Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: The 'Strength to Love'

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: The 'Strength to Love'

Article excerpt

When many relatives of those murdered in Charleston -- by a man who talked and prayed with his victims before gunning them down -- offered their forgiveness, it was stunning and admirable in many ways. Not least of which, it provided a contrast to our political culture. So many are engaged in a search for evidence of their victimization to justify their anger. Here, genuine victims of a horrible crime responded with mercy.

The killer chose a historic African-American church for a reason. For centuries, black churches have been a place of refuge, a voice for social justice and a target of racist violence. Dylann Roof drove two hours to Charleston because he undoubtedly wanted a symbol -- and he got one. Against all his intentions, it is now the symbol of a living faith. The killer set out to defile a sacred place and ended up showing why it is sacred.

At the heart of Christian faith is an impossible demand: to "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." This teaching was demonstrated by its author. The Christian novelist George MacDonald wrote: "'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,' said the Divine, making excuse for his murderers, not after it was all over, but at the very moment when he was dying by their hands." When we see this type of extreme grace re-enacted, it has a tremendous power and appeal.

The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, then forgiven by people he deeply harmed. These victims and their families have shown what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The victims were the faithful among the faithful. They were the kind who do much of the praying and working in a church, and who lift the sights and standards of people around them. You can see their legacy in those who survived them, striving to be worthy of their example. …

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