REFLECTION: Charleston church witnesses to a love stronger than death

schenkby Christine Schenk, NCR

Like much of the country, I have been transfixed these past weeks by the tragedy unfolding in Charleston, S.C. First, I groaned with despair as blatant, violent racism held me in its icy grip. I, who grew up in the midst of civil rights marches, assassinations — and hard-won victories, — mourned the reality that despite our hundreds of thousands of chanting voices, black and white together, we have yet to overcome.

People participate in a candlelight vigil at Marion Square near the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina(Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

People participate in a candlelight vigil at Marion Square near the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

And then I was transfixed by the triumph of a faith community grieving mightily but not destroyed. A community that loved, mourned and miraculously forgave the man accused of the shooting, Dylann Roof. This community — Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church — witnessed as powerfully as any second-century martyr that love is stronger than death, good more powerful than the worst evil imaginable, and that God’s love is greater than human hatred.

It began on June 19, when family members of victims spoke directly to Roof via video feed at a bond hearing in Charleston. Again and again, they gave voice to their pain and, miraculously, their forgiveness. Nadine Collier, the daughter of one of the victims, church sexton Ethel Lance, said:

“You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.”

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