In my Master’s classes I recently took Conflict Resolution In The Church. After reading books like Redeeming Church Conflicts and Making Peace, studying material concerning conflict resolution in the church, and completing assignments on this topic, I have come to especially appreciate forgiveness. The goal of conflict resolution is unity and the path to unity is always through forgiveness. Thus, one of the most common difficulties of conflict resolution lies in the apprehension to forgive.
An incredible event of forgiveness that boggles my mind is the shooting of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday June 17, 2015. Dylann Roof walked into this church that, with open arms, welcomed him into their small group of bible study and prayer. For nearly an hour, he sat there among them. In the midst of their worship of God, studying the truth, and demonstration of love, his mind was contemplating horrible evils and his heart was plagued with hatred and racism. As the assembly drew near to an end, the Christians bowed their head to pray. Dylann drew his 45-caliber pistol and began to fire at the Christians around him. Returning their love for malice and hatred, he fired shot after shot until nine Christians lay on the ground dead, until the church carpet was soaked in blood. The same people who shook this young man’s hand, who told him good morning, who welcomed him into their fellowship, lay on the ground not breathing or stood against the wall afraid for their lives.
The only thing more shocking than this horrendous abomination was the reactions of the victims and their families. Days later, the families of the murdered Christian stood before Dylann Roof in court. Many of the testimonies given in court sounded similar to this one relative of the deceased said, “I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like to take this opportunity to beg you to repent. Christ, he can change you. No matter what happens.” These words remind me of Gandhi’s words, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
The offenses seen in the conflict resolution in the church do not match the severity of this offense yet it required no mediation to bring about forgiveness. The issues found in our church today will less than half the severity of this offense but require ten times the work to mediate toward unity. Again, the difficulty of conflict resolution lies in the apprehension to forgive. Where there is willingness to forgive, conflict resolution is simplified to an occasion of repentance and apology.
In those moments of frustration and bitterness, it would do us well to remember the godliness of these victims who were willing to forgive so much. If these people can forgive a church shooter, can’t we forgive those people in our lives?
[Eph 4:31-32 ESV] 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.