Christians forgive murderers even after mass shootings (COMMENTARY)

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Mourners engage in a group prayer on Dec. 5, 2015 at a makeshift memorial for victims following the shooting attack in San Bernardino, Calif. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHRISTIAN-SHOOTING, originally transmitted on Dec. 7, 2015.

Mourners engage in a group prayer on Dec. 5, 2015 at a makeshift memorial for victims following the shooting attack in San Bernardino, Calif. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHRISTIAN-SHOOTING, originally transmitted on Dec. 7, 2015.

(RNS) The murderous attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., are too fresh to address at any length.

The brutality and horror of the killings of the innocent and the bloody shootout, the indescribable grief of the families, and the sheer shock of such an incident occurring in an otherwise quiet community demand prayer, reflection, and comfort more than quick and inevitably inadequate pontification.

Sadly, these shootings are not unique. Too often, we have experienced the agony of slaughter in churches, homes, theaters, schools, and other venues of what has been the quiet commonplace.

Yet there is a striking facet of these tragedies that shines brightly amid their grim darkness: The witness of Christians who, in the face of evil, have displayed the love of their savior and the forgiveness he alone can bring.

This past June in Charleston, S.C., when nine people were gunned down at a church Bible study, the nation was moved, and many skeptics sobered, by the forgiveness shown by the families of the victims.

Rev. Norvel Goff prays at the empty seat of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 21, 2015. The church held its first service since a mass shooting left nine people dead during a bible study. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David Goldman/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHARLESTON-AME, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.

The Rev. Norvel Goff prays at the empty seat of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 21, 2015. The church held its first service since a mass shooting left nine people dead during a Bible study. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/David Goldman/Pool
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHARLESTON-AME, originally transmitted on June 22, 2015.

“I forgive you and my family forgives you,” said Anthony Thompson to alleged shooter Dylann Roof. Thompson’s wife, Myra, was one of those slain. “But we would like for you to take this opportunity to repent, confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ.”

Speaking of her fallen mother, Ethel Lance, Nadine Collier said to Roof, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Less than a month ago, a pregnant Amanda Blackburn was murdered in her home while her baby slept in another room.  This was not a mass killing, but any murder slices into the conscience. And in this case, Blackburn’s life and witness made her tragic death especially gripping.

The wife of a young pastor named Davey Blackburn, she had written, only that morning, an entry in her journal that read: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of his glory and grace. What an amazing Sunday yesterday that filled my heart to see so many people in your church. Learning, growing, meeting you and taking next steps. Thank you for letting me get to see all of this (with) my own eyes. I love you Lord. Glory and praise to you.”

Responding to his wife’s horrific killing, Davey Blackburn told Fox News, “I don’t want to live my life going down the path of bitterness because it will destroy my soul and it will destroy everybody around me if I choose that (unforgiveness).” He continued:

So today, I choose forgiveness. And tomorrow, I pray that I can wake up and choose forgiveness by the power of Jesus Christ. One of the things about Jesus when they were inflicting way more pain than any of us can imagine on Him, on the cross, He looked out and he said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” And so that Spirit lives in us and we’re just praying His Spirit would help us in that.

Then there was police officer and part-time pastor Garrett Swasey, who less than two weeks ago gave his life attempting to defend people in a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado. At the close of his final sermon, given on Sunday, Nov. 15, Swasey said, “Lord, let us view grace as what it truly is: a costly tremendous gift that cost You everything, that we might be in relationship with You. And because of the high price of that gift, that we might make You and the Gospel the forefront of our minds as the most valuable thing we possess, as we sang this morning, ‘You can have all this world but give me Jesus!’ Give us You!”

Officer Swasey could not forgive his killer because, of course, the killer murdered him. But had he somehow survived, no one should doubt Swasey would have sought out the deluded soul who shot him and shared the love of Jesus with him. Swasey was a Christ-follower in word and deed, heart and soul.

No one disputes that murderers should be brought to justice and prosecuted for their wicked actions. To murder is to blaspheme against God: Only he is the author of life, and only he has authority to decide when it should end. Murderers usurp his role, defiling those who bear the image of the Eternal Lord of all. This merits severe punishment as a matter not of revenge or even deterrence, but justice.

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council. Photo courtesy of Ron Walters/Light Productions Photography

Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council. Photo courtesy of Ron Walters/Light Productions Photography

But criminal accountability is a matter of governmental obligation and true social justice. Christians forgiving those who commit evil acts against them is a matter of mirroring Jesus Christ in their own lives.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse,” wrote Paul to the church in Rome (Romans12:14). In blessing those who have persecuted — who have killed — those they loved so dearly, these men and women have shocked and even silenced many in our post-Christian America. That’s sometimes how transformation starts.

(Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.)

 

 

 

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  • John

    The power of forgiveness. Thank you for the article.

  • Forgiveness is overrated. And it spurs immoral behavior.
    It is too appreciated – and expected – by the violent offenders, which ultimately encourages even more crime.

    All perpetrators of evil assume they will be forgiven by someone. They have already forgiven themselves.

    It would be more useful if the lives of the victims were the only focus – and forgiveness left to matter of privacy … or the wind.

  • Scout Rebel

    So the battle picks up. Different armies, different weapons.

  • Scout Rebel

    Forgiveness is for the victim not the perpetrator. It tells them that no matter what heinous action they have taken they can’t alter the core of who we and our loved ones are.

