The world was stunned in the storied southern city of Charleston, South Carolina on a summer’s night in 2015. The unthinkable had happened: a young gunman consumed by hate suddenly opened fire during a quiet Bible study group at an historic African American church. He left nine dead, including the church’s pastor and an 87-year-old woman.
And yet in court two days later, the surviving families, in deep grief, voiced forgiveness toward the young man. They did not excuse his murderous actions, but as one relative put it: “We are a family that love built. We have no room for hate.” It was a breathtaking scene. Perhaps it contributed to the atmosphere in which the Confederate flag finally came down in South Carolina and other southern states. And the familes’ forgiveness added a “counter-cultural” ingredient to the story of how we respond to violence.
This program examines our responses. It places the Charleston churchgoers in the context of the African American Christian tradition in the south, where the nonviolent example of Jesus is central. And we hear from long-time civil rights activist, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, now a religion professor at the Univ. of Florida.
We also hear from Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher and best-selling author. As a young man he entered the Peace Corps and was assigned to Cambodia — at the time of the genocide that came to be known as “killing fields.” He relates the moving story of a Buddhist teacher (the “Gandhi figure” of Cambodia), who invoked the healing power of love to mend the hearts of survivors who’d suffered unspeakable loss.