Charleston victims’ relatives gave world a glimpse of Christian mercy

First came the horrifying news about an unspeakably evil event. A man walked into a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., pulled out a gun and ended nine lives in a bloodbath that surely made the devil proud.

Later, we learned these Christians had kindly welcomed the young man, a newcomer, who sat in their circle for about an hour before enacting his horrendous plan.

The day after this tragedy, I held my breath, fearing violence might erupt in retaliation for the lives so brutally ended. People taking to the streets with a bloody agenda might have pointed to the Old Testament saying “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

But that oft-quoted phrase clashes strongly with Christ’s teachings. In fact, when Peter asked Jesus outright how often he had to forgive someone who had done him wrong — “As many as seven times?” — Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Like so many Christians, I’ve heard these words repeatedly proclaimed from the pulpit, but when violence hits home — and someone hurts our spouse, child, sister or brother — it is easy to forget Scripture and instead pursue a deep-seated urge to get even in some way.

The families of the Charleston victims, however, put a lie to the notion of knee-jerk revenge by taking Christ’s words to heart — and when given the chance to speak to the alleged perpetrator via video, they didn’t scream at him, curse him or accuse him of being a monster.

Instead, one by one, they did something many of us might struggle with — which is forgiving him.

A victim’s sister admitted she was angry, but “We have no room for hate so we have to forgive.”

To me, these amazing people were modeling Christ’s radical act of forgiveness as he was dying on the cross, brutalized, thirsty — and yet managing to say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Unfortunately, we rarely see glimpses of true mercy on the news today. More often, we see screaming mobs declaring revenge on those who have taken their land or harmed their families.

Sometimes we even notice little children in these angry crowds, sipping the bitter cup of hatred from a parent’s hand.

For people like the Charleston churchgoers — who make their way in a dark world by the glow of the Gospels, who turn to prayer when others despair — showing mercy to someone who has shattered their lives is the only option.

The message of love from this Charleston church is circling the globe — and will be passed on to the next generation. As the interim pastor, the Rev. Norvel Goff, put it, “When our children’s children ask what happened here, we want to tell them that without a doubt we kept the faith and moved forward.” Thank God for such people!