  • Scout Rebel,

    “Forgiveness is for the victim not the perpetrator.”

    Wrong. You are confusing Acceptance with Forgiveness. They are not the same!
    Acceptance is MORAL.
    Acceptance = recognition that one cannot change a horrible indignity.

    Forgiveness is NOT Moral.
    Forgiveness = granting the perpetrator a chance to freely assault others again.

    Forgiveness drops charges. These Christian who say they are “forgiving the perpetrators” are NOT dropping charges – Christians are sloppily misusing language.
    If they truly forgave all these criminal perpetrators our society would be a living hell!

    Thank goodness Christians don’t really mean a word of what they are saying.

  • Without God, there is no basis for morality, Max.

  • Raf

    What amazing will power and love. Thank you for keeping Jesus words and forgiving them for what they done. I know they caused you pain and make you hate but you conquered that and choose to forgive. Once again I will say well done and thank you for keeping true to Jesus word.

  • @Phil Walker:

    Nonsense.
    Morality doesn’t come from gods. Religion gets morality from us – not the other way around.

    Humans create gods and decide which morals to give them. That is the evidence.
    There is no evidence of gods creating anything.

  • Chey

    “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.” -Wikipedia
    I think this is more what the article is about. This is what Jesus taught his disciples to do if someone offends them or sins against them. He even forgave the people who hung him on the cross and falsely accused him. The comment that it’s more about the offended than the offender is certainly correct in this respect. It’s so the offended can move on with their lives free from bitterness and anger. This type of forgiveness in no way lets the offender off the hook in regards to consequences – the offender made a choice and there are laws that govern actions.

  • @Chey,

    You are describing “Acceptance” not ‘forgiveness’.

    To forgive is to set the perpetrator free.
    “Forgive not 7 times but 70 times 7” – JESUS. It is immoral nonsense.
    And Jesus knew it because he does not forgive anyone, anyway
    “Execute them all” – Jesus, (Luke 19:27)

    Religion complicates everything.

  • Brian

    Forgiveness isn’t only for the other person; it’s for you. Holding anger and resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. Forgiving another person doesn’t even mean that you have to tell them about it, see them ever again, or excuse their actions. It means you are letting go of the hurt, and if possible, that you wish the best for the other person, ‘the best’ being that they turn from their ways.

    Your words sounded familiar to me; it is what I would have said about criminals in my twenties and thirties, when I was agnostic. Time and circumstances have caused me to rethink all of that. Keep seeking the truth, wherever it leads.

  • I think that it is possible to prove that you are wrong. Atheists are people without any belief in God. Yet they are drastically underrepresented among the inmates of federal prisons. If moral behavior requires belief in God, one would expect that Atheists would be over-represented among prisoners. See: http://www.religioustolerance.org/atheist-18.htm

  • Rob Schwarzwalder, the author of this article, wrote: “… Christians who, in the face of evil, have displayed the love of their savior and the forgiveness he alone can bring.”

    What you seem to be saying is that Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Agnostics, Atheists, and other non-Christians are intrinsically incapable of expressing forgiveness.

    I am an Agnostic. I forgive the author for his attack on me and on other non-Christians. This would seem to disprove his belief that non-Christians are unable to forgive.

  • Larry

    You have it backwards. God is no basis for morality.

    Any immoral act can be excused in religion if one claims to be doing it on God’s behalf.

    History is littered with evil done in the name of one’s religious belief. Evil done out of slavish devotion to arbitrary irrational authority. A morality based on “ends justifying all means”. It was so useful that dictators of all stripes either used religion to support their regimes (See all absolute monarchies, right wing dictators and theocracies); or created their own takes on religious belief to do so (See Communist leaders)

  • Jim L

    Bruce, you have the ability to choose to forgive or not, as all humans do. I too believe that a person of any faith can forgive a perpetrator who harms them. I hope I represent Schwarzwalder’s belief in that. What I think the author is refering to is that “the forgiveness he (Christ) alone can bring” is to each indiviual, every one of us accountable to Jesus Christ who will mete out justice in the end. By the way, you are a person of faith – in Agnosticism – so I’m including all belief systems, Atheism too.

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  • BRIAN,

    “Holding anger and resentment”

    Wrong. You are talking about Acceptance – not Forgiveness.
    Forgiveness is deeply immoral.

    I am 53 years old. I was a Christian for 49 of those years. I have forgiven people in the name of Christ only to see them become serial criminals and liars, never facing their personal responsibilities. I consider those people victims of religion.

    I have seen “forgiveness” ruin countless lives in my family and elsewhere. Forgiveness is the reason the pedophile priest scandals continued for centuries.
    Forgiveness is a lie because it isn’t really possible to revert to a time before the crime. Redemption is an extremely damaging concept. Never hurt people needlessly and you won’t need forgiveness. Simple as that.

    If you are victim of violence you need to find acceptance. Never forgiveness.

  • Forgiveness is what we all need in order to be in right standing with God. What separates us from God is our sin. We have a problem. God is Holy and sin must be punished. But we are all sinners and fall short of His glory. Fortunately God solved this problem for us in the person of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and rose again to atone for our sins. He who had no sin became sin for us so that we might become righteous before God. Jesus took our punishment on Himself so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have peace with God and everlasting life. Indeed, forgiveness is the very heart of Christianity. Receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Turn away from sin. Know His forgiveness and His peace. God Bless