This content is part of a series.I Need to Forgive
“TO FORGIVE IS TO SET A PRISONER FREE AND DISCOVER THAT THE PRISONER WAS YOU. ” —LEWIS B. SMEDES
On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts walked into an Amish one-room schoolhouse, took hostages, and opened fire on the defenseless children inside. In the end, five girls would lose their lives, with Roberts also killing himself. Although the tragedy itself was devastating, what shocked the world was the way the Amish responded.
“The Rev. Schenck reports a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls said of the killer on the day of the murder: ‘We must not think evil of this man.’”...
Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained to CNN: “I do not think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”
Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in- law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
Some commentators criticized the swift and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil; others were supportive. Donald Kraybill and two other scholars of Amish life noted that “letting go of grudges” is a deeply-rooted value in Amish culture, which remembers forgiving martyrs including Dirk Willems and Jesus himself. They explained that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first ...
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