The Power of Forgiveness

Even in Chicago, where there are multiple shootings every day and where little children are shot with such regularity that nobody pays much attention any longer – even in Chicago what happened at Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church feels uniquely and unspeakably evil. Nine people, African Americans, attending a Wednesday evening Prayer Meeting, were systematically executed by a 20-year-old white man. Their vulnerability is heartbreaking: heads bowed in prayer the killer shot the Pastor first, reloaded his 45 caliber hand gun, a birthday gift from his father, several times and killed 8 more women and men.

Who would do such a thing? Why? President Obama sounded weary and resigned as he reminded us, once again, that every nation has its share of mentally deranged, hateful people. Only in America, however, is there such universal, easy and essentially unregulated access to lethal weapons. The President’s demeanor was surely due to the fact that there have been 14 mass killings during his presidency and that his strong and courageous effort to galvanize public opinion and congressional will following the killing of 20 little children and their teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, produced absolutely nothing but a national yawn. In fact, we have apparently accepted the reality that incidents like this one will continue to happen so long as anyone who wants to kill people, for whatever reason, can acquire a gun.

What is it about us, at this time in our long history that is causing the unthinkable to happen regularly? What is it about mostly white males that is so obsessed with and fixated on guns and gun ownership that lawmakers increasingly are allowing firearms to be carried, displayed, openly, everywhere? Some suggest that male self-esteem is the issue. There is intense pressure because of the loss of middle class jobs and wages and the consequent ability to provide for self and family. A gun makes a man feel like a man again. Perhaps. Yet we survived the Great Depression and massive unemployment without anything resembling this kind of lethal violence.

We are living in a nightmare of gun violence because there are too many guns in our nation, approximately 300 million of them, one for every man, woman and child. The combination of the latent racism that has always been part of our national psyche, brought back to the surface by the election of a black president, and an ideological paranoia that regards all governmental authority, particular the Federal Government, with suspicion and hostility, and the plethora of firearms, predictably creates a lot of killing. The N.R.A. understands and brilliantly exploits the far right wing paranoia successfully translating the constitutional right to bear arms into a symbol of political defiance requiring heroic determination and commitment. And yet, something like 90% of the American people are in favor of reasonable gun control: thorough background checks, for instance, digital records easily shared by law enforcement agencies, prohibition of multiple gun purchases for the purpose of reselling them, often to gangs in inner cities throughout the country.  And yet, state legislatures are busy making it easier to acquire and carry a firearm. The Texas state legislature recently voted to allow open carry of firearms on college and university campuses which must surely qualify for one of the worst ideas ever.

It is time for a renaissance of common sense and political courage. Senators, congressional representatives, state legislators must somehow summon the courage and political will to defy the obvious power of the gun lobby and represent their constituents who want meaningful gun control.

In the meantime, we have been privileged and blessed by the profound Christian witness of the nine Charleston martyrs and the remarkable Christian community that is teaching the power, not of guns, but of vulnerable love. Pat Buchanan shamefully suggested that the tragedy would have been averted had the pastor, Clementa Pinkney, been carrying a gun and shot and killed the killer. Instead, the victims’ families and the people of Mother Emmanuel are eloquently showing us a different kind of power–the power of forgiveness and love and hospitality and kindness, which is to say the power of the cross. God bless them.

*Editor’s Note:

A version of the above essay appeared in the July 22, 2015, Christian Century. It is sadly necessary to add this note acknowledging yet another tragic episode of gun violence, this time in Virginia, as two journalists were gunned down by a former colleague.


  1. Mary Rhodes says:

    And we should not forget about the violence within the African American communities which never make a headline.

  2. Odishoo, Sarah says:

    Thank you, Dr. Buchanan, for your thoughts On these unspeakable crimes taken w/ such acceptance and passivity in a nation Which was built on the foundation of peace And love… Miss Hearing you speak… Sarah Odishoo

    Sent from my iPhone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: