It’s been nearly 10 years since the world was horrified at the deaths of 10 teen-aged girls at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. Rather than seeing the normal images of grief-stricken family members promising revenge for the killings or violent acts of retaliation, in 2006 the world watched in amazement as the Amish families illustrated Christian idea of forgiveness. In news report after news report, the community members spoke of forgiving the killer. It was obvious that journalists covering the story could not completely grasp the concept of forgiveness.
Next to the horror of the crimes, this point was emphasized in many news reports. One reporter even stated that the strangest thing about the community wasn’t their dress or isolation but their ability to forgive “the unforgivable. “ The community was putting into action the words of Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” I must admit that I was also amazed at the images of the children and community members clad in black stating adamantly that they had already forgiven the killer. The community proved this by even showing up at the killer’s funeral.
Since then, there have been even more shocking shootings: 9 parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, videotaped deaths of Tamir Rice and Walter Scott, the 5 Dallas police officers and 3 law enforcement officers in Baton Rouge that have left many wondering how to respond to these tragic deaths. The endless “analysis” by experts has done a good job circling around the complex issues of race, law enforcement and gun control. Forgiveness has come up a few times as part of the discussions but not as a way to strategically move forward while demanding justice in response to the most recent examples of our nation’s long simmering racial wounds. Maybe I’m being naive, but what if instead of there being heated arguments by others trying to pit Black Lives Matters against law enforcement there were discussions(especially by Christians) about the importance of the power of forgiveness being key to resolving the pain of police and civilian shootings.
I’ve asked myself if I could forgive so easily if these senseless death happened to someone I cared about. And instead of boldly proclaiming that yes I could, I have to admit that despite all of my love for Jesus, that would be hard for me. I’d be able to do it eventually, but it would probably take many days of prayer and fasting. As I thought about how I’d handle the situation, I also thought about how hard it had been for me to forgive transgressions that weren’t as extreme as murder.
The Amish taught those who were willingly to learn about their selfless and uncompromising devotion to God’s word. Relying in God’s sovereign power was the only way they could show the power to forgive. With so much confusion surrounding these recent tragic shootings, it seems like relying on God’s power might be the first and best step to healing our nation’s long standing racial wounds.
Shewanda Riley is the author of the Essence best-seller “Love Hangover: Moving From Pain to Purpose after a Relationship ends.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.