Charleston families forgive killer; media & others in 'awe'

by Michael Foust |

(REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)A sign of support is pictured at a makeshift memorial at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, June 20. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old with a criminal record, is accused of killing nine people at a Bible-study meeting in the historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in an attack U.S. officials are investigating as a hate crime. At his arraignment, to the shock of many, family members of those killed offered forgiveness and shared the love of Christ with Roof.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Christian Examiner) -- The mass shooting that ended nine lives in a Charleston, S.C., church shocked the nation, but the forgiving spirit exhibited by the surviving family members also has shocked many observers, including members of the media.

Alleged gunman Dylann Roof reportedly had hopes of starting a race war, yet his action at the predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has had the opposite effect, allowing the grieving families to put the Gospel's power on full display for not only Roof but for a watching television audience.

"I forgive you and my family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent," Anthony Thompson, grandson of 59-year-old Myra Thompson, told Roof at the bond hearing. "Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so He can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you'll be OK. Do that, and you'll be better off than you are right now."

Thompson, though, wasn't the only one to address Roof, who appeared via closed circuit TV – prison guards behind him -- and listened to the families.

Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, also spoke.

"I forgive you," Collier said. "You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. Have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you, and I forgive you."

It isn't unusual for family members of victims to speak in court, but it is rare for them to do so at something as routine at a bond hearing.

Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons, addressed Roof.

"Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof -- everyone's plea for your soul -- is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love," she said. "So hate won't win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn't win."

It isn't the first time Roof has seen love on display by those related to the church. He apparently told police that as he sat for an hour listening to the Bible study that tragic Wednesday night, he began having second thoughts -- because everyone treated him so kind.

National Public Radio's Scott Simon tweeted after watching the family members: "I try to avoid 'awed' because it's overused. But I am awed by the forgiveness of families of those killed in Charleston."

Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review wrote on Twitter, "I am a non-Christian, and I must say: This is a remarkable advertisement for Christianity."

Similarly, CJ Werleman, a writer for the online news site Middle East Eye, tweeted, "I'm an atheist, but watching the victim's relatives offer forgiveness to Dylann Roof is an inspiring testimony to religious faith."

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the families' testimony powerful. Moore made the comments on CNN's State of the Union Sunday.

"It's not that they are saying that what has happened is OK, and it's not that they're saying there shouldn't be justice," Moore said. "They're saying, 'We're not going to be enslaved by hatred. We're doing instead to turn you over for the dealing of justice to the state, and ultimately the justice of God.' That's what the Gospel is all about."

Mark Jones, senior minister at Faith Vancouver Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Vancouver, Canada, wrote at Reformation21.com that the family members "expressed some of the best theology I've ever heard in my life."

"I only hope that if I am ever faced with a similar situation that I'll react half as well as those people did as they spoke to Dylan Roof," Jones wrote.