By Monsignor William J. Linder
Extending forgiveness is rarely an easy task. But the utter power of being the undeserving recipient was fully displayed just two days after the horrific shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., that left nine parishioners dead.
“I forgive you.”
Those were the very words, or sentiments, expressed by several relatives, whose loved ones had been slain in cold blood, at their first chance to speak to the accused gunman, Dylann Roof.
“You took something very precious way from me and I will never talk to her again,” said Nadine Collier, the daughter of victim Ethel Lance, 70. “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you.” Myra Thompson, the sister of victim DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, acknowledged that she was “very angry” but added, “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”
The victims’ families spoke during a bond hearing where Roof was present in the courtroom via video feed. Not every relative in the courtroom chose to speak, which is more than understandable. Let me be clear, human emotions of rage and grief are enough to render one speechless or, conversely, capable of unleashing hateful venom.
That is precisely what makes the act of extending forgiveness so powerful. The same attitude resounded through the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy after the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Al., that killed four girls. King urged the mourners, “…that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence.”
Advocating a non-violent response to the church bombing transformed a tragedy into a turning point for the Civil Rights Movement. King’s words rang true more than 50 years ago and still echo in the lives of the nine murdered churchgoers. Even President Barack Obama referenced King’s speech in his own moving eulogy for the Emanuel AME Church victims.
Earlier in the same speech, King reminded us that the bombing victims did not die in vain, and I believe that is true of the Charleston victims.
“God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive,” King said.