Healing Words

Husband of Charleston Shooting Victim Brings Message of Forgiveness to Sarasota

Rev. Anthony Thompson's wife Myra was one of the people killed in the racially motivated Mother Emanuel AME shooting in 2015.

By Yasi Bahmanabadi October 10, 2022

Anthony Thompson

June 17, 2015, started as just another fine summer day in Charleston, South Carolina, for pastor Anthony Thompson and his family, before their life was shaken to the core. That day, Thompson and his wife, Myra, split up to visit two different churches. Myra joined a group that was holding a Bible study session at Mother Emanuel AME church, where the white supremacist gunman Dylann Roof shot and killed her and eight other African Americans.

Thompson, who spoke about his life and experience last week at Sarasota's Church of the Redeeemer, was broken with grief and anger after losing his wife. He says he was “stumbling on his faith," did not want to do anything with Lord and decided not to show up to preach on the following Sunday. He says he kept hearing God's voice calling on him to “get up” and mentioning the opening verses of the 17th chapter of Luke, but the reverend did not want to listen to anything at that moment.

Forty-eight hours later, when he was sitting in his study and turning the Bible’s pages looking for the verse, his eyes hit upon the passage, a verse of forgiveness: "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." He was still sitting and reading those words when his daughter told him that Roof had been captured and that he needed to attend Roof's bond hearing.

Thompson reluctantly went to the courthouse, a place he had visited many times over the previous 27 years as a probation parole agent. He sat down silently and did not want to speak when called to do so, but, he says, God was pushing him to the podium. In a moment that felt like hours for him, the voice of the Lord filled his head: “You are a sinner, too. I die for you, and I die for Dylann."

So Thompson addressed Roof. “Son, I forgive you, and my family forgives you," he said. "You are in deep trouble, but if you take this opportunity to repent and change your heart, you are going to be all right.”

Thompson was trembling as he walked away from the podium, but he says he had already changed and become a different person.

“When I forgave Dylann, all my sadness went away," says Thompson. "I felt a peace I have never felt before in my life. I felt like I could fly in that room."

The cover of Anthony Thompson's Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim's Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace.

Thompson wanted other people to experience what he experienced after forgiving Roof, and began spreading a message of forgiveness. Two months after the tragedy, he began writing a book about his experience that was published in 2019 and titled Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim's Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace.

“When I was writing the book, I didn’t have a second thought about forgiving him, and I remembered how my parents and grandparents had exemplified forgiveness before," says Thompson. "The Lord had been preparing me for this moment since I was a kid. You might say forgiveness is not all it takes to heal, but it is all it takes."

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