July 17, 2015


Amazing grace in the Palmetto State

The heartrending headlines and news reports have helped us closely follow what’s recently happened in the state of South Carolina. But the news worth noting goes beyond a tragic multiple homicide and a decision by state officials to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.

Go back to the night of June 17, and we were shocked and left numb by how the Palmetto State made national headlines when a 21-year-old white man allegedly entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, an historic African-American church, sat in fellowship during a prayer meeting with church members for about an hour, then allegedly stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people,” and shot nine people dead. Photos of Dylann Roof, the accused killer, often pictured him holding a gun and the Confederate flag.

And last week, thanks to votes in both the South Carolina Senate and House of Representatives and the signature of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the Confederate flag, a symbol flown proudly for more than 50 years at the state Capitol, was moved off statehouse grounds to a nearby museum because of the renewed flag controversy resulting from the shooting.

We continue to offer our heartfelt prayers for the shooting victims’ families and applaud state leaders for acting swiftly in removing the flag, which has been to some a sign of the state’s heritage and to others a symbol of racial divisiveness for years. But we were truly moved by the actions of other groups of people.

We believe not enough has been said about the residents of Charleston—African-American, white and countless other ethnicities—who came together during the Bridge to Peace event in a show of unity on the Ravenel Bridge on the evening of June 21. A throng of 15,000 strong held hands in a show of solidarity, letting their love as brothers and sisters in Christ shine through in a time of heartache and mourning.

“This is how we riot in Charleston!” an unnamed rally participant was quoted as saying as he stretched his hands toward heaven. His message was simple, yet heartfelt: While other communities across the U.S. have resorted to rioting, violence and other forms of civil unrest in the wake of recent tragic shootings, Charleston residents chose a different path.

But even more moving was the witness offered by many of the family members who lost loved ones in the church shooting.

When Roof made his first court appearance on June 19 in Charleston, the judge in charge of the proceeding allowed family members to address him. Roof, who was apprehended on June 18, faces nine counts of murder in state court, where he could be sentenced to death.

What followed was not anger, bitterness, or words of vengeance, but a Christ-like response from several family members: “I forgive you.” Those three words spoke volumes to how their Christian faith had taught them, in simplistic terms, to hate the sin but love the sinner.

“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, who was among those killed, said to Roof at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Would we be able to do the same if someone took the life of a loved one in such an unexpected and heinous manner?

The powerful message of forgiveness offered by loved ones in Charleston shows how witnesses of Christ’s Gospel, if they allow his grace to fill their lives, can offer true testimony to their faith—even in the most tragic of circumstances.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Charleston tragedy, but we believe the most important one may come from words shared by Chip Campsen, a South Carolina state senator, who quoted C.S. Lewis in a piece he wrote last month in The Post and Courier, Charleston’s daily newspaper: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

—Mike Krokos

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