Called to Forgive

with Anthony Thompson, Kim Anthon...more | October 22, 2019

Anthony Thompson's wife was one of nine people murdered on June 17, 2015, at EAM Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. At the bond hearing, he stood before the killer and said, "I forgive you and my family forgives you." Who or what enabled him to say that?

Show Notes and Resources

Anthony Thompson's wife was one of nine people murdered on June 17, 2015, at EAM Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. At the bond hearing, he stood before the killer and said, "I forgive you and my family forgives you." Who or what enabled him to say that?

Show Notes and Resources

Called to Forgive

With Anthony Thompson, Kim Anthon...more
|
October 22, 2019
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: What happened onJune 17th, 2015, is something most of us will never forget.

[News footage clips:]

“Nine people killed by a young man, 21 years old.”

“White male in his early 20s walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and began shooting.”

“Mr. Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of the crime.”

“You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people.”

“Roof showed no emotion as relatives of the victims addressed him over a video link.”

“Every fiber in my body hurts. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never hold her again but I forgive you.”

“Your name sir.”

“Anthony Thompson. I forgive you and my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Give your life to the One who matters the most, Christ. So He can change it. He can change your ways no matter what happened to you. And, you’ll be okay.”

“God have mercy on you.”

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to revisit a sober moment in our nation’s history. I think back over the last several years and the incidents of gun violence in schools and in communities. But you stop and think about what happened in Charleston, South Carolina back in 2015 in a church prayer meeting. For some reason that just, that grips me probably because of the context of the setting but also probably because of how that community responded to the shooting that took place in their community and how God has been at work in that setting.

Dave: One of the amazing things is they responded so quickly.

Bob: Yes.

Dave: With grace, love, forgiveness. I can remember, as I’m sure we all do, getting the news and putting yourself in that church, in that Bible study, and thinking how horrific it was and the anger and the justice that would just grip your heart. To hear these stories, which we are going to hear today, of how God met them in the middle of that in a powerful, powerful way.

Ann: There are times of tragedy where you’re awestruck of a community coming together and you’re inspired by their ability to forgive. This is one of those circumstances.

Bob: Kim Anthony, who hosts the FamilyLife® podcast, Unfavorable Odds, which is a part of FamilyLife’s Podcast Network, had the opportunity recently to talk with a pastor in Charleston. The unique thing about this pastor, Anthony Thompson, was his wife Myra was at the Bible study on the night of the shooting. She was one of the victims. We are going to hear his story and his recounting of that day, as he talked with Kim on her podcast, Unfavorable Odds.

[Recording]

Kim: I want to start with the events of June 17th, 2015. Your wife, Myra, was excited about some things that were going on in her life.

 Anthony: Yes. We were having a good day. She was very excited. She had this great big smile. I mean, just blooming with joy. Normally, we would walk each other to the door, say goodbye, give a kiss, “Love you.” That particular day for some reason I couldn’t get to the door. She told me to meet her outside at the car because the rule is you don’t leave the house until we say Goodbye, hug, kiss—the whole nine yards—but it never happened that day.

That evening, when I came home, I received a phone call from Emanuel Church saying that there was some shooting going on around the church, so I dropped the phone and I just get in my car. I got to Emanuel in about five minutes because we live in the downtown area. However, one of the police officers explained to me that they took everybody out of the church and took them to the hotel which was adjacent to the church, so I ran to the hotel trying to find her.

When I got there, I saw Sister Polly Sheppard. She was one of the survivors. I saw Felicia Sanders, another survivor, and her grandchild—another survivor. Felicia just looked at me and she said, “Anthony, Myra’s gone.” Of course, I didn’t accept it right away.

I ran toward the church. I got to the gate and I was about—maybe—five feet away from the door where the police officers were back and forth, back and forth. Somebody snatched me. It took five people to hold me down. I was determined to get in that church. I just kept explaining to them my wife was in there and I needed to get in there.

I asked a lot of questions. Nobody was able to give me any answers. I was an agent for 27 years and I already knew not getting any answers that she was dead. I just fell down on the ground. I just started crying. I just wallowed, I just lost control—oh boy. I just kept saying “I don’t know what to do.”

Then I heard a voice say, “Get up!” I thought maybe one of the first responders. I heard them a second time, so I looked around—still didn’t see anybody. Third time, I knew who it was. It was God. He was telling me “Get up!”

