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June 25, 2015
Column #1,765
Charleston’s Christian Forgiveness
By Mike McManus

The Civil War began in Charleston when rebels fired upon Fort Sumter to preserve slavery. This past week Charleston has made better history by demonstrating a Christian forgiveness between blacks and whites that is nationally unprecedented.

The killing of a single black man in Ferguson and the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, a black 25-year-old in Baltimore led to riots, arson and looting. But the murder of 9 African-Americans in a church Bible study by Dylann Roof, a white supremacist whose goal was to start a “race war” – had a totally different outcome.

Thousands of blacks and whites came to the streets around Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, one of the oldest black churches in America where the Charleston 9 were killed. Night after night the racially mixed crowd joined in mourning together – expressing contrition, holding hands and singing Christian hymns.

The suspect was caught quickly and was confronted by relatives of the dead parishioners via a video feed. Alma Simmons, who lost her grandfather, told him, “Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love, and their legacies will live in love.”

Nadine Collier, whose mother was murdered, told Roof: “I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.” Compassion and forgiveness dominated the statements of all relatives. However, Roof listened impassively, staring ahead.

Many who watched these events on the evening news were stunned, if not incredulous. “I do not forgive Dylann Root,” wrote Roxanne Gay, an African-American in The New York Times. “I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes…I am particularly unwilling to forgive those who show no remorse, who don’t demonstrate any interest in reconciliation.”

The nation has witnessed a series of white-black confrontations over the past year that have sparked racial tensions. One was in North Charleston, only a few miles away from “Mother Emmanuel Church,” as it is affectionately known. A white police officer stopped a car for a minor traffic infraction, prompting the black driver to run from the car. The policeman shot him in the back. Fortunately, the incident was captured on video, showing the cop putting handcuffs on his victim, rather than doing anything to help him recover.

That incident inspired S.C. State Senator Clementa Pickney to introduce and push for a law that mandated police officers to carry videocams to record every arrest. The law was passed and signed one week before the Charleston 9 event. One of the victims was Clementa Pickney, who was also pastor of Mother Emmanuel, and led the Bible study.

On Monday S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the State Capitol. That inspired Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to order the immediate removal of a Confederate flag from Capitol grounds. Two workers quickly and quietly removed it Wednesday. It will not be so easy in South Carolina, where two-thirds of the Legislature must vote to banish it.

Only a week earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas is free to reject a specialized license plate featuring the Confederate flag. Mississippi Gov. Roger Wicker announced that the state flag, which incorporates the Confederate banner, “should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying to all Mississippians.”

On Tuesday Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he will phase out a state-sponsored license plate featuring an image of the flag. “The battle flag…has been the subject of considerable controversy,” he said. “Even its display on state-issued license tags is, in my view, unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to many of our people.”

Similarly, Wal-Mart announced Monday that it would remove any merchandise featuring the Confederate flag from its website and stores. Sears, Kmart and Internet giants eBay and Amazon quickly followed suit. A flag manufacturer announced it would halt its production.

Tuesday night the board of the Citadel – the South Carolina military college whose cadets were among the first to fire on Union troops in the Civil War – voted to remove the flag from the school’s Summerall Chapel.

Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the Gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night…The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

All of this was sparked by the mourning of black and white South Carolinians.
 

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