seen before. ... They are a great example for us all to follow.”
To Alston, the church has shown that mettle throughout its 200-year history. For the Nobel submission, she helped draft a telling of the congregation’s past. It included mentions of the church’s role during the slavery era and the civil rights movement.
“We talked about the 90 seconds that occurred at the church,” Alston said. “But the tragedy on June 17 was just the latest adversity that we have survived. I don’t think many other agencies have had the number of adversities that we have faced.”
Jennifer Berry Hawes and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.