The nation is still reeling from the violent, racially motivated attack on a historic Charleston church where nine people were killed just a week ago.
But already, the families of those slain are offering forgiveness, and a community is uniting in the worst of times.
Dr. Richard Land, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, a leader in apologetics education, recently wrote about the tragedy in a column for the Christian Post, where he stated that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream lives on in Charleston because of the extraordinary reaction of the victims' loved ones and fellow church members.
"As Christians, through their heartbreak and personal loss, they confronted the perpetrator and told him they forgave him and prayed for his soul," wrote Land, who was recently named as one of the top 15 of Newsmax's "Top 100 Christian Leaders in America."
"What a profound witness to the transformative power of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. These black brothers and sisters, capturing and modeling the true spirit of the Gospel so vividly testified to two generations ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who proclaimed in the face of the particularly malevolent brand of evil that would blow up four little girls in church on a Sunday morning in Birmingham, 'those you would change, you must first love.'
"To witness the faith and forgiveness of the African-American members of Charleston's Emanuel AME Church is to expose the current generation to the life-changing impact and power of the non-violent, reconciling message of the 1960s civil rights revolution that transformed our nation in so many very important and critical ways," he continued. "Dr. King and his followers refused to allow hate to stifle and shrivel their hearts and souls, and instead became 'ambassadors' of reconciliation, preaching that love conquers evil (II Cor. 5:17-21). They triumphed over the implacable evil of the KKK and the White Citizens Councils of their day, and in doing so liberated all Americans, black and white, victim and victimizer, from the corrosive evil of Jim Crow racism."
"Land added that if a young, white supremacist murderer wanted his evil deeds to start a race war, he has failed. Instead, black Christians in Charleston are leading a suddenly reborn, vibrant movement of racial reconciliation in America. Today, with a tragedy still so fresh, Charleston's Christians, black and white, are uniting to be reconcilers, not revilers—the life-transforming power that is defeating evil in the human heart.
"The exhilarating hope generated by the "Charleston Way," Land continued, should be a reminder that convictional Christians must not withdraw from society and function in separate social communities, institutions and ways of living, but rather, preserve and defend authentic Christianity against an ever-darkening civilization.
"A budding movement among Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Christians is being called the 'Benedict' option after St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543 AD), a fifth-century Christian whose monastery movement helped guard, protect and preserve Christianity and Western Civilization after the barbarians engulfed the Roman Empire," Land wrote. "Popularized by the former Catholic, now Orthodox, Christian commentator and writer Rod Dreher, the movement calls for varying degrees of disengagement with an ever-increasing intolerant and transcendent secular culture.
"What has happened in Charleston these past few days is a vivid illustration and reminder of what society would lose if convictional Christians choose the Benedict option. A society in which Christian mores and values are in decline is an ever more self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish society increasingly concerned with ever more libidinous, self-gratifying pursuits. Such a society will generate a lot more Fergusons and Baltimores and no more Charlestons."
"If we think American society is crass, selfish, shallow and destructive now, Land added, imagine what it would be like if convictional Christians disengaged and withdrew inward into self-contained communities and abandoned the rest of society to stew in its own corrosive juices.
"As Christians," Land added, "if we are to follow our Lord and Savior's commands to be salt and light in society (Matt. 5:13-15), withdrawing from the playing field is not an option. Faithfulness does not require or promise victory in this world, but it does demand obedience."
Emanuel AME Church is being referred to as "historic" for its storied place in the formation of America. The church was built in 1816 when several parishioners broke off from a Christian Methodist Episcopal church. One of the founders, Denmark Vesey, led a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey, along with 34 others, was executed, and the church was burned to the ground in revenge for the revolt. The church members continued to worship underground and surreptitiously until after the Civil War. It is also interesting to note that Dr. King preached at Emanuel AME Church during his tragically brief ministry among us.
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