So I got up and He’s telling me to remember the sermons I used to have in my congregation about when you lose a loved one—your wife or your husband or your child—and you love them more than you love God—then what are you going to do? I’m like “Not tonight.” I really didn’t want to hear anything He had to say, but He just kept coming at me.

He gave me a Scripture—Saint Luke, 17th chapter. The Scripture said that things will happen in life—people will do things in life to you to cause you to stumble. Woe to the one who causes you to stumble. He would rather have a millstone tied around his neck and thrown into the sea than to bother one of God’s people. I’m trying to figure out what that’s about. Then the next verse it says, forgive. No matter how many times somebody do something to you, you forgive them.

I was still trying to figure out what does that have to do with me, because at that time, I had no idea who the killer was—didn’t know his name—didn’t even care about who it was because all my thoughts were about Myra.

Kim: You are telling me—I want to make sure I understand this correctly—you’re telling me that you’re outside of the church when God is speaking to you about forgiving and you don’t even know the full picture. You don’t have the full picture but yet God—in His love for you—reaches down and prepares you for what you are about to find out, and He tells you to forgive.

Anthony: Forgive, and I’m trying to figure out why? Who I have to forgive? I really didn’t want to hear what He had to say that night, but I took the Scripture and I read it and I examined it and I preached it that Sunday. Before I preached that sermon on Sunday—48 hours after the tragedy—we had to go to a bond hearing. Of course, I was not going. My daughter’s son came to me and said “Father, they’re having a bond hearing and you’re not so sure.” They said, “Well, we’re getting ready to go. I said, “Good, because I’m not going.” My daughter came to me and said, “Well, Father, if you don’t go, I may have to go without you.” I’m like, “Oh boy.” She’s my baby girl. I wanted to be there for them—I knew—so I got up and I went.

I told them on the way to the bond hearing—I was very adamant about them keeping their mouths closed. I said, “I don’t want you to say anything. We’re not going to be there very long. We’re going to be there for a short time.”

So we went, sat down—I was looking at my watch because I was ready to go. First person that speak was Nadine, whose mother was one of the victims, Ethel Lance. She told Dylann, “I forgive you. The Lord have mercy on your soul.” I was like, “You know that’s enough.” I looked at my kids and said, “Let’s go.”

Again, the Lord said, “Get up. I have something to say.” On my way to the podium, I’m talking to Him saying, “Well, you better tell me what to say because I don’t have anything to say.”

All I can remember is, I said, “Son, I forgive you. My family forgives you. We’d like to give you an opportunity to repent. Confess and repent. Give your life to the One it means the most to, Christ. He can change your life. He can change your attitude. He can change your ways. You are in a lot of trouble right now, but if you do that, everything else will be okay.”

As soon as I said that—I mean immediately—my body was trembling. It was just like only Dylann and I were in the room. Nobody else was there. All I can remember is hate and anger—everything that I was feeling because I was a little upset. I had this peace—I mean I was so peaceful. He just took it all away.

Kim: In that moment?

Anthony: In that moment—that peace that passes all understanding in Christ Jesus—it’s real.

Kim: It’s real.

Anthony: I mean it’s real. I preached that sermon—I don’t know how many times. I preached about forgiveness—I don’t know how many times. I thought we had it—but we didn’t have it. But I had it that day. I know what it feels like. I felt it. I still have it today. I still feel it today and that peace enables me to move forward in my life—enables my children to move forward. It enabled the Charleston community to move forward.

Just the act of forgiveness—it brought our city together.

[Studio]

Bob: Let me step in here. We’ve been listening to Kim Anthony’s podcast, Unfavorable Odds, a conversation she had with Anthony Thompson, a pastor in Charleston, South Carolina, whose wife, Myra, was one of the shooting victims in the Charleston shooting back in 2015.

You put yourself in Pastor Thompson’s place and think, could I get that, the peace that passes understanding, that kind of forgiveness? What would it take for a heart to be set free from the anger, the injustice? What you would undoubtedly feel if you lost a loved one in a shooting like that?

Dave: It’s truly supernatural. As you listen to his story even as he said, he fell down crying, when he realized his wife was gone. You could imagine being in the same place. Yet, sensing God saying, get up and you preached on this, now it’s time to live it. In some ways, wow, I can’t imagine it happening that quickly in that moment. Yet God gave him the peace he just talked about. Everybody wants that peace, and we look for it everywhere, yet I think He just led us to where it comes from.

