God, faith references prominent in emails

A horse-drawn caisson carries the casket of Sen. Clementa Pinckney through the Statehouse grounds for a public viewing June 24, 2015, in Columbia, past the Confederate flag.

Many of the emails sent to Gov. Nikki Haley about removing the Confederate battle flag contain references to God, faith and religious matters, including some that curse or outright condemn her for acting to bring the banner down.

“Pray to God for forgiveness as you will be called to pay for your sins and the way that you have treated the residents of this state one day,” wrote Shoun, a pro-flag sender from Arlington, Va. “You can walk on us as Governor of SC but you can’t walk on God. You will pay for your evil deeds when the time comes,” he added.

“My God in heaven knows I am ashamed for you,” added Tammy from Elgin.

Some referenced scripture to make their case.

“well sister the good folks from the church aren’t in heaven as you state holy bible ps 49:14; 89:48 and ecc 9:5 may God have mercy,” wrote someone identified as “brother anthony.”

The comments — many of which were delivered in errant grammar — were among the batch of 10,000 letters and emails Haley’s office released to the media last week through a state Freedom of Information Act request. The time period for the messages covers the days immediately after the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel AME Church that left nine dead and the subsequent political debate to remove the rebel flag from the Statehouse that July. In most instances, the last names of the senders and their identifying email addresses were redacted.

Furman University religious studies professor David Fink said there doesn’t seem to be any coherent theory or theological positions in the comments. Instead, it appears the senders are using faith references to heighten the importance of their own views versus anyone who might oppose them, he said.

“What it sounds like to me is you have people who are angry, and they are reaching down deep for the language they want to have to articulate a grievance,” he said.

Fink called it the human habit of adding “extra gravity” by using religious language as a way of “upping the stakes.”

“I think there’s a hope by kind of calling on and name-calling sacred language, that whoever reads this, it’s going to be taken more seriously,” he said.

In most cases the email notes and letters are free of obscenities. Many writers cite family connections to Confederate soldiers in their support of keeping it flying, while others see it as a sign of racism to back up their call to bring it down. For those who did use religious verbiage in their contacts with the governor, it came in various forms.

“Mind altering drugs, hate and man’s SINFUL condition are what led to the murders — not a flag that thousands died to defend. Removing the flag WILL NOT CHANGE MAN’S SINFUL HEART. Only faith in Christ can change the heart,” said Tommy from Laurens.

“Please prosecute to the fullest any person or persons caught vandalizing our monuments and for the love of God, do not allow the names of our Confederate heroes to be removed from Streets and schools,” said Linda from Cleveland, Tenn.

“Jesus would ask us to forgive our ancestors of holding slaves also but we should not be forced to forget where we came from here in the south,” (sic) said Gregory from Rocky Point, N.C., who opposed bringing the flag down, saying it would lead to a “cultural cleansing in our great country.”

Some of the writers mentioned the death and funeral of Emanuel pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, who was shot and killed in the church that night. His casket was returned to the Statehouse for viewing, carried on a horse drawn caisson as it passed beneath the flying Confederate flag.

“Do the right thing,” Gerald of Washington, D.C., emailed Haley. “Let the good Senator pass from the State House on his journey to his God without having to pass under that WRCETCHED (sic) FLAG (sic) one more time.”