Charleston church massacre recalls our own religious bigotry
The gun massacre of nine African-American people at worship in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest atrocity due to racial hatred and also to America's appallingly liberal gun laws.
A suspected white supremacist was welcomed into a prayer meeting at a Methodist Church in Charleston, and sat with his intended victims for an hour, before opening fire.
The alleged killer, Dylann Storm Roof (22) told one of his victims: "You rape our women, and you're taking over our country, and you have to go."
This may seem far away to people here, but not to me. Only last year, I visited Charleston on holiday, and I went to the former slave market where black men, women and children were herded in chains, mistreated as humans, and bought and sold like cattle.
The horror of this was so well brought out in the recent movie 12 Years A Slave, that I could hardly watch it. There is a deep-rooted bigotry over colour in America still, and on a recent visit to Florida I met people who claimed that the divide has actually become worse, not better, under President Obama.
Obama sounded worldly-weary in his comments on the Charleston massacre, and he asked, what does it take for America to put in place strict gun laws to prevent this kind of thing happening?
Sometimes, it is hard not to feel cynical about all the hand-wringing among American politicians and citizens over the latest shooting atrocity, but the fact remains that the American nation is so wedded to arms that it is doing virtually nothing to control them.
Until something happens, there will be more massacres like that in Charleston, which was an affront to God and to mankind.
There is something especially evil about murder in a church, including that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was put to death in his cathedral in 1170 by the supporters of King Henry II, following a dispute with the monarch over the rights and privileges of the Church.
Lest you think all these atrocities happen in places well away from Northern Ireland, let me remind you of the savage murder of several people and the wounding of others when two masked gunmen burst in to the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church at Darkley, south Armagh, in 1983.
Around 70 people were at the church service, including 20 children, and the gunmen sprayed the building with bullets before they left. The atrocity was claimed by the so-called Catholic Reaction Force, and one of the guns had been used before in incidents for which the Irish National Liberation Army had admitted responsibility.
This was a chilling example nearer to home of murder most foul in the hallowed precincts of a church. Whatever you think of the teachings of any Church - Protestant, Roman Catholic or other denominations - when you enter a Church building you are on holy ground, and any damage you cause on purpose is symbolically spitting in the face of God.
There were attacks on other churches here during the Troubles. They include an arson attack on my own Whitehouse Presbyterian Church.
Both Drumcree Parish Church and St Patrick's in Belfast are still at the centre of unseemly parades disputes.
So before we are quick to condemn the Americans, we should also try and clean up our own act.
'There were attacks on other congregations in the Troubles'