Religion

Growing up with the mandate ‘you must forgive’

Jean Hawkins participates in a prayer of forgiveness during a service at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Spartanburg on June 20, in honor of those shot and killed in a Charleston church days earlier.
Jean Hawkins participates in a prayer of forgiveness during a service at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Spartanburg on June 20, in honor of those shot and killed in a Charleston church days earlier. AP

Forgiving isn’t easy.

However, if you know, and understand, the principles of Christianity, and you try to live based on those tenets, it’s something you must do.

The recent shootings in Charleston, where nine churchgoers were killed, has pulled emotional reactions from most people – whether you’re a person of faith or not.

But, as Christians, we’ve had to face the mandate to forgive Dylann Roof.

The mandate was put in the spotlight when the families of Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance and Myra Thompson stood in the courtroom mere days after the slayings, looked Roof in the face and forgave him.

I’m not sure I could have done that – at that moment.

However, I understand where their grace and strength came from. I was raised in the Missionary Baptist Church and had strong ties, through my mother, to the AME Zion Church. I’ve never heard those church leaders equivocate on the issue of forgiveness.

I’ve listened to them in Bible study as they created hypothetical events of wrongdoing. I heard the strenuous, and at times heated, debates. Then I’ve heard the leaders end the discussion by saying “you must forgive.”

The killings and subsequent reactions have given many of us a life-lasting challenge. If you believe in God, and are a follower of a faith based on the teachings of Jesus, or if you label yourself a Christian, then you must forgive.

From Sunday school as a child and into adulthood, these scriptures have echoed:

Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

Matthews 18: 21-22: “Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven…’”

I can’t say I’ve always trusted or lived up to that concept. Fact is, there have been times I failed so badly that it’s embarrassing to admit. But the teachings, from my parents and those old deacons, gave me a standard.

That standard is that we absolutely forgive, and not cry for justice as a veiled quest for revenge.

Obviously, family members of the Charleston victims understood that standard. They’ve firmly held to it. If they can do it, that gives us no excuse. We all must be forgiving – daily.

Failure to do that puts us on a path we’ve seen all too often – more wars, more violence, more senseless killing.

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