News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Rev. Michael Brooks

Should we return good for evil?

Alabama Attorney General Troy King began a series of meetings
Sunday with congregations of nine churches burned earlier this year. One congregation decided not to participate, but the others sent representatives to discuss their feelings about punishment if the three young men charged are convicted in August.

The alleged arsonists are just a bit younger than my son. According to some sources, federal sentencing could be five years for each of the nine churches. It's hard to imagine a 19- or 20-year-old in prison until he's ready for Medicare.

Some of the affected church members suggested compassion for these men. I agree. I can think of few things that would have more impact than this. After all, we're weary of religious extremism in our world and people getting hurt in the name of God. What a refreshing thing it would be for us to witness such an act of unselfishness. I think it would be stunning for the world to see grace in action.

There have been a few notable examples of this kind of grace in recent years. It's well known that Gov. George Wallace went to a black congregation in 1982 and apologized for his racism. What often is overlooked is that he wrote a letter to his would-be assassin in a Maryland prison. He told Arthur Bremer that he forgave him, he prayed for him and he loved him.

Another notable example is Southern Baptist missionary-doctor Martha Myers, who was gunned down in Yemen in 2002. Her assailant was executed in November. Myers' father, former Alabama State Health Officer Ira Myers, said recently that had Martha had a say, she would have forgiven her assassin and not wanted him executed.

Burning empty church buildings isn't the same as assassinations, but the principle is the same.

I have a vision of nine pastors standing before the judge after the trial concludes. If the young men are found guilty, the ministers ask the judge for mercy, and offer to serve as counselors and mentors for these men as they try to rebuild their lives. Nothing much could be gained by having three men in prison for 45 years for burning buildings.

However, followers of Christ deciding to return good for evil might cause the whole world to take notice.

The Rev. Michael Brooks, a guest columnist, is associate professor of speech and journalism at Judson College, P.O. Box 120, Marion, AL 36756.

Rev. Michael Brooks Rev. Michael Brooks

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