Oct. 2 marks the first anniversary of the Amish school shooting at Nickel Mines, Pa. A new book, “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy” (Jossey-Bass, 2007, hardcover, 254 pages) by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher, offers a study of how the Amish could demonstrate radical forgiveness in the face of their sorrow and grief.
Kraybill is senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. Nolt is a professor of history at Goshen (Ind.) College. Weaver-Zercher is associate professor of American religious history and chair of the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.
In a short report of their research, the authors explained how they explored the Amish response in the wake of the shooting that killed five schoolgirls and wounded five others. They also highlighted several particular findings, including in part:
- Numerous Amish people expressed forgiveness to the killer’s widow, her parents, and the killer’s parents. The expressions of forgiveness were spontaneous. There were no meetings within the Amish community to decide when and how to express forgiveness. Amish leaders did not offer formal expressions of forgiveness on behalf of the Amish community. Amish forgiveness involved not only words, but behavior--giving food, flowers, and money to the widow and her family, attending the burial of the killer, and participating in reconciliation events with the family of the killer.
- The investigators found no instances of rage, revenge, or retaliation toward the killer’s family. Feelings of anger were muted by cultural and religious restraints.
- The parents of the murdered girls experienced deep grief, but they were aided in processing their grief by distinctive Amish rituals of grieving. Amish families reached out to professional counselors to assist them in processing their grief.
- Forgiveness for the Amish is a religious imperative based on the teachings of Jesus, and encouraged by communal practices (e.g., twice-yearly worship services that emphasize forgiveness and reconciliation) and sustained by communal memory (e.g., reciting stories of 16th-century Christian martyrs who readily forgave their persecutors).
- The immediate decision to forgive, inspired by their religious faith, started an emotional and spiritual process of forgiving that remains ongoing. For the Amish, forgiveness means letting go of grudges and ill will toward those who wrong them. It does not mean condoning, pardoning, or forgoing punishment.
Source: 9/26/2007 Newsline