By Philip Yancey
Posted on Thu, Oct 22 2020 in his blog
In a year marked by division and hostility, I find myself going back to an event from 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. *young white man joined 12 African Americans in a Bible study at the historic Mother Emanuel church. He was the first white man to attend, and the others welcomed him gladly.
Dylann Roof sat through the lesson on Jesus’ parable of sowing the seed. As the group stood for a closing prayer, he reached into his pack, pulled out a pistol and proceeded to shoot the Bible study members. all the while yelling racial slurs and insults.*
Again and again this year, scenes of racial injustice have played out before our eyes. Tragically, some of the resulting protests have led to violence.
*pastor Anthony Thompson published a personal account: Called to Forgive. Thompson dedicated his book to the memory of the Emanuel Nine, including his wife Myra, the leader of the Bible study. The fateful Bible study at Emanuel church was the first that she led—and the last.
In his book, Anthony Thompson tells of the person he used to be: an angry black man who worked for 25 years in Parole and Probation, where he had been the butt of racial insults and discrimination. Along the way he met God, and his life turned around.
Can I do it? he wondered. Can I, in the darkest remote closets of my all-too-human heart, forgive Dylann Roof for the cold-blooded murder of my beloved companion?
At the hearing, the judge does something very unusual for a bond hearing. He reads out the names of each of the nine victims, one by one, and asks if any of their family members wish to speak. Suddenly Thompson hears his wife’s name called. Now he finds himself walking to the podium, staring at Dylann Roof’s face on the flat-screen monitor.
“I forgive you,” he says to Dylann. “And my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the One who matters the most: Jesus Christ, so that he can change it and change your attitude.”
Rev. Thompson’s words get broadcast, and are quoted in newspaper headlines all over the world. But somehow that public act of forgiveness helps set a tone of reconciliation. Charleston authorities had
happen. There are no assaults, and no bloodshed.
At Myra Thompson’s funeral, Governor, Nikki Haley said “Myra Thompson taught our state and country how to love,” “And Anthony, you and your family taught our state and our country how to forgive.”
What happened in Charleston shows the power of forgiveness, the power of grace. At such a time forgiveness may seem utterly impossible. Maybe it is, without supernatural help.
Listen to the words of Anthony Thompson. “My decision came from God’s strength, not from my human weakness.”*
Copyright © 2020 Philip Yancey. All rights reserved.
* Edited by