Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim's Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace

Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim's Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace

by Anthony B. Thompson, Denise George

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Overview

While the murder of his wife devastated Anthony Thompson, he and three other relatives of victims chose to privately and publicly forgive the shooter. Years later, the church and community still struggle to understand the family members' deliberate choice to forgive the racist murderer. But as Charlestonians have witnessed these incredible acts of forgiveness, something significant has happened to the community—black and white leaders and residents have united, coming together peaceably and even showing acts of selfless love.

This book is the account of Anthony's wife's murder, the grief he experienced, and how and why he made the radical choice to forgive the killer. But beyond that, Anthony goes on to teach what forgiveness can and should look like in each of our lives—both personally, in our communities, and even in our nation. After much pain, reflection, and study, Thompson shares how true biblical love and mercy differ from the way these ideas are reflected in our culture.

Be inspired by this remarkable story and discover how the difficult decision to forgive can become the key to radical change.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780764232985
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 319,938
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

The Reverend Anthony Batiste Thompson is the pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church of Charleston. The Reverend Thompson was married to the late Myra Thompson. They have three children and six grandchildren.

Denise George
is the author/coauthor of thirty-one books. She is married to Dr. Timothy George. They have two grown children and one toddler grandson. George has served as founding director of LifeWay's Women's Ministry program and adjunct instructor at Beeson Divinity School.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Unthinkable Tragedy

The man-made catastrophe at Emanuel is among the most sorrowful and powerful stories in recent memory.

Time

Bible and study notes in hand, my wife, Myra, slips through the church's side door around five o'clock, a few seconds of her smiling image captured by the security camera. As always on her way inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, she stops and warmly hugs several other "Wednesday people," as they are called, those faithful ones who attend midweek Bible studies in addition to Sunday morning worship services. Rushing inside to the meeting room, she answers her cell phone's ring, speaking briefly with our daughter, Denise, and promising to call her back when she returns home.

The Wednesday night Bible study usually starts by 6 p.m., but on this hot and steamy June evening in historic downtown Charleston, the church has scheduled its Quarterly Conference meeting to be held before the Bible study, pushing the study time to 8 p.m.

As presiding elder for the AME Church in the Charleston District, the Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff meets with Emanuel and other local churches in his district for a Quarterly Conference at least once every three months. On this night, June 17, 2015, Dr. Goff and fifty members in attendance discuss budget issues, installation plans for the building's new elevator, and other important church business. Before the end of the extended meeting, several ministers are granted local ministry licenses, including Myra, who receives her preaching license renewal, a ministry calling she had worked hard for many years to earn. The evening proves a special and greatly anticipated event for my wife. She glows with excitement as the meeting ends and the Bible study time draws near. She will teach the Bible study for the first time at Emanuel, an outstanding honor, explaining Jesus' parable of the sower recorded in the book of Mark.

Myra's Safe Haven

Myra loves her lifelong home — Charleston, South Carolina — and especially the Emanuel AME Church. She became a newly baptized convert and church member in 1965, the tenth year of her life, becoming actively involved in the congregation's family life and numerous children's programs. After sixteen years of marriage, I have never once tried to persuade Myra to leave her church to join my denomination — the Reformed Episcopal Church. Myra is just too loyal, too devoted to Emanuel, and so in love with its people. Her commitment to God would never allow her to leave her childhood church. She considers it her safe haven from the frets and cares of this world.

A perfectionist, and very serious about her ministry and church, she feels anxious all morning about teaching her first Bible study at Emanuel. She sits at the den table working long into the afternoon until she stops and quickly dresses for church.

"I want to make sure that when I feed our people the Word, I'll be giving them the right Word, and that they will understand what I am saying," she tells me. "And I want to be able to answer all their questions."

"You've worked hard on it for a solid month, Myra. It's perfect," I assure her.

I plan to attend the Bible study this evening, wanting to support and encourage Myra's teaching ministry.

"I'll try to be on time for your Bible study tonight, Myra."

"You don't have to come."

"I'm coming, Myra. I want to be there. For you."

"Honey, I don't want you to come."

She doesn't want me to come? I wonder. Why not?

Myra and I go everywhere together, especially supporting each other at events when one of us speaks or participates. Normally she expects me to be there.

"I don't understand ..."

"Honey, this is your church's first day of Vacation Bible School, and you know the ladies will have a lot of drama going on. You need to be at your own church."

As I think about my duties as pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church, and the evening's planned events, I know she is right.

"Yes. I need to be at my church."

