Seldom do we witness the kind of raw, unassailable courage we saw Friday as family members of victims faced the racist shooter, Dylann Roof. Over and over, these grieving Christians said to their enemy, “I forgive you. Through the power of our resurrected Lord Jesus, we all forgive you.” I was equally struck by the impotent weakness of the man they addressed, who stood unmoved in his prison jump suit, abject and wordless. Even amidst their tears and sorrow, the members of the Mother Emanual church family were strong, confident, and buttressed by their assurance of life beyond tragedy. While Roof . . . take away this guy’s Glock and Confederate-flag website and he’s the poster boy of angry, inarticulate emptiness.
Someone on the CNN Sunday talk shows said earnestly: “The black church in the South is strong because it has so much practice at forgiving.” It takes me back to a scene from the standout book, Dead Man Walking. Lloyd LeBlanc’s son disappears and is missing for days before the police find David’s body. The father is called to go out to the cane field to ID his boy. A devout Christian, he falls to his knees right there at the crime scene and begins the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
And he gets to the line which must be said. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I do not personally know if I could have finished that prayer, but this Catholic father did not hesitate. He prayed the words heaven bent low to hear, and then added quietly: “Whoever did this, I forgive them.” Years later, he traveled to the penitentiary in order to witness the execution of Patrick Sonnier. The condemned man peered through the plexiglass and said in his last statement: “Mr. LeBlanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what me and Eddie done.” And the dad nodded, signaling a forgiveness he had already given.
Such stories make me both proud and humbly awed that I am a part of such an amazing community: the worldwide body of Christ.