Three men and six women lying on the floor of an historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, their bibles scattered on the desk and the floor, and blood streaming through the aisle is the picture of the world’s, yet known, greatest tragedy of the week of 17 June 2015. In all the heartbreaking dramas of the past decade, the terrorism and gruesome murder of thousands of Christians and religious minorities across the east, Africa and even in the west, and the destruction of iconic places of worship, this one stands out like the story of “Et tu Brute” (and [even] you, Brutus).
On the west coast of the United States of America, I was having a bible study with more than two hundred men of integrity (BBB Group) at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Bakersfield, California. The theme was on forgiveness. We recalled the rare cases of Christian forgiveness as witnessed during the Rwandan Genocide of about a million people, Pope Saint John Paul II’s heroic act of forgiveness to his attempted assassin, and many other examples including those from the terrorism-ridden places of the world. Little did we know that, at that very hour, on a similar occasion (bible study), terror was taking place closer home on the other side of the coast about 2500 miles away.
The meek, unarmed and vulnerable Christian community in Charleston welcomed a boy to their fellowship with open arms though he was a stranger. “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.” They were living the very words of Our Savior Jesus Christ. They were living out the teachings of the bible.
For one hour, one long hour … the boy (his name is intentionally left out here) listened, and was “part” of the body of Christ. The believers may have offered him water and coffee if he wanted it, since it is customary in many churches in the United States of America during bible studies to make for such provisions. After one hour of fellowship, he decided to kill the very people who welcomed him. Unreal! Mean!! Heartless!!! The rest of that horrible incident is a negative history; the memory would hardly be wiped out of the books. My heart bleeds. No need to recount the horror anymore, and give the villain an undue attention and space on my blog.
May the gentle souls of the fallen heroes of Christian hospitality rest in peace. Amen. My heart goes out to the families, church members and friends of the victims. I offered prayers and I will continue to pray this does not repeat, anywhere.
As the story of that massacre evolves, I find behind it yet another story, a Christian message of forgiveness. During the first court (bond) hearing the day after that evil-personified was arrested, the members of the Church and the families of the victims addressed him to his face. They weren’t in denial about their pains which are really deep; instead they acknowledged them but spoke the very word standing as judgment to the wicked: “I forgive you.” “We forgive you.”
I am edified by this heroic spirit of forgiveness and Christian answer to acts of hate and terrorism. I find in the son of one of the victims, the family members of the deceased and the response of the members of that Church as well as other men and women of goodwill, a clear example of the weapon of forgiveness. Christians do not live by the standards of an eye for an eye. We overcome hate with love, violence with peace, murder with the gospel of life. Our weapons are those of love not of hate.
We see in this tragedy, in the blink of an eye, how many people, irrespective of their affiliations, united in condemnation of the horrific murder. And at least, I suppose, a free world would realize how monstrously wicked people could be, if there were no solid moral compass to shape their thoughts and actions.
Many questions have been asked; how did the villain devolve to this extent, how was he raised, who are his mentors, how dare his father gift him a gun irrespective of a questionable track record, why the historic black Church, why in Charleston, South Carolina? We can go on and on without finding satisfactory answers. But one thing is clear to me; it is in the heart, wherein lies hate and the thirst for blood. For if the heart is not trained to love others, to love every life and to see one another as members of one family, it may as well be that a case-study of the mythic controversial homo homini lupus (man a wolf to man) is finding a scene on our time’s (world) stage despite the triumphalism posture of advancements in education, politics, human rights, science and technology.
In the face of evil, racism, and terrorism, in all their forms, we need to realize how love trumps hate; how a sense of reconciling and reconciliatory family is key to building a stronger world; how seeing others, irrespective of their color or background, as a brother, a sister; and how building on good moral foundations, and I dare to say, the dictates of love, is the only lasting principle for any society.