National Press Club

Racism 'eating away at the fiber of this country,' says AME bishop at luncheon

August 12, 2015 | By Sean Lyngaas |

Rev. John Richard Bryant, left, receives National Press Club mug from Club President John Hughes at conclusion of his luncheon speech August 12.

Rev. John Richard Bryant, left, receives National Press Club mug from Club President John Hughes at conclusion of his luncheon speech August 12.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Racism is “eating away at the fiber of this country,” and the only remedy is spiritual renewal, said Rev. John Richard Bryant, a senior bishop at African Methodist Episcopal Church, at an Aug. 12 National Press Club luncheon.

Bryant’s remarks on racism and gun violence came two months after an AME church in Charleston, S.C., was the scene of a horrific hate crime. In the incident, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, allegedly gunned down nine African-Americans as they studied the Bible the night of June 17.

Bryant recounted the worshipers’ last moments in detail. “A young stranger comes in, but he’s greeted like a fellow pilgrim,” he said, referring to Roof. The assailant later “gets up" from his seat, Bryant continued, "and with a loaded gun, he begins to empty that gun to human flesh ... until nine people, none of whom whose name he probably knows, [are] dead in the pool of their own blood.”

There were positive signs of healing in the aftermath of the shootings, said Bryant, who is the Chicago-based bishop of AME Church’s fourth district. In showing their support for a reeling community, Charleston’s mayor and South Carolina’s governor participated in “what we at the church call ‘the ministry of presence,’” he said. “And it’s not so much what you say, it’s what your presence communicates.”

Despite that silver lining, the bishop’s societal portrait was generally bleak. He railed against the abundance of guns in the United States and rejected a suggestion that arming the worshipers of Mother Emanuel, as the Charleston church is known, is the answer.

In the aftermath of the Charleston mass shooting, progress toward gun control "hasn’t moved an inch," Bryant said. The gun, he said, "is free."

Addressing a tide of popular anger after a series of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, Bryant spoke of the negligence he said was intertwined with racism. “Right now, across this country, there is a deep, deep feeling of frustration in the souls of people who feel that in this culture, in this society, their lives don’t matter,” he said.

There is also negligence in politicians’ treatment of the poor, Bryant added. In the 2012 presidential election, he said, Republicans focused on the uber rich, Democrats on the middle class, while no one dwelt on the poor.

“African-Americans have made progress in that more of us have risen to the middle class, but the shame is that those at the bottom are increasing in great number and nothing is being done about it,” Bryant said. His remarks were punctuated throughout by cries of “talk, bishop” and “my, my!” from the audience.

On another social issue, however, the bishop was muted. When asked about the AME Church’s position on gay marriage, Bryant did not answer directly, saying only that he preferred to focus on other topics during his allotted time at the podium.