"Can you pick up some supper for us?" she asks.

"Sure. Captain D's? They've got a great broiled seafood platter.

What about that?"

"Okay," she agrees. "Thanks. I'll see you here later tonight and we can eat together."

Myra's Departure

Sometime before five that afternoon, Myra slips into a conservative black suit and white blouse. Before she leaves for church, she calls to me from the hallway: "Honey! I'm getting ready to go. Come walk me to the door."

It is customary for Myra and me to hug and kiss good-bye upon parting — a simple, loving tradition we never fail to keep.

"You need to hurry!" she calls again as she gathers her Bible and notes from the table. "I have to be at church earlier than usual for the meeting before Bible study."

"Wait a minute! Hold on, I'm coming!" I call from the bathroom.

As I rush to finish dressing to see her off at the door, I experience a strange feeling, a sensation somewhat incomprehensible and impossible to describe. Myra seems somehow different from her usual self. This morning as we prepared for the day, even though she admitted to feeling anxious about the evening's study, I noticed Myra's face glowed with an unusual kind of happiness, her smile much more radiant than usual.

Why is she so happy? I wonder. She seems to glide across the floor as if walking on air, not wood.

I dismiss the question and puzzling feelings when details of my own church's evening program crowd my thoughts.

Before I can leave the bathroom, I hear the front door open and then close, the sound of Myra's voice greeting neighbors, her car starting and pulling out of the driveway.

Oh well, I think. She'll understand. She knows I'm praying for her. I'll kiss and hug her later tonight.

The Bible Study

The business meeting, led by Dr. Go_, adjourns a few minutes before 8 p.m., the crowds saying quick good-byes to each other and dispersing into the heavy, humid night. Myra and eleven of the regular Bible study participants move downstairs into the church's lower-level fellowship hall, each sitting at one of the four white cloth-covered tables.

Myra enthusiastically greets the people staying for the Bible study. She knows and loves them all. She sits down at the first table, and four others join her: the Reverend Daniel Simmons, seventy-four, a devoted father, grandfather, minister, staff member of the church, and Vietnam War veteran; Cynthia Hurd, fifty-four, a much-loved librarian for thirty-one years at the Charleston County Public Library; the Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, forty-five, a mother of three, part-time minister at Emanuel, speech pathologist, and girls' track coach at Goose Creek High School; and DePayne Middleton Doctor, forty-nine, the mother of four daughters, a choir member, promising minister, and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University's Charleston local learning center.

Polly Sheppard — seventy-two, a retired nurse — and Ethel Lance sit at the table closest to Myra's. Ethel, seventy, a widow of many years, a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, has worked faithfully for thirty years as the church sexton.

Felicia Sanders, fifty-eight, a hair stylist, sits at the next table with three members of her family: her eleven-year-old grand-daughter; her eighty-seven-year-old aunt, Susie Jackson, a long-time Emanuel choir member; and her son Tywanza Sanders, twenty-six, a promising poet and artist who recently graduated from Allen University.

The pastor, the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, forty-one, wearing his customary dark business suit, makes his way to the fourth table. Pinckney holds two important positions in the state. For the past five years, he has served as pastor of the Emanuel AME Church. He is also a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate, representing the 45th District. In order to support Myra and attend her first Bible study, he has chosen to forgo politically correct attendance — expected of him in his state role — at the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign meeting in Charleston tonight.

The pastor's wife, Jennifer, does not attend the Bible study, but instead retreats to her husband's study, located next to the fellowship hall, to catch up on some church paperwork. Her young daughter, Malana, stays with her, watching a movie while her mother works.

Preparing a Heart's Soil

When all are welcomed and settled into their seats, Myra begins to teach the carefully prepared lesson: "Studying Mark's Gospel: Preparing Our Heart's Soil." She spreads out her notes on the table, opens her Bible to Mark 4, and begins to read verses 1 through 20:

"A farmer went out to sow his seed ... some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. ... Some fell on rocky places ... they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. ... Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop...."

She pauses, explaining: "The soil represents the human heart, the way we respond to the Word. The seed represents the Word of God."

Before she finishes reading the selected Scripture verses, sometime between 8:06 and 8:15, the fellowship hall door opens a bit and a young man slips inside. Myra stops reading and smiles at him. The participants look up from their Bibles and see the boyish-looking man, standing about five feet nine inches tall, a slight 120-pound frame, his tousled mop of sandy blond hair cut in a bowl shape and surrounding his pale, clean-shaven face. Dressed in a gray sweatshirt, worn blue jeans, and Timberland boots, the young white man wears a black fanny pack around his waist, the kind so many tourists in Charleston carry to hold cell phones, wallets, and cameras.

