Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Forgiving the Emanuel Church massacre

Published:Wednesday | June 24, 2015 | 6:00 AM
Protesters close their eyes in silent prayer as they stand on the South Carolina Statehouse steps during a rally last Saturday to take down the Confederate flag.
Parishioners pray and weep during services at the Emanuel AME Church on Sunday in Charleston.
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THE EDITOR, Sir:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015 was indeed a day of infamy in South Carolina, for on that fateful day nine innocent black worshippers in the Emanuel AME Church were brutally gunned down by a white supremacist.

There is no doubt that this infamous act was a racially motivated hate crime, for the shooter explicitly vowed to decimate all black people. This was a premeditated act of the highest degree, for it was meticulously planned and executed with precision.

What makes this heinous event so disturbing is the fact that American black churches and black people have been targeted for destruction since the bad old days of slavery. In this respect, very little has changed in the American society, particularly in the southern states.

Also very disturbing is the fact that hateful white supremacists are allowed to carry firearms with reckless freedom and lack of restraint. As a matter of fact, the entire United States is awash with this form of lethal weaponry.

The typical American doctrine that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" has led to the proliferation of firearms; and the easy availability of guns has made it much easier for pernicious characters to carry out their hateful acts of mass violence.

It may be said that in the hands of a frustrated, alienated, hateful, and morally depraved person, the gun is a source of false confidence and empowerment. This is the feeling of empowerment that impelled the fascistic racist to murder the nine innocent worshippers at the Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina.

It is indeed remarkable that the mass murder did not arouse an intense feeling of anger and revenge. On the contrary, the families of the deceased, and the parishioners in general, prayed for forgiveness. They did not seek to beat, maim or lynch the perpetrator. Instead, they earnestly wanted to forgive him for his sinful and hateful act.

MANDELA'S EXAMPLE

It can be said that the power of forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, peace and healing. There is no better example of this healing effect than the forgiving spirit of Nelson Mandela. Although he was brutally treated at the hands of a Hitlerite, racist South African regime, at no time did he seek revenge. Mandela did not seek to get even when he finally became leader of the South African nation. He did not harbour or cherish bitterness in his heart.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with remembering this infamous crime that took place in the black church in South Carolina. In fact, it can be very therapeutic, for it is unhealthy to repress painful experiences without resolving them.

However, what is extremely harmful to our physical and mental health is the practice of remembering past hurts with hatred, anger, bitterness and resentment.

It was Catherine Ponder who said: "When you hold resentment towards another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free."

When I saw the parishioners of the Emanuel AME Church singing and praising God without bitterness on Sunday, I said to myself: Blacks are perhaps the most forgiving and resilient people on the face of this planet.

There is no doubt that people of African ancestry have an amazing ability to bounce back and survive innumerable trials and tribulations throughout the years. Their bountiful, forgiving spirit has sustained them, even on this brutal day of infamy.

RUPERT JOHNSON

r.b.johnson@sympatico.ca

Toronto, Canada