Christian leaders and organizations condemned the killing of nine African-American men and women at the Bible study of a Charleston church this week, acknowledging the "sin of racism" in America, even as more than 4,000 residents and leaders of different faiths came together for a vigil in the shaken city.
"There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer," Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention said in a statement about the Wednesday massacre at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
"This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked. It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a 'murderer from the beginning' (John 8:44)," said the statement, signed by Russell Moore and three other Southern Baptist Convention leaders.
"Virtually every week we see yet another incident pointing to the sin of racism in American society, from unarmed African-American men and children killed in the streets to worshippers gunned down in their pews," the SBC leaders stated. "This must end. And the church of Jesus Christ must lead the way."
Among the nine who were shot dead by a 21-year-old confessed gunman, Dylann Roof, who is white, was the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a Democratic member of the state senate.
Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed in Florida, called the shooting a "horrible act of hate perpetrated on the saints."
"So many of us struggle to comprehend how the best of people and places could be violated by the worst of evil," Hunter said. "We know we have a real enemy who was a murderer from the beginning and still whispers lies into people's hearts. But we also know that we are called to be responsible to follow Christ and overcome the damage done."
Hunter added that Christians need to "do everything we can to overcome evil with good, building relationships across all racial and ethnic boundaries."
The National Association of Evangelicals expressed "deep sadness."
"In this time of grieving and loss, we turn to God for comfort and hope. The killings have brought death and devastation to many, but the Bible that Rev. Pinckney read and taught assures us that God has already defeated sin and death through Jesus' death and resurrection. God's purposes will not be thwarted. We honor the memory of the fallen and dare to believe that the death of these martyrs will not have been in vain," NAE said in the statement.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also issued a statement.
"The Charleston massacre once again proves that there exists a war between darkness and light. When hatred and violence emerge to silence peace and love, all Americans, all humanity suffers," Rodriguez said, condemning "all vestiges of hatred and intolerance" and affirming, "Silence is not an option."
Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, said he was shocked by the "senseless, despicable, and evil attack."
The NRB, a body of about 100 leaders among Christian communicators, unanimously approved a Resolution earlier this year, stating they "denounce any form of racial or ethnic discrimination and hatred."
The Resolution also expressed "thanks that through salvation, believers from every race and ethnicity are all one in Christ."