Emanuel Nine Memorial Reminds Us to Forgive, Welcome Others

If this South Carolina congregation can forgive the man who murdered their own, can't we forgive our political foes their missteps and misunderstandings?

By Liberty McArtor Published on July 19, 2018

Three years after the shooting that killed nine at a church in Charleston, the church has announced plans for a new memorial. Designed by the same architect behind the National September 11 Memorial in New York City, it will honor the lost lives and reflect the resiliency and forgiveness of the congregation.

It could also be a needed reminder for the rest of us.

“Notion of Fellowship”

On June 17, 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof entered Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church while members held Bible study. Initially joining the group, he later opened fire. Nine were killed.

“The whole world was ready for riots, they were ready for hate and anger,” said John Darby, CEO of the nearby Beach Company. The family-owned company is helping the church with the memorial. “And instead they forgave him.”

“This church continues to push and ensure that people across the world understand that regardless of what may have happened in the past, love is always going to be stronger than hate,” said Rev. Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel.

And that’s what architect Michael Arad wanted to reflect with the memorial, after meeting with families of the victims.

The memorial will have two parts: a memorial courtyard and a survivors’ garden. The courtyard features a fountain with the names of the nine deceased. On either side of the fountain will be two large benches reminiscent of “sheltering wings.”

“I call them fellowship benches,” Arad explained. “And for me they’re really inspired by this notion of fellowship that has been exhibited and seen at the church for the last 200 years, and even on that night of attack where they were in Bible study at the fellowship hall, welcoming people in, welcoming even their killer into their midst.”

Second Civil War

Welcoming others may be harder than ever for many Americans. As The Atlantic reported Tuesday, “Americans are living in two separate worlds.”

A recent survey by The Atlantic and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) displays just how differently Americans view the events around them. According to Robert P. Jones, head of PRRI: “We only have the thinnest of agreements of what is plaguing our election system. After that, people are viewing whatever problems they see very strongly through their partisan lenses.”

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That’s putting it mildly. It’s not just partisan disagreement. Multiple pundits have declared that we’re witnessing a second civil war. And it doesn’t seem to be calming down. Pew Research Center found in 2016 that just 9 percent of Democrats view Republicans as moral, and only 3 percent of Republicans view Democrats as moral. So it’s no surprise that people of differing political views refuse to engage in friendship with each other. After all, we’re told we’re in a civil war. The other side is the enemy. Who wants to be caught fraternizing with the enemy?

Learning From Mother Emanuel

It’s easy for Christians to get caught in the melee. Opinionated believers on both sides of the “civil war” fiercely defend their own political viewpoints. Often they claim that Christians who disagree must not really be Christians at all. We find more in common with our political party members than our brethren in Christ.

This is where we can learn from the members of Mother Emanuel. They faced the worst of this current “civil war”: racially motivated massacre. But when “the whole world was ready for riots,” they forgave.

Forgiveness is powerful, because it inspires others to do the same.

“Had many of the family members not come out in the very beginning and demonstrated this act of forgiveness, I don’t know if I would have gotten there,” said church member Dr. Timothy Brown.

This South Carolina congregation forgave the man who murdered their own. Can’t we forgive our political foes their missteps and misunderstandings? If this church can continue welcoming people after living through the most frightening reality imaginable, can’t welcome those we disagree with?

We’ll never reach a point where left and right agree on everything in America. But we can reach a point where we still welcome, care for and value each other anyway. That’s what the members of Mother Emanuel did on June 17, 2015. They gave their lives doing it. Hopefully the Emanuel Nine Memorial will help us remember.

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