Ann: I think we all wonder will we have that? Will I respond? I’m imagining that a lot of people would respond in total anger. To see the supernatural presence of God overtake him was pretty miraculous and wonderful.

Bob: One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that we can look at those situations and go, boy, I don’t know if I would be able to respond with that grace. The reality is until you are in the moment God doesn’t give you that grace, but in the moment that grace is available. Now we don’t always appropriate it. But God meets us in that moment with the grace to do things that outside the moment we’d go I don’t think I would do that, but in the moment the grace is available for you to respond that way.

We’re going to hear another excerpt from this, because I think this entire conversation is worth listening to. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com and download this episode of Unfavorable Odds. We’ve got a link there, if you’d like to hear the whole conversation. But Kim talked with Pastor Thompson about the impact this shooting has had on the Charleston community and on the relationships in Charleston across racial lines. This is one of those situations where God has done something remarkable out of a tragedy in that community. Pastor Thompson in the interview recalled one of the times he saw at God work healing wounds and divisions in his city.

[Recording]

Anthony: I spoke at a predominately white aristocratic church in Mount Pleasant which is about, maybe, three and a half miles as you go across the bridge at Charleston and you’re there. After I got through, one lady about my age, a white female—she had two boys with her—she said “Reverend Thompson, I used to be a racist but when I heard about you forgiving this young man and about the other people forgiving him,” she said, “I repented of racism.”

Kim: Wow!

Anthony: Yes, so that’s what forgiveness is doing, things like that. When she said that, I told everybody, “You know what? We need to give this lady a hand. We need to give God some praise.” We praised God that night.

She said, it’s because of a change of heart. She was taught it and she was afraid to even let people know that she was against it—you know peer pressure, job pressure, or status in life—but when she heard about the forgiveness, that’s when she had the courage to do it. She had her two little boys there and she said she wanted them to be there so they could hear that, too.

I’ve had people to come up with all kind of stories about hitting their mother—and it’s always somebody in the family. It’s not like a friend hitting the mother—or haven’t talked to their sister in twelve years and after they hear what God’s telling them, they ask me “How do you do it?”—

Kim: How do you do it?

Anthony: —because, yes, they want to do it. I’ve had someone touch base with me after they’ve done it and express the joy that they feel. Those are my rewards. This is what makes me feel better. Forgiveness is really—

Kim: —powerful.

Kim: It is incredible that so many people are embracing forgiveness because of what you and the others did in light of what happened. Yet you have received some pushback as well. There were some people who were complaining about the fact that you all chose to forgive so soon. What were some of the excuses they were giving for you to not forgive?

Anthony: Well, they said forgiving him was like a cop-out because I must be experiencing slavery mentality. I was like “Really?”

I explained to them, I said, “Now, I want you to hear me very clearly. You’re talking about slavery. Well, I’m not a slave, so no way in the world I could be experiencing that. I didn’t forgive Dylann thinking he’s going to do me some harm. He can’t do me any harm because he’s in jail.” That one just went out the window.

Some people said I forgave him, and my forgiveness means that I didn’t want him to be punished. I said, “Well, I went to court for two months to make sure that he got punished. He spending nine life sentences, I mean death sentences, and also more for life imprisonment.” I said so he’s being punished, so forgiveness has nothing to do with him not being punished.

So, you see a lot of people have the wrong interpretation. That’s why I wrote that book because they needed to know.From speaking and talking across the United States and getting these negative attitudes towards forgiveness, that’s when I realized they needed to know what biblical forgiveness is compared to secular forgiveness.

That’s one reason why I wrote the book because people have it mixed up. They think that you’re taking the person off the hook when actually I’m taking myself off the hook. Forgiveness is for me, not the offender.

 

Kim: I did not grow up learning about forgiveness. It was always payback. It wasn’t until I came to know Christ that I learned about biblical forgiveness. Will you explain what biblical forgiveness is? What do you say to that person who wants to forgive but they’re having a really hard time doing so? How do they go about forgiving?

Anthony: Okay. When we forgive, it means you’re allowing God to be the judge not yourself, because only God can judge somebody’s heart. This is why you have to look at that person.

