HARRISBURG, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – A North Carolina church that was robbed around Christmastime is making national news for its pledge not to press charges – and for its desire to help the person who robbed the church with whatever needs he or she may have.
Hope City Church in Harrisburg, N.C., announced on its Facebook page that a person likely familiar with the facilities broke into the building and then into the church safe between Dec. 25 and Dec. 27, stealing paperwork and less than $500 in cash.
Pastor Robbie McLaughlin and the church staff said in the Facebook post that steps have been taken to ensure "this doesn't happen again" – locks have been changed, for example – but McLaughlin and the staff also directly addressed the robber.
"Our assumption is that it is someone who had been granted access to our facility over the past 24 months, so our hope is that via this post and email, the person or persons involved will see this post," the church staff wrote.
"If it was you, here is what you need to know: We're not angry, upset, or frustrated at you. WE COMPLETELY FORGIVE YOU ... COMPLETELY. While it's important for us to take necessary precautionary measures to ensure the safety and stewardship of our church and its resources, we have NO intention of pressing charges against you. In fact, we realize that for you to rob a church, on CHRISTMAS no less, you must be in a pretty desperate situation, and our heart breaks for you."
Jesus Himself, the Facebook post said, set the example for what the church is doing.
"In the sixth chapter of Luke's Gospel, Jesus says that if someone steals your coat, take your shirt, and give it to them as well," McLaughlin and the church staff said. "This is because Jesus' greatest desire for His followers is to be moved with compassion towards desperate and hurting people ... because that's the heart and character of His father."
McLaughlin and the church staff then promised not to press charges, but also encouraged the robber to come to the church so he or she can be helped.
"[I]n keeping with the command of our Savior, and because our heart truly does go out to you, we would like to ask you to come forward and turn yourself in," they wrote. "Not because we want to report you to the police, we won't. Not because we want to publicly shame you, we won't. In fact, we'll keep your confession private. And not because we want the money back. Quite the contrary. We want to help. For you to take the measures you did, against a church who recently collected a BENEVOLENCE OFFERING, you obviously need some support during a very desperate season of your life. And we want to be that support. If you need food, we want to provide grocery gift cards. If you need temporary housing, we want to help you find it. If you need counseling, or to get into any type of rehabilitation program, we want to pay for it. Whatever you need, we desperately want to help. And the only way we can is for you to come forward.
"We pledge our commitment to love you, serve you, and care for you unconditionally. In fact, we're convinced that when you made a plan to rob this church, GOD had a different plan. We're convinced God wants to use this to turn your life around.
"So give us the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, and we promise, you won't regret it."
McLaughlin is a graduate of Liberty University, and he and his family planted the church.
On Facebook, people applauded the church's reaction.
"What a stand up way to respond. A true example of grace, forgiveness, and love," one person wrote.
Another added, "I am so lost for words, if this isn't God's love I don't know what is."