clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

As we mourn with Charleston, families of murder victims have set example of forgiveness

A banner hangs from a local business as residents Mari Fisher, right, and John Tecklenburg embrace upon meeting on the street near the Emanuel AME Church, Saturday, June 20, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
A banner hangs from a local business as residents Mari Fisher, right, and John Tecklenburg embrace upon meeting on the street near the Emanuel AME Church, Saturday, June 20, 2015, in Charleston, S.C.
David Goldman, Associated Press

One by one on Friday they approached the bench, their strength sapped by indescribable grief and pain, and offered unconditional forgiveness to the man authorities say murdered their loved ones.

Rev. Depayne Middleton Doctor was one of the nine who died in the mass murder at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. His sister, Bethane Middleton-Brown, shared one of many similar expressions when she said, “We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.”

This courtroom drama, at a bond hearing for accused killer Dylann Roof, was more powerful than a thousand sermons.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Romans, counseled believers to “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Those who feel the pain of this tragedy most acutely have shown the way. They have buried the natural instinct to respond to evil with more evil.

A nation reeling from its worst example of pure racial hatred in years, and wondering what to do about it, has been shown the way by those most closely affected. Americans can move forward best by banishing hate in all its forms, by forgiving one another and by embracing the power of love.

And it can start by sharing the grief that engulfs Charleston. This is not an incident confined by the walls of a church in a faraway city. It is a national tragedy. It must touch every home and inspire discussions at every kitchen table. Just as the worshippers who died freely invited Dylann Roof into their midst, we must invite the survivors, and their grief, into our hearts.

Their spirit of forgiveness has laid bare the contrasting evil of this mass murder. Roof sat with them for an hour. One presumes he heard much during that time about God and love. Reports say he told investigators he almost abandoned his alleged plan because of the kindness the worshippers showed him. And yet still he reportedly carried out the brutal assault, spewing ugly, racially charged words as he did so.

It’s impossible to know what Roof might have thought he would accomplish, or what violent movement he hoped to inspire. But the victims and their loved ones have countered whatever might have been imagined through the power of love.

Instead of letting inward pain consume them, they have turned outward, even showing concern for Roof himself.

"We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most: Christ. So that he can change it." That’s what one of the relatives, Anthony Thompson, told Roof.

Yes, the nation needs a national dialog about racism and its lingering stench. Yes, all Americans need to address hatred, selfishness and a culture of violence.

And the survivors at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, have set the perfect tone for that discussion.