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Maryland Episcopal Church leaders offer forgiveness and funeral services for homeless shooter of priest and assistant

Maryland Episcopal Church leaders offer forgiveness and funeral services for homeless shooter of priest and assistant

From the Huffington Post:

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is offering forgiveness and a funeral service for a homeless man who killed himself after fatally shooting a priest and church secretary last week.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and an academic expert on forgiveness likened the diocese’s attitude to that of an Amish community in Lancaster County, Pa., that forgave the man who fatally shot five school girls there in 2006.

“That is a painful, hard process,” Sutton told The Associated Press after last Thursday’s shooting. “But we learned something a few years ago, made manifest by the Amish community, when a gunman came into that school: Eventually, that community went to the family of that murderer and extended forgiveness.”

Church officials said Wednesday that the family of Douglas Franklin Jones hasn’t decided whether to accept offers from several parishes to hold a Christian burial service for the man police have deemed responsible for the bloodshed at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

The bishop said at Kohn’s funeral service Tuesday that Jones was a victim of the same societal attitudes toward handgun ownership and “throwaway people” that led to the violence in the church office.

Psychologist Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and author of “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Healing,” said it was unusual and “quite beautiful” for a wronged party to offer forgiveness so quickly. The most famous example, he said, was Indian civil rights leader Mohandas Gandhi, who appeared to make a gesture of forgiveness toward the assassin who shot him in 1948 even as Gandhi fell.

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I recently had the chance to hear Bishop Sutton preach on John 2, in which Jesus, having cleansed the Temple, is asked to provide a sign for having done so.

Bishop Sutton considered the ways we ask for signs from God, and how we respond when those signs show up. In consideration of the Temple incident, Bishop Sutton said that its cleansing was itself a sign. Thinking of how Fr. Richard Rohr has looked upon the passage, the bishop said, "The intense focus upon the maintenance of external religion is going to go." That Jesus says we are the temporary inhabitants of temporary buildings - that whatever is extrinsic eventually falls away - but that the intrinsic ("the temple of his body") is inherently good.

These attitudes are the sort of thing we need more of from our leaders. To ask God to show us what is lastingly good, and in response to offer the tangible beginnings of forgiveness - to be given an opportunity to publicly forgive in the midst of a terrible circumstance is both receiving and passing along a sign.

Also, importantly, to do it in a way that's immediate, even if only to start, even amid the possibility of grumbling, over and against the possibility of being misunderstood.

Torey Lightcap

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