On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to "shoot me first and let the little ones go." Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? "I'm angry at God for taking my little daughter," he told the children before the massacre.
The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.
The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world's attention.
Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, "Amish forgiveness" had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.
Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer's burial. Roberts' widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter's family.
AMISH GRACE explores the many questions this story raises about the religious beliefs and habits that led the Amish to forgive so quickly. It looks at the ties between forgiveness and membership in a cloistered communal society and ask if Amish practices parallel or diverge from other religious and secular notions of forgiveness. It will also address the matter of why forgiveness became news. "All the religions teach it," mused an observer, "but no one does it like the Amish." Regardless of the cultural seedbed that nourished this story, the surprising act of Amish forgiveness begs for a deeper exploration. How could the Amish do this? What did this act mean to them? And how might their witness prove useful to the rest of us?
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Praise for Amish Grace
"A story our polarized country needs to hear: It is still grace that saves."
—Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television
"Amish Grace tells a story of forgiveness informed by deep faith, rooted in a rich history, and practiced in real life. In an American society that often resorts to revenge, it is a powerful example of the better way taught by Jesus."
—Jim Wallis, author, God's Politics; president, Sojourners/Call to Renewal
"In a world where repaying evil with evil is almost second nature, the Amish remind us there's a better way. In plain and beautiful prose, Amish Grace recounts the Amish witness and connects it to the heart of their spirituality."
—Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking
"An inside look at a series of events that showed the world what Christ-like forgiveness is all about ? a story of the love of God lived out in the face of tragedy."
—Tony Campolo, Eastern University
"Amish Grace dissects the deep-rooted pattern of Amish forgiveness and grace that, after the Nickel Mines tragedy, caused the world to gasp."
—Philip Yancey, author, What's So Amazing About Grace
"Covers the subject in a superb way. It gave me a private tutorial in Amish culture and religion ? on their unique view of life, death, and forgiveness."
—Fred Luskin, author, Forgive for Good; director, Stanford Forgiveness Projects
"A remarkable book about the good but imperfect Amish, who individually and collectively consistently try to live Jesus' example of love – for one another and for the enemy."
—Dr. Carol Rittner, distinguished professor of holocaust and genocide studies, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
"A casebook on forgiveness valuable for ALL Christians. It drills beneath the theory to their practice and even deeper to the instructions of Jesus."
—Dr. Julia Upton, provost, St. John's University
"A beautiful testimony to the power and the joy of Amish grace—grace under fire, grace that wrenches something beautiful out of the jaws of tragedy. Amish Grace is also a challenge to the rest of us to more fully embody the teachings of Jesus."
—William H. Willimon, Bishop, the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
The remarkable response of the Amish community to the horrific shooting of ten schoolgirls at Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in October 2006 stunned the larger world. Amish Grace tells the incredible story of this community's reaction to this senseless shooting and explores its profoundly countercultural practice of forgiveness.
Outsiders often hold a stereotypical view of the Amish as a stubbornly backwards people—a view rooted in the picturesque images of buggies, beards, and bonnets. But there is much more to know about the Amish as a people, as we discovered after the Nickel Mines incident. The community's collective and radical act of forgiveness—the loving and compassionate response to the shooter and his family—gives us insights into who the Amish are and how they live their faith.
Amish Grace explores the many questions the story raises about the religious beliefs that led the Amish to forgive so quickly. In a world where religion spawns so much violence and vengeance, the surprising act of Amish forgiveness begs for deeper consideration.
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