On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in what now is indelibly, searingly imprinted on the memory, the psyche of a city, a state, a nation, perhaps a world, eight members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and their pastor, among those gathered for prayer and Bible study, were shot and killed. Two days later, Dylann Storm Roof, the alleged perpetrator, was arraigned in court and charged with nine counts of murder. Also present, members of the families of the dead, who were granted liberty to speak. In that moment, something as stunning, perhaps more, as the killings were shocking, occurred. The offering of pardon. One saying, “I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.” And another, “Hate won’t win…(the) victims died at the hands of hate. Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies live in love.”
The reactions, primarily two, to this act of compassion – this fruit, I believe, of faith that, acknowledging and accepting God’s forgiveness, must offer it, even, especially to the worst offender – were swift. For many, awestruck inspiration, and for some, tinged with an immediate, humble admission of pained wonderment about the capacity to do the same if ever in a similar sorrowful circumstance. For just as many, incredulity, and for some, a profound skepticism that questioned the validity of what one considered an “instant, unreasoned absolution that always requires time, maybe a long time, to achieve, if ever.” Another said, “Sometimes the wrong is too great. Sometimes the answer to the question, ‘Forgive?’ is ‘No’!”
Though I stand with those who are awed and inspired by the merciful kindness of the Charleston families, I also confess that I wrestle with forgiveness. That I can be swift to take offense and slow to pardon. That I can hold fast to my grief even when the circumstance is far from heinous and even when I know that the grudge I bear bothers my offender little and burdens me greatly.
Still, amid this horrific historical moment, I sense, I am sensing a shift in my spirit. A movement inspired, incited by the munificent witness of the families of Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. They, in their swift, sincere, and sure bestowal of mercy, have preached to me the grace and goodness of forgiveness. And I, with the inner ear of my soul, have heard.