In 2006 five little girls were killed and another five wounded by a local man who then killed himself. The Amish people of the village not only comforted the families of the children but also the family of the gunman. Imagine it. It is astonishing.
In Maryland something similar is happening today. A week ago a homeless man shot a parish priest, the Rev Mary-Marguerite Kohn and administrative assistant Brenda Brewington. Now the Bishop of the diocese is taking a lead in offering a forgiving response to the man’s family, and several churches in the diocese have offered to host the gunman’s funeral.
This is a moving story. It is inspiring. It points to responses other than anger or hatred, retribution or resignation, despondency or despair. In it we see ‘victims’ refusing to be oppressed by evil action. There is real spiritual power in this and we should salute it and let it inspire us.
But before we cheer too loudly we need to think a little more deeply. This is certainly a forgiving response. It is a story which belongs somewhere on the mountain range we call forgiveness and that, I believe, is territory which we should seek to call home.
It is a place, however, which we cannot access at will.
I like the realistic comment of psychologist Everitt Worthington – one of the more helpful commentators on forgiveness from psychology, not least since he himself suffered a bereavement through murder. He emphasises that there is much more to forgiving than making a decision or a statement about it. And he points out that in a situation like this different people will respond in different ways and at different paces.
This is what makes ‘exemplary forgiveness’ so difficult. Yes, it is wonderful. But no, it is not a stick to beat yourself with if what has happened to you has thrown you not into the mountain range of forgiveness but into the wilderness of hurt.
So – let us applaud the moral and spiritual leadership we are getting from Maryland. But let us also look with compassion on those for whom forgiveness in the aftermath of attack, abuse or violation is simply beyond imagination. Their broken and hurt-filled voices also need to be heard. If we drown them out we run the risk forgetting the pain, the hurt and the outrage of evil acts.
That is not to deny for one minute the quality of this forgiving response. Just to say to those who find it difficult that maybe your role is to stay with the hurt, pain and maybe anger a little longer. Your role is to feel it deeply and possibly for some while. If you can do that without bitterness or hated – well, that puts you on one of the foothills in the mountain range of forgiveness. That too is a good place to be.
Follow this link for the original story: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/09/episcopal-leaders-forgive-homeless-shooter_n_1504561.html?ref=topbar&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000008
- Episcopal Leaders Forgive Md. Church Shooter (baltimore.cbslocal.com)