When Charleston shooter Dylann Roof had his first court hearing on June 19th after being arrested for allegedly killing nine members of Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston in a Wednesday night prayer service, he received an unexpected response: forgiveness.
Relatives of the victims faced Roof at his bond hearing via closed circuit video link, and one by one, told him they forgave him.
Anthony Thompson, whose grandmother Myra was killed, said, “I would just like him to know that, I forgive you, my family forgives you.”
Nadine Collier, daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said, her voice breaking with emotion, “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you …” (www.washingtonpost.com, 6/19/15).
“I acknowledge that I am very angry,” said the sister of DePayne Middleton-Doctor. “But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family … is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”
Alana Simmons, whose grandfather Daniel Simmons was murdered, said, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and that their legacies will live in love,” she said, “so hate won’t win.” (www.nydailynews.com, 7/20/15).
These family members had every reason to lash out at Roof but, instead, showed the world what a mature Christian should look like and what the power of Christ can do in our lives. These believers chose to forgive.
Could we do that? Could I do that? C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”
In the fall of my senior year in high school, I lost a friend. Amanda Carr was a sweet, vibrant Christian girl, and I often stood in the lunch line with her and sat at the same table. One day in November, I walked into the lunch room, took my place in line and asked her friend, “Where’s Mandy? I haven’t see her today.”
The friend answered, “I don’t know. I talked to her last night and she was fine. She didn’t come to school today.”
After band practice, my dad picked me up. I got into the car and we started home, and my dad said, “Amanda Carr and her father were murdered last night.” I was numb. Dumbfounded. Angry.
Her father met a man in a bar in Macon and brought him home to Milledgeville. The man was John Paul Knowles, a serial killer linked to 18 deaths in 1974.
The murders rocked Milledgeville, and Knowles continued killing until he ran through a road block in Henry County, escaped into woods, then finally was confronted by a citizen with a shotgun. Knowles was arrested and detained in Douglas County.
While in route back to Henry County to locate a pistol used in two of the murders, Knowles got free of his handcuffs and attempted to grab Sheriff Earl Lee’s handgun while Lee was driving. As they struggled, GBI agent Ron Angel shot Knowles three times and killed him.
When this hit the news, I rejoiced. I was relieved and grateful that he got what he deserved. I have to admit that if I encountered him before his death, I’m not sure I could do what the folks in Charleston did with Roof. I couldn’t forgive so easily.
We can’t forgive like God expects us to forgive in our own strength. In fact, it’s impossible without the power of God. How do we know when we have forgiven? We must make four promises:
First, I choose not to dwell on this incident. It may be impossible to forget, but we can make the choice not to replay it over and over in our minds.
Second, I do not want to harm you for this incident. You move on from wanting revenge.
Third, I will not bring up this incident again. I’m glad God “remembers our sin no more.” When we confess our sin, God forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He wipes our slate clean.
Fourth, I will not allow this incident to stand between us. A broken or strained relationship can now be restored because we’ve moved on from the offense.
Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville. The church is located at 352 McDonough Road, just past the department of drivers’ services building. Join them for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org and like them on Facebook.