A Witness to Forgiveness
The news this past week has been almost uniformly grim: many more deaths in
As I write, funerals for five of the children were held yesterday. A sixth girl has been brought home to die in the loving arms of her family. The milk truck driver who committed this horrific act took his life � leaving behind his wife, young children and a traumatized community.
As dispiriting as this news has been, a powerful witness to God�s unbounded love and grace and human forgiveness has also taken place. On the evening of the shooting, even as the Amish community began to grasp horror of the carnage at the school and grieve the incomprehensible loss of their children, their representative was slowly making his way to the home of the gunman. He went to offer his wife and children a word of forgiveness and peace.
Throughout this week, even as they mourn the tragic deaths of their children, this Amish community has quietly continued its witness of forgiveness. Their capacity to forgive grows out of their deep Christian faith. It is a remarkable gift of hope to the whole world.
I couldn�t help but reflect on the differences in response between this school shooting and the ones that occurred while I was bishop in
In the year following, the public outcry for vengeance resulted in the
These Amish Christians have chosen a different way. It is a way preached and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a way led by Bishop Desmond Tutu through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. It is Jesus� way.
Forgiveness and reconciliation lie at the heart of Christian faith and practice. In no way do they deny the reality of evil or our own hatred or desire for revenge. In no way do they imply that Christians don�t set appropriate boundaries or safeguard their children. Rather, they mean that even though there are people and political entities who seek to dominate, abuse, and act violently, Christians respond with forgiveness and reconciliation.
Such living is extremely difficult. However, as Bishop Desmond Tutu so wisely pointed out, �There is no future without forgiveness.� This is why forgiveness is such profound testimony to hope.
It is no wonder that Jesus placed a petition to forgive in the brief prayer he taught his disciples. He spoke directly of forgiveness to Peter, telling him �Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.�� At his own crucifixion, Jesus responded to those torturing him, �Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.�
Forgiveness became a hallmark of the early church. The Apostle Paul wrote a set of practices for Christians in
In a culture often dominated by strident voices of anger, punishment, and vengeance masquerading as justice, the gentle witness of these Amish is testimony to the power of life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also a witness to the resilience of a community that lives quite literally according to Jesus� teaching.
Some people will dismiss their witness to Christian forgiveness because of the Amish�s quaint lifestyle. A lifestyle of forgiveness has nothing to do with horses and buggies, milk cows and kerosene lamps. It has everything to do with daily living shaped by an ever-deepening friendship with God and with other people.
Neither is forgiveness a series of isolated acts. Only when Christians practice forgiveness in ordinary, daily living do they develop the capacity to forgive such horrifying breaches of relationship as the murders of these innocent children. Rarely do Christians develop such a capacity to forgive alone. They need to be a part of a community where forgiveness is practiced daily. Along with their old-fashioned lifestyle, the Amish live in a community that practices responding to hate with love and re-paying evil with goodness. A reporter described what happens when there is an auto accident with an Amish horse and buggy. Such accidents are not uncommon, and you can imagine what happens when a large, fast automobile collides with a horse and buggy. By the end of the day, a member of the community will have visited the one who struck the buggy to offer words of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Dr. Greg Jones, Dean of Duke Divinity School wrote a book several years ago titled Embodying Forgiveness. He notes that it takes courage to forgive in even small, day-to-day conflicts. Such courage grows in a community which regularly practices reconciliation with God, neighbor and self. Forgiveness grows when Christians practice speaking the truth in love and offering reconciliation and peace. Forgiveness increases when we quietly refuse to join in hate-mongering conversation about people who are different than we are. The capacity to forgive enlarges as we learn to listen carefully to those with whom we disagree.
I hope that you will keep this Amish community, the shooter, and the family of the shooter in your prayers over the next few weeks. I also invite you to join me in pondering their witness of forgiveness and hope. What would such a lifestyle of forgiveness look like for our United Methodist congregations? How might we live differently with one another and with our neighbors? What might forgiveness look like when it is translated into public policy? May the courageous witness of this Amish community continue to inspire us to live more completely in forgiveness and hope.
God bless you,
Janice Riggle Huie