One month after the sharpest intrusion of media into the world of faith, Amish leaders in Pennsylvania are quietly working to determine how best to release news on the condition of five surviving girls in the Amish schoolhouse massacre. I expect we'll hear soon. The service-minded but reclusive Amish are well aware of the concern and support of an outside world, and that their lives gave a perspective that has ushered in an encounter with the supernatural.
First, that encounter was with evil. The human condition was reduced to its absolute worst when a known outsider, the local milk-truck driver, 32-year-old Charles Roberts, stormed a one-room Amish school, intent on murder. In less than 40 terrorizing minutes, he left five innocent families, including his own, forever bereaved, and five other girls struggling for life.
As I walked the West Nickel Mines community last week and interacted with those who knew the Amish, I could picture just how out of place it must have been to see more than 60 news trucks and their crews on the gentle hill overlooking the schoolhouse.
In the hours that followed, the Amish made room for the press because they felt they had an obligation to help the world understand the madness of the crime, and they knew the world was grieving with them, said their spokesman Herman Bontrager.
Forgiveness was the other aspect of the supernatural that unfolded that day. By night's end, Amish stood in the kitchen of the murderer's family, their arms around his sobbing father and said, "We will forgive Charlie."
"It's what you have to do if you follow Christ literally," said Mr. Bontrager. "It was nothing staged, nor was it easy. They say this is painful, but here we are, we are human beings together."
The story was one of those moments that pointed to the moral nature of media: What do the powers that hold information do when a spiritual concept that has ramifications for the lives of every reader, viewer and listener is rolling across reality?
Mr. Bontrager said he began to realize reporters were distracted from the crime, and started talking about forgiveness. "They saw this act as something that is relevant and important in their community and wondered, how could we regain that? It dawned on me, this is a gift to the whole world."
"Maybe there's something to learn about how nations might treat other nations," he said.
"What would have happened, if after 9/11, the U.S. leadership had gone to Islamic leaders and said
we are sorry this happened but we forgive those who did it, let's talk.
I know lots of people would shrug that off and say it's not realistic in the world of geopolitics, but we don't know because we have
Even as an admirer of peace, I find that concept almost too challenging but, perhaps, geopolitics were involved in the forgiveness that flowed after the schoolhouse murders.
Benuel Fisher, an Amish man close to the tragedy, wrote to his local newspaper to comment that he was puzzled their Amish forgiveness was being called "foreign." He reminded his audience that the state of Pennsylvania was founded to protect those seeking freedom from the violent state church in Europe, and that the Amish who first settled there were bringing with them forgiveness for a state that killed their fathers, mothers and children through hangings, drownings and beheadings.
The book of those stories, Martyr's Mirror, was published just a few miles from where the five Amish schoolgirls, including two sisters, were killed, and is found in many Amish homes, just as computers are found in ours. It documents forgiven crimes hundreds of years old, but Mr. Fisher asked: "How is this forgiveness lost, or how has it faded out . . . it cannot be bought or borrowed. It needs to be practised and nurtured daily."
Perhaps the Amish can do that better than most because they guardedly control what input they'll work on. Others of us are flooded with information that is devoid of meaning, that has no lasting value for our lives, and we can only hope that when we're faced with a crisis, we'll have the inner skills to survive it.
Last week, the Amish families whose children were in the schoolhouse sat with the killer's family and received 12 large bins of mail from media consumers, mail that said again and again the public cares about forgiveness. For our own good, let's not wait for a crime so tragic and a people so unique as the Amish to explore it in media again.
Lorna Dueck hosts Listen Up TV, seen Sundays on Global TV, Saturdays on CTS, Salt and Light TV and Christian Channel.
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