A Pathway to America’s Healing May Have Begun When Family Members of Victims Tell Shooter: “I Forgive You”
Dylann Roof, the self-confessed killer of nine innocent people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, had his first court appearance after being captured. Among those in attendence were relatives of the people who died. Family members gave highly emotional statements during the proceeding and many spoke words of forgiveness.
“You took something really precious from me,” said the daughter of victim Ethel Lance. “But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul.” Anthony Thompson, husband of victim Myra Thompson, echoed the sentiment. “I forgive you and my family forgives you. But...repent..change your ways.”
Racial tensions have increased in the past two years, highlighted recently by looting and protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. A summer of riots and protests in America’s largest cities has been anticipated. But do the words of forgiveness offered by relatives of the Charleston shooting victims offer hope for a different outcome this summer?
“By forgiving, those grieving relatives took a difficult but higher road when they had a legitimate right to rage,” says Dr. Paul Coleman, a psychologist and author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces. “Forgiving what happened does not mean they are condoning what happened,” Coleman says.“On the contrary, forgiveness can only be legitimate when the harm done is severe. But those family members took a major step forward for their own inner peace and, hopefully, a step toward societal peace.”
The causes of racism and violent crime along with the possible ways to reduce it will be debated by Americans in the coming months. But strong and varying opinions sometimes set well-menaing individuals against one another.
“Personal transformation typically occurs only after some great personal calamity or loss,” says Dr. Coleman, founder of www.FindingPeaceInYourHeart.com. “The same is often true for societal transformation. Perhaps the forgiving attitude demonstrated by victim’s families will set the tone for people and politicians to look honestly and humbly at all the variables in question--not just their personal favorites.”
The summer of 2015 may well be a turning point for America.
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