9 Christians are dead. They welcomed a young stranger into their midst, treated him with kindness and grace, and he killed them. Ruthlessly and without remorse he shot them all because of the color of their skin. The killer has been appropriately described as a monster, a beast and a psychopath, but the family members of the slain called him something else and with their words taught us all what it means to be a Christian.
When the gunman was brought for a preliminary hearing the family members were allowed to address him in the court room. One by one they went to the podium and addressed the video screen on which the murderer’s image could be seen. Here are some of the things they said-
“I forgive you, my family forgives you. … We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Do that and you'll be better off than you are right now.”
“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. I forgive you.”
“For me, I'm a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I'm very angry. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul”
“You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
Their lack of vitriol, malice and a desire for vengeance was astonishing. Their loved ones had been brutally murdered, at church. Families were shattered, parents and children were gone. Instead of calling him a monster they called him forgiven. How could these suffering people forgive such a man?
The answer can be found on the official website for the AME Church. A part of their statement of faith is the Apostle’s Creed, which says-
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead; and buried. The third day he arose from the dead’ he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Church Universal, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
They forgave, because they are forgiven.
They do not despair, because they believe that death is not the end.
They rest in the assurance that they will someday be reunited with those they have lost, that no evil deed done by a man on earth can alter their eternal destiny. Their loved ones that are gone are not gone forever, they are in the presence of God. They understand that as terrible a man as the shooter is, he is still loved by God and that God could save him and change him, and that would be a good and glorious thing.
In a letter written by the Apostle Peter to the church at large he spoke of the power of faith through trials such as these-
“Though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials, these have come so that your faith… may be proved genuine and may result in praise glory and honor.” 1 Peter 1:6-7
I thank God for the encouragement and testimony of the AME Church of Charleston. Their faith has been proved genuine indeed.