The Charleston shooter stood stoically on the screen as loved ones of his victims shared their thoughts. His expression remained blank as they poured out their emotions.
But this didn’t go the way most thought it would. If you haven’t seen it already, watch for yourself.
They responded with grace, mercy, love, forgiveness … the gospel. The victims confronted him with his sin, but showed him a better way.
The very people he attempted to dehumanize and demean, in turn, recognized and affirmed the killer’s value and humanity.
One said, “I would just like him to know that, to say the same thing that was just said: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.”
But it wasn’t just the killer who was listening. Obviously, media attention on this case is high and the journalists were floored by what they heard from these family members.
I try to avoid “awed” because it’s overused. But I am awed by the forgiveness of families of those killed in Charleston.
— Scott Simon (@nprscottsimon) June 19, 2015
Family members of the victims are speaking at the hearing. So far every one has told Dylann Roof they forgive him. Wow.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) June 19, 2015
I was raised a Christian and what was just on display was the core of what I still love about the faith & am thankful for being raised in it — Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) June 19, 2015
I’m an atheist, but watching the victim’s relatives offer forgiveness to Dylann Roof is an inspiring testimony to religious faith. — CJ Werleman (@cjwerleman) June 19, 2015
Dylann Roof wanted race war. His victims’ families tell him: May God have mercy on you… Hate won’t win… God forgives you & I forgive you.
— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) June 19, 2015
I’ve never seen anything like this. The victim’s families in #Charleston. “Hate won’t win.”
— gwen ifill (@gwenifill) June 19, 2015
Non-Christians were stunned by the ability of the victims to express such love to one who acted in such hate. They were pleasantly surprised by the gospel and drawn to the faith that fuels such sentiments.
If you want to reach people for Christ, it’s that type of witness that will do it. This is not about making Christianity popular. This is about making Christianity real.
These victims in Charleston are reflecting their Savior who, as He suffered and died, cried out on behalf of His murderers, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Not only that, these victims recognized their own weaknesses. One told the murderer, “I acknowledge I’m a work in progress. And I am very angry. We are a family that love built. We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.”
They understood and lived out the words of C.S. Lewis: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
The next time you find yourself struggling to forgive someone who has wronged you, think of the tear-stained faces of these victims as their voices—heavy with emotion, but strong in spirit—declare, “I forgive you.”
Think of Christ who is faithful and just to “forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When we live, love and forgive in this way, we display something that cannot be explained naturally. It can only be the Spirit living in us who can extend forgiveness.
This was indeed a remarkable advertisement for Christianity because it was a remarkable reflection of Christ.