Forgiveness is Never Cheap – Mother Emanuel AME (South Carolina)

Published December 20, 2016

The news coverage of Dylan Roof’s trial is a painful reminder of the recent visit my wife and I made to Mother Emanuel AME Church, in Charleston, South Carolina. In June 2015, our nation was shaken by a shocking act of racially motivated violence when Dylan Roof walked into the weekly Bible study at Mother Emanuel with a gun. Unaware of his intentions, the group warmly welcomed him. However, he could not be deterred from his intention to ignite a race war.

Roof killed nine church members and left one wounded; five others were physically unharmed. His expected outcome never materialized – two days later, during a nationwide broadcast of a judicial hearing, some members of the victim’s families forgave him for his heinous acts.

Mother Emanuel has a long history of facing tragedy and violence with faith and hope. In the early 1800s, some members were tried and executed for worshipping without a sufficient number of white people present. The church’s traditional black worship style has always called for great hope in the midst of profound injustice.

As Sunday approached, we wondered if we would be welcome. Would members of the congregation understand our desire to worship with them and mourn the loss of their pastor and their brothers and sisters? Would they understand that we also were mourning that such an appalling act could take place in our nation? As is often stated, “Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America.”

Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark was named pastor to replace the fallen Senior Pastor and State Senator, Clementa C. Pinckney. She has ably and sensitively led the church through the pain of loss while managing the issues that have emerged since the shootings.

Gone But Never Forgotten” is how the church has chosen to respond to this most recent tragedy. Not as a rallying cry for protest, but as an affirmation that forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing must continue. In a plea for a better future, Dr. Clark said, “Mother Emanuel has been changed for all eternity and now we must change with that change.

When I entered the fellowship hall for the Bible Study, it was impossible not to imagine what it must have been like the night of the shooting. Pictures and memorials in the room gave mute testimony to the inconceivable event. After the study, I spoke with a man who had been on his way to the church that tragic night when he received a call to return home. He was plagued with many unanswerable questions.

Dylan Roof never denied his role in the incident and a jury found him guilty on all 33 counts on December 15, 2016. There was no report of celebration at the church. I suspect church members are satisfied that justice is being served and will patiently await sentencing. Perhaps forgiveness has taken away any desire for revenge.

We went to Mother Emanuel wanting to understand how such lavish forgiveness could be extended in the face of hatred. We wanted to stand with the church and worship together with hope and expectation that better days will come. While there, we saw that forgiveness is never cheap; the people of this church continue to pay an enormous price to forgive.

Authentically living out our faith always has a cost.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

About the Author(s)
Dennis Baril

Dennis Baril

Former Senior Pastor

Community Covenant Church (Rehoboth, MA)

Dennis Baril is the former senior pastor of Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, where he served in leadership for over 40 years—27 of which were as senior pastor. He and his wife, Donna are traveling around the country, supporting the Global Leadership Summit and seizing on other ministry opportunities as they emerge.

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