Friday, March 26, 2010

Amish Forgiveness

Apparently the Lifetime Movie Network has taken some liberties with the facts of the story of the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish school shooting. The movie Amish Grace, which will air this Sunday, is based on a book by the same name. The movie has an Amish mother showing up at the home of the deceased shooter the day after the killings and confronting the wife of the gunman. The authors of the book say this never happened:
True, Amish people did show up at gunman Charles Roberts' home within hours of the shooting that left five girls dead. They also visited his parents and parents-in-law, all of whom lived within a few miles of the West Nickel Mines School.

But the Amish people didn't go there to express rage or sling blame. They visited the Roberts family because of their compassion for his kin--victims of the tragedy who were also suffering immense emotional pain. One Amish neighbor consoled Charles Roberts' father with a hand on his shoulder and four simple words: "We love you, Roberts." A few days later, at Roberts' burial, parents of some of the Amish girls he had killed showed up and hugged his widow. It was, said one Amish man, "simply the right thing to do."

The authors make a guess that the movie channel chose a different beginning because it more closely mirrors the typical English? reaction to being harmed: first rage and then hopefully forgiveness as time passes. This, say the authors, is not the Amish way. Deeply ingrained teachings and practices of forgiveness as a first response were lived out at Nickel Mines. It apparently made a difference:

The Amish response was "the beginning of the healing process," Ms. Roberts (mother of the gunman) continues. She describes how it compelled her and her husband to visit all the Amish families whose daughters had been shot, and to invite all the mothers and the surviving girls to her home for tea.

Ms. Roberts continues to host teas and swimming parties for the surviving girls, four of whom have resumed relatively normal lives. Her closest relationship, however, exists with Rosanna, the one survivor who doesn't swim because she's seriously disabled. To this day, Ms. Roberts visits with Rosanna for several hours every Thursday evening.

Perhaps the real story of Amish grace is as touching as the Lifetime movie version of it. But as we note in our book, the story of Amish forgiveness is not about remarkable individuals finding "within themselves" the ability to forgive. It's about a community that valued forgiveness and reconciliation so highly before the shooting happened that scapegoating the Roberts family on October 2, 2006, wasn't even thinkable.

That this kind of behavior is taken to be remarkable in our "Christian" nation says something about the nature of our Christianity.

No comments: