Saturday, June 20, 2015

Church as Forgiveness School

I continue to think about the shootings in Charleston and our various responses to it.  As we became aware that the shooter was a member of an ELCA church, the Facebook/Internet conversations took an interesting turn.  What did church/confirmation class fail to teach him?

I have yet to see any meaningful information to let us know that he was actually in church for much of his childhood or adolescent years.  Many names show up on church rolls, but that doesn't mean that people are actually there on a regular basis--or that they're paying attention.

It is an interesting question to think about how many messages blast at us in any given day--what takes hold?  And why one set of messages and not another.

As I listened to a news story of one of the family members of the victims who spoke at the shooter's first hearing in court, I thought again about the message of church and Christianity.  I could hear the ragged pain in the family member's voice as she talked about never being able to see/hold/talk to the victim again.  Several times she said, "But I forgive you." 

Many family members who spoke also gave their forgiveness.  At first I found it remarkable.

But then I reflected on the religious lives of the slain.  Several pastors and church workers were on the list of victims.  Most of the people gathered for that Bible study were living lives of remarkable service, whether in the church or outside.  People who gather at church after dark to pray show a faithfulness and dedication.  I assume that some of those attitudes/disciplines/foundations are shared by their family members.

Those of us who go to church on a regular basis hear frequent messages of the importance of forgiveness.  It shouldn't surprise me that the first response of those grieving family members was both to testify to their loss and to forgive.

If I was a graduate student in a field where I could write such a dissertation, I'd love to explore the intersections of forgiveness and spirituality.  I'd study the various religious non-violence movements of the 20th century.  I'd explore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought South Africa to a new age.  I'd look at ways that we have tried to transform violence into peace.

Of course, such a dissertation couldn't explore all the small ways that we transform violence into peace on a daily basis.  We have a number of ways to make those transformations.  Our churches school us in the ways to do that. 

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