Do you remember how the Amish responded to the act of terror in their school, when a gunman killed five Amish children in 2006? Our friend Diana Butler Bass wrote an article pontificating what the world would look like if the Amish had led us after September 11. Consider their response to the murders, a response that fascinated the world. Within the first week after the shootings, the Amish families who had suffered such terror responded in four ways that captured the world's attention. First, some elders visited Marie Roberts, the wife of the murderer, to offer forgiveness. Then, the families of the slain girls invited the widow to their own children's funerals. Next, they requested that all relief money intended for the Amish families be shared with Ms. Roberts and her children. And finally, in an astonishing act of reconciliation, dozens of Amish families attended the funeral of the killer.
Diana goes on to share that she talked with her husband about the spiritual power of these actions, commenting, "It is an amazing witness to the peace tradition." And her husband looked at her and said passionately, "Witness? I don't think so. This went well past witnessing. They weren't witnessing to anything. They were actively making peace." Her article ends with these words, as she reflected on that truth:
Their actions not only witness that the Christian God is a God of forgiveness, but they actively created the conditions in which forgiveness could happen. In the most straightforward way, they embarked on imitating Christ: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." In acting as Christ, they did not speculate on forgiveness. They forgave. And forgiveness is, as Christianity teaches, the prerequisite to peace. We forgive because God forgave us; in forgiving, we participate in God's dream of reconciliation and shalom.
Then an odd thought occurred to me: What if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror? What if, on the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, we had gone to Osama bin Laden's house (metaphorically, of course, since we didn't know where he lived!) and offered him forgiveness? What if we had invited the families of the hijackers to the funerals of the victims of 9/11? What if a portion of the September 11th Fund had been dedicated to relieving poverty in a Muslim country? What if we dignified the burial of their dead by our respectful grief? What if, instead of seeking vengeance, we had stood together in human pain, looking honestly at the shared sin and sadness we suffered? What if we had tried to make peace? So, here's my modest proposal. We're five years too late for an Amish response to 9/11. But maybe we should ask them to take over the Department of Homeland Security. After all, actively practicing forgiveness and making peace are the only real alternatives to perpetual fear and a multi-generational global religious war. I can't imagine any other path to true security. And nobody else can figure out what to do to end this insane war. Why not try the Christian practice of forgiveness? If it worked in Lancaster, maybe it will work in Baghdad, too.
I realize this is a little dated. But the practice of forgiveness and the seeking of peace is such a needed thing. I think.
There's an article here which quotes the pastor for the Roberts family - who happens to pastor a church in my tribe, and was actually somewhat involved in me attending seminary.
A nice article here too, 'Forgiveness is Possible.'