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Emanuel AME2

The Race to Grace


Somewhere in Charleston, a deeply embittered 21-year-old is sitting in a dark cell replaying scenes from the courtroom over in his mind.

For the killer who hoped to incite a nation with his bloody rampage, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. The nine lives he sacrificed in God’s house, offerings to a centuries-old race war, did more to quell the tension than spark it. In the end, violence was met by a force much stronger: forgiveness.

Sitting across from the shooter at his bond hearing, no one would have blamed the families for lashing out in anger. Instead, one by one, racked by grief, they offered an unexpected gift — grace. “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” one daughter said through her tears. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”

What the gunman sowed in evil, the church repaid in love. Where other cities would have set cars on fire, Charleston set faith ablaze.

Led by the families suffering most, the world no longer sees hate but a picture of the One who overcame it. “The killer set out to defile a sacred place and ended up showing why it is sacred,” wrote Michael Gerson. “These victims and their families have shown what it means to be followers of Christ.”

It was a powerful moment for a nation in distress. Even the New York Times was confounded by the compassion extended amidst so much cruelty. The sense of wonderment spread across newspapers — until forgiveness became the story. ”

It was as if the Bible study had never ended,” one reporter explained, “as one after another, victims’ family members offered lessons in forgiveness, testaments to a faith that is not compromised by violence or grief.”

As far as Governor Nikki Haley (R) is concerned, that civility deserves an expression from South Carolina leaders too. In light of last week’s tragedy, she announced yesterday that the legislature would convene to consider removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse grounds.

“South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty… At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past. As a state, we can survive, and indeed we can thrive, as we have done whilst still being home to both of those viewpoints. We do not need to declare a winner and a loser here. We respect freedom of expression. And that for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stand in your way. But the statehouse is different,” she said. “And the events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”

It was time to move beyond what divides and look to what unites. And not just where the flag is concerned.

This is a teachable moment for Americans far beyond South Carolina. What happened in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal is a frightening picture of a society that’s lost its moral restraint.

The same political class that is driving God out of the public square is systematically deconstructing the pillars of dignity, virtue, and respect. Charleston is a shining example of why we need a vibrant and public Christian faith in America — not just to restrain evil, but to conquer evil through the power of forgiveness. Grace, made perfect in weakness, is what we should be emulating — not the intolerant cynicism that rejects true and lasting hope.

It’s time for Americans to rediscover what these overcoming families already have: the only opportunity for true redemption is grace; and the only way to healing is through the cross.


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