The past couple of weeks in Charleston, South Carolina have been both ghastly and beautiful, and they will be remembered that way. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was brought to our attention by a horrible act of evil, and, later, was held in mind by feelings expressed in a court hearing room of forgiveness and, as The New York Times put it, “a moment of grace”.
Not fairness – nothing that occurred at the Emmanuel Church when the weekly Bible study there ended in gunshots was fair. But grace, which goes beyond fairness when an act of seemingly inconsolable horror occurs and is forgiven.
“The occasion,” The Times reported, “was a bond hearing, the first court appearance of the suspect, Dylan Roof, for the murders, thought to be racially motivated, of nine black men and women” during Emanuel’s Bible study class.
“You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know,” Felicia Sanders told Roof, who was watching from confinement on closed-circuit television. “Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.”
When fairness is forgotten, or doesn’t even come into the picture, there are still higher values that we must cherish. They were expressed by the relatives of those who were killed by Roof’s pistol. Forgiveness seemed to come readily to the relatives who spoke at his hearing, but that was likely because they honored their family members more than the court proceeding itself.
So, yes, of course, let’s be fair, by all means. But in the face of ultimates, of promptings we can’t readily comprehend, let’s be grace-filled too, in the belief that something awful can occur that might indeed be made comprehensible. Should that happen, it would clearly be of the highest value.
Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal columnists who often writes more stridently, the other day proposed the surviving Charleston relatives for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes!