|The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Ethel Lance, The Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor,|
Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Susie Jackson
and The Rev. Clementa Pinckney (Time photo)
When I feel like patting myself on the back for some modest charitable endeavors, the world reminds me that there is a great distance between ordinary practitioners of faith and those who live and breathe the Word.
On June 17th a declared white supremacist killed nine members of the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at a Bible Study in Charleston, S.C. Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance was one of the victims, said at the bond hearing:
“I couldn’t remember his name,” she recalls of her one-way encounter with the alleged killer. But she remembers that she was “angry, mad” because her mother had “more living to do.” And the killer “took something away from me that was so precious.”Forgiveness is more than just saying the words. True forgiveness can be a long and painful process.
At the same time, racing through her head were lessons she had learned long before: “You have to forgive people and move on,” she says. “When you keep that hatred, it hurts only you.”
“I kept thinking he’s a young man, he’s never going to experience college, be a husband, be a daddy. You have ruined your life,” she recalls thinking.
What she said at the podium, while choking back sobs, came out like this: “I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”
Anthony Thompson essentially agreed with Collier’s statement, as far as it went. It was important for him to forgive as quickly as possible so that he could continue to live as God intended. Forgiveness, as he later explains, is like a Band-Aid that holds the edges of an open wound together long enough for the wound to heal. Though he cannot heal what happened to his wife [Myra], nor whatever is wrong with the man who killed her, he must attend to the wound inside himself. “I don’t know what happened in his life, and frankly I don’t want to know,” he says.How easy it is for us to advise other people to forgive wrongs, yet how fiercely we hold on to our own memories--and anger--over slights that are but pinpricks in the great scheme.
Thompson did not want to leave the impression that forgiveness is as simple as speaking three words. For Roof to be forgiven by God, the young man had an awful lot of work to do.
Thompson put it this way, speaking quietly: “I would just like him to know that—to say the same thing that was just said—I forgive him, and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent,” he repeated. “Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most, Christ, so that he can change him. And change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be O.K.”
On this Thanksgiving week I am grateful to the members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church for showing us how to walk a very narrow and difficult path. In their response to the tragedy they have shown the best of humanity.