One by one, Myra and the faithful "Wednesday people" introduce themselves to him, kindly inviting Dylann Storm Roof to join the study. Pastor Pinckney pulls out the chair next to him and offers the young man a seat. Someone places a Bible in Dylann's hands. Shyly, quietly, Dylann sits down.

As part of a famous old African-American church in historic downtown Charleston, the group isn't surprised to have a visitor walk down the street, see the church lights on, and wander into Emanuel's fellowship hall. Sometimes a lonely straggler comes in for the fellowship, other times the hungry walk inside expecting to find food. Perhaps this sad-faced, wandering, lost soul wants to know more about Christ and His Word, a young seeker who hopes that within this church he'll find answers to his life's deepest and most painful questions. For whatever reason, he walks inside the church fellowship hall that evening, the Bible study members heartily accepting this young man into their small group, welcoming him warmly.

Myra resumes teaching, explaining in detail to her listeners what Jesus' parable means, lessons that Jesus' own disciples failed to understand when He told it to them two millennia ago.

"Don't you understand this parable?" a frustrated Jesus asked His closest disciples, later admonishing them: "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

"You see," Myra begins, her eyes focusing on the group, "the disciples don't understand any of this — what Jesus tells them. ... They don't know what He is talking about. We must have a desire to hear!"

Lifting her Bible, she continues: "Jesus explained the parable to His confused disciples in verses 13 and following. He says the farmer sows the seeds — meaning the Word. Some people's hearts are like seed sown along the path, where the Word is sown. As soon as they hear the Word, Satan comes and takes it away from them, and they produce nothing."

Seeing that everyone understands, she moves on: "Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the Word and at once receive it with great joy. But since they have no soil, they grow no root and last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes, they fall away quickly."

The group asks several questions, then Myra proceeds: "Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the Word, but soon allow the worries, selfish human desires, and deceitfulness of life to choke the Word. They, too, fall away. Others, however, like seed sown in good soil, hear the Word, accept it, and produce a good crop."

Eyes to See, Ears to Hear

For much of the hour, Myra explains Jesus' powerful parable. "You see," she says, "there are people whose eyes are open but don't see a thing. Their ears are open but they don't understand a word. They avoid making an about-face to be forgiven."

She stops and smiles. "And as you already know, the only way we can be forgiven is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Once we accept Him, we will receive the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit will give us understanding of the Word of God."

Throughout the study, Dylann seems to listen intently to Myra's words of biblical truth, all the time keeping his expression blank, his eyes staring and vacant, and saying nothing.

"Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, 'For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?'" Myra continues explaining the text. "We must pray to be delivered from Satan. ... A person's reception of God's Word is determined by the condition of his heart. Our faith and the way we live our lives will show what type of soil relates to us."

As Myra teaches Jesus' life-saving message, she must think about her pale-faced young stranger, wondering if he has eyes to see and ears to hear, and pondering the state of his heart's soil.

A Setting Sun

A few minutes after 9 p.m., Myra finishes teaching the lesson. As the sun sets on Charleston, enveloping the city in darkness, she thanks the participants for their friendship and support, and for attending her first Bible study, even though it keeps them out much later than usual. To dismiss the group, Myra and the others stand up, instinctively closing their eyes, bowing their heads in reverence, and praying: "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy —"

Suddenly, CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! Loud gunshots explode throughout the hall, piercing the quiet prayer time. With a Glock 45 pulled from his fanny pack, the boy-faced man opens fire on the twelve praying Bible study members. A storm of rapid gunfire rings out as he moves quickly from one table to the next, shooting the worshipers at point-blank range, shell casings hitting and bouncing one after another on the linoleum floor. In his sudden killing frenzy, Dylann Roof pauses only five times, just long enough to reload his gun with fresh clips, all the while shouting hateful racial slurs and statements.

Some victims die almost immediately, bleeding out from multiple bullet wounds that shred arteries and organs. The gunman stands over his victims, shooting them again and again as they lie moaning and dying on the floor. Others beg the shooter to stop as they grab loved ones, holding them tight, hoping to protect them from the madman and his bullets.

Some hide or play dead, miraculously escaping Roof's wrath. The pastor's wife and daughter, inside the nearby office, hear the shots, quickly lock the door, and huddle under a desk.

Roof allows Polly Sheppard to live so she can tell the story of the massacre.

