As a culture, we're back to talking about forgiveness, who should forgive and when and why and oh boy.
This has been a hard week. It has been a week of shock and pain and tears, and also a continuation of the horrors of white privilege and entitlement perpetuated upon people of color. Being a bleeding heart liberal, my heart has not stopped bleeding since Mike Brown’s body was left in the street as every week has brought new horror, and I am not a member of the community being attacked. I can only imagine the lives of people of color, living with this reality every single day, for experiencing 300 years of this country’s hate and superiority complex.
Listening to the families of Charleston explain to the shooter that they forgive him - that’s powerful grace. It’s not going to be that simple, because they have only started to process the events at Mother Emmanuel. But it is a statement of intent, of a goal. It is a grace that is deeply rooted in our shared faith, and I can only admire them for it.
The statement of some of the families that they forgive what has been done to them and to their loved ones is their choice. They have listened to the words of Christ, and refuse to hold hatred. Not everyone can make that decision. If the anger is too deep, the hurt still too strong, and all of it too closely held, then that’s not a viable choice. Saying the words won’t make it so. It shouldn't be delayed forever, though.
Forgiveness is fucking hard. It’s a process - every time the event is triggered in memory, you need to make that choice again. Again and again and again. Sometimes you can only remember that it hurts, can only remember what it feels like to be a victim, to shudder as the event rips through your heart, opening all the scars to bleed. It’s going to happen.
You think Christ didn’t know this anger, the feeling of betrayal by the world? Did you read all the crap that goes down in Holy Week? How could people he knew and loved do these things? How could people say it was their faith in God that lead them to perpetrate crimes against his friends, family, himself? From the Temple to Judas to Peter to the Cross, he found persecution, betrayal, and death. He was wounded, by lashes, nails, and feeling totally, achingly alone in the world, all others lost. It’s part of the theology of the cross that Jesus didn’t, doesn’t, forget, but forgives, constantly, the wounds inflicted.
These are real wounds, even if they’re unseen. They should be acknowledged as such. And I can assure you that these families will never forget getting that phone call on Wed night, the feelings of helplessness and loss.
One of our titles for Christ is the Great Physician. These invisible wounds are where the healing balm of our faith is greatest. It takes (or makes) a deep faith to remember even as we are bleeding on the floor that we are called to forgive our enemies and those who persecute us. When these families reached for God this week, they remembered this call to forgive as the love of God held them, gave them hope, and started their healing.
I see people on twitter saying “I’m a Christian and I’m not ready to forgive and forget, so while these families are admirable, they’re not me.” No, they’re not you. Everyone’s timeline is different. Good on you for realizing that you can’t even consider it...yet. Point one: I might argue that forgiveness at this point is aspirational: see above that forgiveness is hard and ongoing, a process. Point two: who said anything about forgetting? Forgiveness without the memory of why is worthless. Mother Emmanuel is never going to forget the hole that has been ripped in their lives. We shouldn’t forget the feelings of horror and violation as the news broke. Our culture keeps forgetting, and that’s a serious problem - it means that this keeps happening. We don’t take the steps we are spurred to by our conscience and our faith, we let the anger and determination fade, and go back to business as usual. The problem comes in if that forgiveness is delayed too long, and the hate eats away self, damages faith.
Hate, as we evidence for in front of us, is destructive. Hating this one man is counterproductive - it will damage the soul, even as he is damaged and broken. Hate, the obsessive, consuming anger-that-blames, destroys.
Anger, on the other hand - righteous, focused, channeled and leashed anger? Has its place, and I’d argue that its place is here. Fighting the system, the culture that produced this man, and all those people who are defending him, or even condemning these actions. Fighting those who won’t acknowledge that the shooter was acting out a hate that he had been taught. There is no more prevalent form of persecution in the United States than the ingrained racism against people of color. We as a culture must take our shock and horror and anger and use it to talk about and dismantle the systems of hate and oppression that lead to this week. But we run a risk, being only human, of letting that anger rule us.
Christians are called to not let this happen.
It’s our job to fight the oppressor, even when the oppressor is us, and the systems that enable oppression. It is also our call to forgive, to not let ourselves be ruled by hate or fear but to be ruled by love, to be the evidence of Grace in the world. That’s fucking hard. But! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even forgive the unforgivable. It’s just a matter of faith.
The families of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Susie Jackson are working so hard to remember love and grace, to demonstrate the effects of this community of faith even as it mourns. Let us hold them in prayer.