True Christianity Seen in Charleston’s Forgiveness

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Last week WAToday journalist Neil McMahon described Fred Nile’s views on marriage as ‘jurassic’. Apparently, anyone who upholds a traditional, let alone a view of marriage grounded in Scripture, is a bit of a dinosaur.  McMahon’s words are another indication of the growing distance between traditional Christianity and current views in society. The challenges are huge, and sometimes confrontational.

Much could be said about the often ad hominem nature of such attacks on Christian leaders and the church, although most can see these ungracious and unthinking words for what they are. Even so, I welcome the challenge being placed before the church today. Every new question, even words of attack, give Christians an opportunity to give account for the hope they have.

If you were ever wondering what Christianity is about, and why it has survived for 2000 years, and then, through trials and in circumstances considerably more foreboding than our current social climate, you need go no further than what we see unfolding in Charleston, South Carolina.

Last week the world looked on in horror as reports unfolded of how Dylann Roof entered the American Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest African American congregation in the country, and murdered nine innocent people. Those murdered had warmly welcomed him into their Bible discussion groups just one hour earlier. At Roof’s first court appearance last Friday, family members were permitted to make statements to the Court where Roof made his first appearance after the shooting.

What did those people say? What characterised their words? Bitterness? White knuckled rage? Seething desire for revenge?

No. What we saw was Christianity in action. We saw the power of there Risen Jesus at work in his people. We were confronted with words of grace and forgiveness. These words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ.

See for yourself:

“I just want everyone to know, I forgive you. You took something really precious from me [her mother]. I will never be able to talk to [my mother] again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. May God have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgive you. And I forgive you.”

…words were so powerful, so other worldly, they could only have come from those possessed by the Spirit of Christ…

“I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So that he can change it. Change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be ok. Do that. And you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”

“We welcomed you Wednesday night to our Bible Study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people I know. Every fibre in my body hurts. And, and, I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But, as we said in our Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on your soul.”

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof, that they lived in love and their legacies live in love. So hate won’t win.”

“Depayne Doctor was my sister. And I too thank you, on behalf of my family, for not allowing hate to win. For me, I’m a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very, angry. But one thing that Depayne taught me, is that we are, the family that Love built. We have no room for hating! So we have to forgive. And I pray God [have mercy] on your soul.”

Christians everywhere are deeply moved by their example. We thank God for their grace and courage. May their words be echoed, repeated, whispered – through our tears – for years to come.

What is Christianity? It is how God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, breaks the power of evil in human lives, and through his Spirit begins transforming them, and their world, so Jesus’ new life comes to glorious expression .

This is the Christianity, the Jesus, the Gospel our world needs to see and believe.

And yes, Neil McMahon, such words are old, but they carry more power and grace than you can imagine. They change lives. They heal hurts. And they breathe life into our world’s most broken and tragic places.

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