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Fall Edition
Volume 99, Number 2

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Forgiving what we can't forget

One year after the Nickel Mines Amish School shooting and the remarkable Amish response of forgiveness, four Messiah College educators reflect on the mystery, power, and paradox of forgiveness

by David Weaver-Zercher, Valerie Rae Smith, Lawrence Burnley, and Charles Jantzi

Forgiveness made national headlines in the wake of the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooting tragedy one year ago. The country marveled at the Lancaster County Amish community’s capacity for forgiveness demonstrated since the day Charles Roberts, a troubled father and husband, walked into the schoolhouse, took young girls hostage, and shot ten of them—killing five and leaving an entire community wounded and in pain. While reeling from their own grief, members of the Amish community quickly extended forgiveness to Roberts’ family. To the Amish, their forgiveness was nothing remarkable—it flowed from their faith and is woven into the fabric of their community life. Still, the Amish grieve their community’s enduring losses.

One year after this tragedy, we asked four Messiah College faculty members to reflect on the deep mystery of forgiveness. Dismissing easy answers and platitudes, they probe questions such as: Can the rest of us learn anything from the Amish response of forgiveness? How can performing arts, like theatre, illuminate the complexities of mercy? In what ways can forgiveness (or the lack thereof) affect our emotional and physical health? How does one practice authentic forgiveness? Can one truly forgive and forget? As David Weaver-Zercher, associate professor of American religious history, writes, “Forgetting an atrocious offense may not be possible, but all of us make decisions about how to remember what we can’t forget.”

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