First of all, you look at yourself. You look at yourself and who you are in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of God, we’re what? All sinners. We may have committed different sins, but we’re all sinners. That’s what I looked at when I saw Dylann. I saw him as a sinner in God’s eyes and I saw myself as a sinner in God’s eyes.

If God forgave me, why can’t I forgive Dylann? That’s biblical forgiveness. 1 John says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” But He also says if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, then He can’t forgive you yours. So, there it is.

I tell people who can’t forgive—you know just like you were at that point and I was at that point years ago myself—many years ago—first of all, you’ve got to give your life to Christ. He’s the one who died on the cross to save you from your sins. That’s another thing a lot of people don’t want to do. Some people who don’t believe in God—but you have to believe in Him to get this forgiveness because you can’t forgive yourself.

Christ died on the cross. He saved you from your sins, so you’ve got to go to Him. You’ve got to go to Him, ask Him to forgive you. Then you have to ask Him to help you to forgive the person you can’t forgive—because you’re not going to be able to do it on your own. I didn’t do it on my own. He intervened. I had no power. He set me up, so to speak.

Kim: When we choose not to forgive the people who have offended us, we think that we’re harming them in some way—we’re getting the payback—but the truth is we are allowing them to control us from afar.

Anthony: Yes; yes.

Kim: And as you said, so many people are stuck in that place of unforgiveness.

Anthony: They are. They are—and that’s one thing they don’t realize. I’m glad that God freed me because I did not want Dylann to have control of my life—nor my children’s life, nor this community—because you reap what you sow. The Bible says that. You cannot overcome evil with evil—it says you have to overcome evil with good because whatever you do, you’re going to get it back and you’re going to be stuck. You’re going to be stuck in misery until you do it.

[Studio]

Bob: Again, that’s the Rev. Anthony Thompson from Charleston, South Carolina talking with Kim Anthony on her podcast, Unfavorable Odds which is produced by FamilyLife. I’d encourage listeners, listen to the whole conversation. One of the things Kim gets a chance to talk with Rev. Thompson about is his attempts to reach out to Dylann Root and to try to sit down with him even in prison. It’s pretty remarkable. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out how you can listen to the entire conversation.

Dave: I would just add as you listen to the story, again, you’re reminded, I’m reminded the power of forgiveness ripples. When people see people forgive, it doesn’t make sense. It is the amazing grace of God at work. It impacts, I mean, that’s what we just heard. It wasn’t just one man, it impacted a whole church, city, country, world!

I love how they ended, talking about when you don’t forgive that other person is in control of you. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do but it is supernatural. If God has forgiven us He can give us power to forgive others.

Ann: When outsiders see that forgiveness, they can’t understand it. Because he would have had every right to not forgive, to stay angry. When we see that, I think people think how do I get that kind of peace in a situation that is so tragic?

Bob: He described the prison of unforgiveness. The power of forgiveness is absolutely right. But there is another side to that and, that is as long as you harbor bitterness, anger, hatred, you are in prison.

 

Ann: Yes, we are captives.

Bob: The other person may be free. But you are still in bondage to that. Again, I’d encourage our listeners to listen to the entire conversation that Anthony Thompson had with Kim Anthony on her podcast, Unfavorable Odds. We’ve got a link to the complete broadcast at FamilyLifeToday.com. They got a lot deeper into talking about the power of forgiveness in our lives and about what Anthony Thompson has done to seek reconciliation with Dylann Root.

Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to download the podcast or to subscribe to Unfavorable Odds. We also have copies of Anthony Thompson’s book, Called to Forgive, in our FamilyLife Today resource center. You can order the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”

I know there are still many weeks to go before the holiday season is officially upon us. I know this season can be overwhelming with lots of activities, lots of things to do. One of the things that can make the season especially overwhelming is when we have challenging relationships with extended family members and when we are going to be together over the holidays.

Here at FamilyLife we have put together a free e-book that we’re calling, The Holiday Survival Guide. Its focus is on how we can be spiritually ready for those challenging family relationships. There’s insight on how to deal with conflict in your extended family or how to deal with what can sometimes are awkward family situations. Go to FamilyLIfeToday.com to download the free e-book, The Holiday Survival Guide, and we hope you find it useful during the holiday season.

We hope you can join us back tomorrow. Sheri Keffer is going to be with to talk about what happens when deception and betrayal enters into a marriage relationship. That was her story and she’ll share that with us tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

 

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