A Thank You to the Families of the Dead in Charleston

I wasn’t going to say anything about the murders in Charleston, South Carolina. The light of tragedy shines too bright. Speak a false word and it shows you as you really are. The politicians and commentators use the dead to push their narratives and agendas. In the light of tragedy, they look to me like gnarled gargoyles twisted by the hunger for power and by self love. The journalists search for words to express the depth of the killer’s depravity. We know they’re really saying, “This is what a good person I am. This is how much I hate evil.” In the light of tragedy, they look to me like pathetic beggars at the throne of Virtue. The rest of us? “Our hearts are with them. Our prayers are with them.” It’s fine, I know, but it’s easy compassion too, compassion without a price.


But I have to say a word of thanks to the families of the dead, the ones who went into the courtroom on Friday, who faced the man who shot their loved ones to death and forgave him.

“I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.” Anthony Thompson, husband of Myra.

The video above shows the scene.

These people have received God’s most terrible gift, the gift of suffering, the gift of his cross. I pray he never gives that gift to me. I’m too weak, too worldly, too addicted to joy. But somehow, these people saw it for what it was: an opportunity to speak Christ’s presence into the broken places of the earth, a chance to remind us that the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord.

“I forgive you. 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, and have mercy on your soul.” Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance.

The devil is a wily enemy. He whispers to us relentlessly: “You must have justice. You must be repaid.” With that simple formula, he transforms the victims of violence into the violent, he remakes the victims of oppression into oppressors, he leads the victims of bigotry to bigotry. He doesn’t care who does his hating for him. He just goes on building his empire heart by heart.


“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. So hate won’t win.” Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons.

It is the faith of every Christian that that empire will not stand, that the moral logic of life is greater than life and that the death and suffering we see here are only a small arc of its perfect circle. It can be hard to hold on to that faith. It can be hard even to remember it at times. The families of the Charleston dead reminded me. I’m grateful to them.


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