If I were writing a novel, this is not the way it would have gone. The young man intent on murder steps into the church. He is warmly welcomed even though he is white and the church members are black; he is young and most of those present for Bible study are old.
He fingers the gun in his pocket. He reminds himself of all the reasons he resents these people, trying desperately to hang onto his hate.
At last he breaks down and confesses his evil intent. He is embraced in love by his former enemies and begins a new life in Christ.
That’s the way I would have written it.
But it’s not the way God wrote it. The embraced-in-love part is there. But only after the young man murders nine people. It is their devastated friends and families who forgive him, not the ones who worshipped and prayed along side him and reached out to him with the love of Christ.
It has been a moving couple of weeks in Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired more than a hundred and fifty years ago. I was initially shocked with the rest of the country by these senseless killings, but then I was thrilled with the powerful message of forgiveness that went out almost immediately from church members and families. The whole world heard that message. Dylann Root hoped to start a race war; instead he provoked what was probably the greatest show of racial unity Charleston has ever seen. The whole world wondered how such grace is possible. The answer was clearly articulated: Jesus Christ.
I have never been so proud of our president as when listening to his eulogy at the funeral of slain pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney. We evangelicals are not big into liturgy, but I would have liked to be in a church the following Sunday where this one was prayed, standing together with those who mourn.
Black lives matter. There is no question here of the victims “deserving” their deaths. They are martyrs, victimized because of the faith that brought them to that place at that time. Their deaths have lead to a renewed discussion of the place of the Confederate flag, something that to me has always been a no brainer. What other country allows the flag of a defeated rebellion against the federal government to be flown without considering the act treasonous? I am pleased that so many marketers have committed to stop using this symbol of the worst of Southern culture as frivolous decoration.
My version of this story would have been a sweet morality tale to touch a few individuals. God’s version has touched the world and, I hope, changed a nation.