Magazine article The Christian Century

Forgiveness Clause

Magazine article The Christian Century

Forgiveness Clause

Article excerpt

THE BLOOD WAS barely dry on the floor of the West Nickel Mines School when Amish parents sent words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children. Forgiveness? Forgiveness so quickly for the heinous crime of killing five Amish schoolgirls? How could the Amish forgive such a thing so quickly? Was it a genuine gesture or just a gimmick?

Their forgiveness was more than words. Fresh from the funerals where they buried their own children, grieving Amish families attended the October 7 burial of the 32-year-old non-Amish killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV. Of the 75 in attendance, at least half were Amish. The Amish families greeted Mrs. Roberts and her three children. She was deeply moved by their presence, according to eyewitness accounts. Plans were set to continue the conversation between the families of killer and killed. And forgiveness was more than a graveside presence: the Amish helped to establish a fund for the assassin's family.

A frequent phrase in Amish life is "forgive and forget." Like others, they will never forget. But "forgive and forget" is their mantra, their way of letting go and moving on. It's how they respond to Amish members who transgress church rules--if they confess their failures. The Amish don't argue with God.

Make no mistake: many tears were shed in Amish homes and barns. Death sears the hearts of Amish parents as any others. But they have an enormous capacity to absorb adversity--a willingness to yield to divine providence. Such religious resolve enables them to move on without the paralysis of analysis; they let the analysis rest in the hands of God.

As Anabaptists, the Amish take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously. Without formal creeds, their simple (but not simplistic) faith accents living in the way of Jesus rather than parsing the complexities of religious doctrine. Their model is the suffering Jesus who carried his cross without complaint and who, hanging on the cross, extended forgiveness to his tormentors: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Beyond his example, the Amish try to practice Jesus' admonitions to turn the other cheek, to love enemies, to forgive seventy-times-seven times, and to leave vengeance to the Lord. They try to practice the forgiveness clause in the Lord's Prayer. As pragmatic as they are about other things, the Amish do not ask whether forgiveness works; they simply seek to practice it as the Jesus way of responding to adversaries, even enemies. …

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