"I have to do it. You rape our women, and you are taking over our country. And you have to go!" Roof shouts during the shooting.

At 9:06 p.m., after firing seventy-seven bullets, Dylann Roof stops shooting, turns around, and casually walks out the door, leaving the dead, dying, and terrified behind him on the blood-stained fellowship hall floor. The church security camera catches his image as he leaves, his face expressionless, the gun still grasped in his hand.

Eight members, including the church's pastor, die on the floor from multiple gunshot wounds. One man, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, is severely injured but still alive. The faithful group of Wednesday people, so quickly and cruelly cut down by an assassin's gun, will later become known as the "Emanuel Nine." Only three people in the Bible study group survive the attack: Polly Sheppard, Felicia Sanders, and her young granddaughter.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Called to Forgive"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Anthony Thompson.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 11

Introduction 13

1 The Unthinkable Tragedy 15

2 The Aftermath 35

3 Dylann Storm Roof: A Homegrown American Terrorist 47

4 The Decision 59

5 A Mighty Long journey 73

6 Missing Myra 91

7 A Community and Nation React 105

8 Honoring Myra's Wishes 117

9 The Deadly Dis-ease of Unforgiveness 137

10 The Path to Healing and Peace 147

Epilogue: My Letter to Dylann 163

Bible Study Questions 173

Appendix 1 A Call to Prayer from the Bishops in South Carolina 219

Appendix 2 Charleston Shooting, Trial, and Remembrance Timeline 222

Appendix 3 The Ten Stages of Biblical 225

Forgiveness 225

Appendix 4 The Resolution to Recognize, Denounce and Apologize for the City's Involvement with Slavery 227

Appendix 5 Myra's Bible Study on Jesus' Parable of the Sower (from Mark 4) 232

Notes 240

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Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim's Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing. Absolutely amazing. This is a powerful story of forgiveness. While reading the book and now having read it, the same thought keeps coming to my mind, "How in the world could he do it? How could he forgive a man who killed his wife?" I too am a minister. I preached for forty-seven years. I preached many sermons on forgiveness. Still I wonder—could I forgive someone who murdered my beloved wife? Pastor Thompson and his coauthor, Denise George tell the story of how on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof, a young white man, attended the Wednesday evening Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. An hour later, Roof pulled a concealed weapon and killed nine African-Americans as they prayed, including Myra Thompson, the wife of pastor Anthony Thompson. Myras' murder devastated Anthony, yet he chose to privately and publicly forgive the shooter. The story is told in ten chapters. From the first chapter, The Unthinkable Tragedy to the last chapter, The Path to Healing and peace. It is hard to read because it is so sad but compelling and uplifting as you see Thompson's beautiful heart of forgiveness. There is added value in the Epilogue, the Bible study questions and the five appendixes.
summer_no9 More than 1 year ago
This book was inspiring writing and compelling to read with that also had a true story of Pastor Anthony Thompson’s wife, Myra who has murdered at Emanuel AME church in Charleston with eight other on June 17, 2015. The story of heartbreaking in this book will give you to understand deeply of biblical forgiveness, how it work, This will encourage to many of us who had lost love, life and everything you had to become hate and looking for blame someone or anything with all this act, making the decision, with God’s help, to let it go and forgiveness. I highly recommend to everyone must to read this book. “ I received complimentary a copy of this book from Bethany House for this review”.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Called to Forgive is a tremendous piece about forgiveness in the face of intentional, premeditated violence. Reverend Anthony Thompson writes with authenticity, revealing the raw emotions he felt after a gunman killed Thompson’s wife, Myra, in a shooting at Emanuel AME Church in 2015. While he doesn’t condone the killer’s actions, Reverend Thompson clearly explains why he forgave quickly and fully, even without hearing any remorse or apology from the killer. Reverend Thompson incorporates history, from both long ago and recent years, to help readers understand the depth of issues related to race, hatred, and violence. He also includes stories of other people affected by violence – some who forgave and some who did not – to show the effects of forgiveness and unforgiveness. Most importantly, Reverend Thompson integrates examples and studies of Scripture to confirm the importance of forgiveness. Whether or not readers initially believe that forgiveness should be extended in all situations, by the last pages of Called to Forgive, they will be challenged to consider grudges that they hold and how to extend forgiveness, even when societal norms allow or even expect unforgiveness. Called to Forgive also includes a thorough Bible study for readers to explore the foundations of forgiveness further. Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in order to write an honest, unbiased review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.