Charlottesville clergy take action against hateful and racist violence

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Standing in the sanctuary of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, nine reverends and pastors from churches across Charlottesville announced they are joining forces to fight racism, hate and violence.

Thursday's press conference comes just before the one year anniversary of the Emanuel AME Church shooting.

On June 17, 2015, nine people were shot and killed during a bible study at the church. The shooter was quickly arrested and is now facing nine murder charges and federal hate crimes charges.

Investigators believe the AME church shooting was motivated by hatred towards black people.

Just a year later, the wounds are still fresh for Charlottesville churches.

"We recognize that what happened at Mother Emmanuel could happen at any one of our churches," said The Rev. Alvin Edwards from Mt. Zion First African Baptist church.

After the Charleston shooting, several black churches in Charlottesville noticed a chilling effect on their congregations.

"Church members of mine. Some of whom felt a little uncomfortable coming out to prayer meetings, just out of fear that that sort of thing could happen," said Pastor Nathaniel Drew from Bethany Seventh Day Adventist Church.

People were scared to go to church.

The racist-fueled violence at AME in Charleston made it clear there were still people who hated others based on the color of their skin--and hated people enough that they would resort to murder.

Charlottesville churches want to emphasize this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

"It's important to lift this up, to say that 'black lives matter,'" said The Rev. Dr. Heather Warren from St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church during the press conference. "Particularly when there has been a pattern, sadly a pattern, throughout the nation of that kind of prejudice and hate. And we lament that hate as well," Rev. Warren added.

More recently, investigators believe hate is what motivated a gunman to murder 49 people at an Orlando gay club.

The latest mass shooting, just days before the anniversary of another, is the last straw for Charlottesville churches. Now they are taking action to make the world a better place.

"Today we can stand here as the Charlottesville Clergy Collaborative and remember together the violence and hate perpetrated in Charleston last June, vowing to address the proliferation of gun violence in our own community, and working together for racial and economic justice in Charlottesville and the surrounding area," said Rev. Edwards during the press conference.

The Collaborative is a collection of 22 churches that have joined forces in a pro-love fight against hatred and racism. It is a fight that many churches say they will fight, even if it makes them a target for having faith that they can win.

"That is a risk we are willing to take, because we do believe love wins. And our hope and our faith is in love," Rev. Warren said standing before the other nine reverends and pastors at the press conference.

"In order for us to thrive, we need everybody to be safe, and know their full worth, and have their opportunity to bring all their gifts to bare in humanity," added Rev. Tracy Wispelway from Westminster Presbyterian Church.

"I wouldn't necessarily have to agree or fully understand what anyone else chooses to do, in order to love them," Pastor Drew said while standing at the podium. "That's the stance that I believe Jesus himself took. It's the stance that I stand on and what we try to portray and practice at our church," Pastor Drew said, concluding the press conference.

Moving forward, the churches in Charlottesville will work on developing coalitions and joint initiatives that bring people together from all walks of life.

The goal for these churches is to make sure Charlottesville never becomes the site of a hate-fueled mass shooting.

They hope through their work, they will be able to spread love and acceptance of all people.

On a final note, the churches asked their congregations and the people of Charlottesville to pause for a moment of silence Friday night at 9:05 in honor of the victims killed in the AME church shooting.

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