Forgiveness is never easy, but how do you forgive evil?
For Polly Sheppard and Reverend Anthony Thompson, that question is no mere hypothetical. Polly was a member of a weekly Bible study led by Anthony’s wife, Myra, at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
On the evening of June 17, 2015, 12 members of Myra’s group came together for study. A few minutes in, they welcomed a young white man who unexpectedly came into the church. He sat with the group for almost an hour. Everyone stood for the benediction, bowed their heads, and closed their eyes for prayer.
That’s when the shooting started.
The young man was Dylann Roof. He opened fire on the group, killing nine. After his capture, Roof said his intent had been to kill black people and start a race war.
Polly and Reverend Thompson are with us on our Focus on the Family Broadcast “How Do You Forgive Evil?” sharing their accounts of this awful tragedy and its aftermath.
The story is dark and disturbing, but with Jesus Christ there is always a light of hope that pierces the darkness. Polly and reverend Thompson testify to the amazing ways in which God’s presence was demonstrated.
Polly was in Bible study group, but escaped the carnage without being shot. The assailant told her, “I’m not gonna shoot you because I want you to tell the story.” Polly now says, “I think he meant he wanted me to share why he did what he did to that room, but my story is about how good God is.”
Reverend Thompson, whose wife, Myra, was murdered that night, attended Dylann Roof’s bond hearing at God’s urging. He didn’t want to be there. Then the judge unexpectedly asked the families if they would like to make any statements to Dylann Roof (a moment usually reserved for the sentencing phase).
Reverend Thompson didn’t want to speak. But as he sat there, he recognized the Lord’s voice telling him, “I have something to say.” Reverend Thompson got up and told his wife’s killer, “I forgive you. My family forgives you. But you need to repent. Confess, give your life to the One who matters the most: Christ. If you do that, everything else will be okay.”
The loss of a friend or family member to illness, an accident, or a natural disaster can be difficult to navigate. But when a loved one is taken from us by an act of evil, we can easily succumb to anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge.
Polly and Reverend Thompson are the living embodiment of Romans 12:21, which says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
They’ve met a lot of people who believe that forgiveness sets free the person who’s wronged them. In reality, forgiveness lets youoff the hook by releasing you from the burden of anger, rage, and hate – all of which can lead to resentment, bitterness, and even acts of violence and revenge if those dark emotions are not redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Forgiveness frees youto receive God’s peace.
Polly’s and Anthony’s stories are also reflected in a new movie called, Emanuel. It will be in theaters next Monday, June 17th (the four year anniversary of the shooting at Mother Emanuel Church) and also next Wednesday, June 19th.
Emanuelis directed by Brian Ivie, who also directed the The Dropbox, a film Focus promoted in 2015, about South Korean pastor Lee Jong Rak, who cared for unwanted babies.
I’ve seen Emanuel, and I’m telling you, it captures the true heart of God. It’s a must-see.
Reverend Anthony Thompson has also written a book titled, Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace. For a gift of any amount we’ll send you a copy. Check our websitefor information.By the way, we offer hundreds of free articles on our website addresses topics such as, “How can God Allow so Much Evil and Suffering?”, “What the Bible Says about the Origin of Evil,” and “Coping with Death and Grief.”I encourage you to check them out sometime