Dr. Foster Cline is a child psychiatrist, physician, international speaker, and author of many books on parenting. He has invested his life’s work dealing with difficult children and their families. He and a colleague co-founded the Love and Logic Institute. They work with parents and educators in knowing how to best meet the needs of children.
I had the privilege of attending a small workshop led by Dr. Cline shortly after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. If you’ll recall, twelve students and one teacher were killed. Twenty others were injured. Had the explosive devices planted in the school actually detonated, the casualty count would have been enormously higher.
Dr. Cline made a statement during his presentation that I have not forgotten. He said, “The presence of violence in our country will not be the undoing of our nation”. He went on to say that since almost the beginning of time there has always been a “tooth for a tooth” and an “eye for an eye” kind of mentality. We take for granted that there is a day of reckoning for any kind of misdeed. “You hurt me. I will hurt you”, seems to be the pervasive kind of logic we employ in “making things right by getting even”.
There is even Old Testament Scripture that seems to support that approach. Leviticus 24:17-22: “ ‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’ ”
The “You hurt me. I will hurt you” mentality and system of justice has been around for a very long time. But Dr. Cline went on to say: “The thing that will be the undoing of our nation; the thing that will bring us to our knees is the indiscriminate use of random violence where people are innocently victimized. That kind of violence will create a culture that we cannot withstand. It will be the undoing of our nation”.
I thought about Dr. Cline’s comments this week as I contemplated my blog for today. In every respect it defies explanation or understanding. What I’m saying is true of the horrendous and egregious premeditated act of violence that took place inside a South Carolina church on June 17, 2015. In every respect it defies explanation or understanding. That is equally true of the humane and forgiving response by family members whose lives were abruptly shattered and forever changed by the gunman’s despicable act.
The violence that took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, 2015 is not the first incident where that family of faith has lost much. “The church was founded in 1816 and is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South. In 1822, when one of the church’s co-founders, Denmark Vesey , was suspected of planning a slave rebellion in Charleston, thirty-five people, including Vesey, were hanged and the church was burned down. The church was later rebuilt using a design drawn by Denmark Vesey’s son. That structure was badly damaged in the 1886 Charleston earthquake. The current building dates from 1891”.
On Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a sandy-blonde haired twenty-one year old man, joined 12 other people for Bible study in a predominately African American church. From all reports he was welcomed and graciously received by the small group of people who gathered together.
According to reports, at some point as they discussed Scripture, Dylann Roof disagreed. “Standing up, he pulled a Glock 41 .45-caliber handgun from his fanny pack. He first aimed the handgun at 87-year-old Susie Jackson. “Jackson’s nephew, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, tried to talk him down and asked him why he was attacking churchgoers. The shooter responded, ‘I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’ When he expressed his intention to shoot everyone, Sanders dove in front of Jackson and was shot first. The suspect then shot the other victims, all the while shouting racial epithets. He also reportedly said, ‘Y’all want something to pray about? I’ll give you something to pray about.’ He reloaded his gun five times. Sanders’ mother and his five-year-old niece, both attending the study, survived the shooting by pretending to be dead.”
On June 19, Roof was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. At the hearing, shooting survivors and relatives of five of the victims spoke to Roof directly. What they had to say defies the “you hurt me, I will hurt you” mentality. They said they were “praying for his soul” and forgave him.
The daughter of Ethel Lance expressed it this way, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
Felicia Sanders — mother of victim Tywanza Sanders and a survivor of the church shooting herself — said that “every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same.” After an emotional pause, she went on to say, “We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms, we enjoyed you…May God have mercy on you”.
A young man who lost a parent said, “I forgive you and my family forgives you. But we would like for you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give you life to the one who matters the most- Christ. So he can change it, change your ways no matter what happened to you and it will be okay”.
In every way it defies explanation or understanding. Or does it? Listen to the words of Christ who came to change the culture of our humanity. Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
In a “you hurt me, I will hurt you culture, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
In one of Max Lucado’s books he tells of a time he preached on the importance of forgiveness. Following his sermon, a man introduced himself as a former prison inmate. “He described how the guard at the gate of the prison is even more confined than a prisoner. The guard spends his day in a for-by-five-foot house. The prisoner has a ten-by-twelve foot cell. The guard can’t leave, the prisoner gets to walk around. The prisoner can relax, but the guard has to be constantly alert. Of course the guard of the prison gets to go home at night, but the guard of the prison of resentment doesn’t. If you’re out to settle the score you’ll never rest.”
When we choose to harbor anger and resentment against others, it has a negative impact on our lives. It destroys the potential, freedom and opportunities for serve that God has in store for us. We become our own worst enemy. At some level, the lifestyle becomes one of Spiritual bankruptcy and we become the unintended victim. Our bitterness and absence of forgiveness has no impact on the person for whom we hold the bitterness. Perhaps the highest price we pay is in the dysfunctional relationship it orchestrates with God. He redeemed us in order that we might become partakers of the “more excellent way.” Only He can provide the strength and power to do that, but our choosing to harbor bitterness and anger gets in the way of the lifeline He has to offer.
All My Best!