By John Stonestreet, for Breakpoint, June 23, 2015, at: www.breakpoint.org
Today, we felt compelled to talk about the events of last week, the horrific killing of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Why? Because we’re seeing in those events how light overcomes darkness. How love overcomes hate.
As you undoubtedly know, on June 17, a man described as “white, with sandy-blond hair, around 21 years old and 5 feet 9 inches in height, wearing a gray sweatshirt and jeans” entered Emanuel and participated in a Bible study led by the Church’s pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney.
At about 9 p.m., the man, subsequently identified as Dylann Roof, opened fire killing nine people, including Pastor Pinckney.
Scarcely had the news broken than pundits – both liberal and conservative – started using the shooting to further pet causes, from banning the Confederate flag to the need to permit people to carry guns in church.
But, remarkably, the people of Emanuel wanted to talk about something far more important: grace and forgiveness.
In an interview with the BBC, the children of Sharonda Singleton, one of the victims, told the reporter “We already forgive [Dylann Roof] and there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.”
And they weren’t alone. Stephen Singleton, Emanuel’s former pastor, told NPR that “we’re people of faith, and people of faith know that we heal. God helps us heal. This doesn’t drive us away from God. This drives us to God, and that’s why I’m here now.”
When asked what his former parishioners had told him, he continued, “There are a lot of broken hearts, a lot of sorrow and a lot of healing to be done. And that’s what we’re going to work on, and that’s what we’re going to focus on because if we get bitter and angry, we just make a bad situation worse.”
Thus, Anthony Thompson, a relative of another victim, Myra Thompson, said: “I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be okay. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”
Senator Tim Scott, appearing on Face the Nation said that while Roof may have intended to ignite a war between the races, he brought the people of Charleston closer together.
And that’s because the people of Emanuel have responded in a way that is distinctly, if not uniquely, Christian: loving those who hate you, forgiving those who sin against you, and blessing those who would persecute you.
Christian ideas may no longer have power in our culture that they once had. But to paraphrase the Apostle Paul, there is no argument against the kind of grace on display in Charleston.
We even saw it on display in Roof’s capture. A North Carolina woman, at great personal risk, followed Roof’s car until she was sure it was him and then called the police. When asked why, she replied, “I had been praying for those people on my way to work . . . and the Lord put me in the right place at the right time.”
The congregation’s response was reminiscent of the horrific event from years ago, the murder of five Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The members of the Amish community forgave the murderer. The families of the victims reached out to the widow of the perpetrator. And on this program then, Chuck Colson asked questions we should ask again today: “How are we working in our own communities to build cultures of grace? Are we teaching our children to forgive? Are we actively working to restore offenders and reach out in aid to victims? Are we overcoming evil in the world by good, as we are commanded to do?” And I would add: “If evil and tragedy come our way, are we ready to respond in love the same way our brothers and sisters in Charleston have?”
What happened in Charleston is a tragic reminder of the great darkness in the world. But in the aftermath we see the truth that the “light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
John 1:4-5 — In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Romans 12:14-15 — Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Matthew 5:43-45a — (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Rev. Rick Warren’s prayer for Charleston:
Father, our hearts are broken again as we see the result of sin in our broken world. We know that you are grieving for these who’ve lost their loved ones… First we pray for the unity of the Body of Christ. May our brothers and sisters at Emmanuel church not only feel the love and prayers of the other churches in Charleston, but from hundreds of thousands of other churches supporting them this weekend. Second, we pray for comfort and peace and healing in the hearts of those who are overwhelmed with grief in this tragedy. Thank you for saying ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Father, you know what it is like to lose a son. Holy Spirit, we ask you to comfort the families, and the church, and the community. May all of us recommit ourselves to doing the opposite of what the gunman intended to accomplish. Help us to be uniters where there is division. Help us to protect all life in a culture of violence and death. When faced with evil, give us the strength to respond by doing good, and to show love in the face of hatred. Help us to be bridge builders when others want to erect walls, and to be peacemakers when others create conflict. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.