Rohnert Park, Ca. 11/14/13 – On October 2, 2006, 32-year-old Charles Roberts entered the Lancaster County Bart Township with various weapons, plastic flex ties, and various materials to barricade the doors and windows of a small Amish School in the Township. He then shot and killed five of young students of the school and injured five others before committing suicide. The Amish — abiding by their religious teaching — chose to forgive the shooter, and although the Amish people struggled to speculate about what might have motivated the killer, they “harbored no hate for him seeing the event as ‘somehow part of God’s plan’” (Kasdorf, 2007)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7) Amish devotion to the teachings of Jesus and more specifically to this passage of The Beatitudes is none more apparent than in their capacity to forgive in this moment of great tragedy. Two days after the shooting the Amish community released a statement that they “believe that God allowed this to happen. The rest of us… will go on.” On that same day an Amish grandfather was seen telling some boys “We must not think evil of this man” (Kasdorf 2007). A hidden camera interview with the grandfather of two sisters killed by the gunman showed how truly forgiving these people can be. The grandfather was asked if he had any anger towards the gunman’s family but the grandfather replied that he had not for he has forgiven them in his heart through God’s help.
The Amish community attended the burial service of the shooter where they seen consoling the killer’s widow. They also donated money to the widow and her three young children. The shooters mother Terri Roberts in an interview with WGAL TV discusses in a heart-felt manner the forgiveness she has received from the Amish people of Lancaster County and how she has maintained a relationship with all of the families of the victims. She explains that to this day they visit her weekly and she and her husband have an amazing bond with the families. This bond has caused her to also forgive her son and realize God’s grace as she puts it.
Religion is important to the Amish people of Lancaster County. They have largely built their lives around the teachings of Jesus, exhibiting caution when considering the utility of modern technology and eschewing outsider beliefs in the maintenance of church and community: they have remained steadfast in their resistance to a modern worldview syncretism. “Growing secularization in the modern U.S. and the repetition of mass shootings is creating an increasing intolerance for such violence and a rise in the approval of corporal punishment in young adults” (Torres, lecture 11/12/13). What the example of Amish “jurisprudence” demonstrates is that redemption as a Christian worldview is now more or less an understanding fading with the past, the nostalgic Christianity of “before-times” (ibid).
by Brennan Shoup
Sonoma State University
Kasdorf, J. (2007). To Pasture: “Amish Forgiveness,” Silence, and the West Nickel Mines School Shooting. Cross Currents, 57(3), 328-347.
Heider, K. G., Blakely, P. A. R., & Blakely, T. D. (2007). Seeing anthropology: Cultural anthropology through film. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Matthew. Bible Gateway. N.p., 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.
Mother of Amish School Shooter Shares Message of Forgiveness. Perf. Terri Roberts. Wgaltv, 2013. Web. Youtube Video.