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The grisly, premeditated shooting of 10 Amish girls—five of them fatally—by Charles Carl Roberts at a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2 was shocking. The Amish response, however, was even more so.

The bloody incident ended with Roberts—who apparently intended to sexually assault the girls first—taking his own life when police stormed the building. Within hours, the Amish community publicly forgave this outsider and expressed loving concern for his widow and three children. Many of the mourners at Roberts' funeral were Amish.

"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need," the killer's widow, Marie Roberts, wrote the Amish later. "Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world."

In awe, most media observers, at least for a moment, dropped their prevailing storyline that religion is, at best, irrelevant to truly important matters and, at worst, dangerous. Bruce Kluger of USA Today noted, "For a change, what we saw was religion in its best light."

But not everyone was convinced. "[H]atred is not always wrong, and forgiveness is not always deserved," wrote Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, who is a Jew. "I admire the Amish villagers' resolve to live up to their Christian ideals even amid heartbreak, but how many of us would really want to live in a society in which no one gets angry when children are slaughtered? In which even the most horrific acts of cruelty were always and instantly forgiven?"

Jacoby's complaint stings my comfortable religiosity like a slap in the face. When Ted Haggard's duplicity and unfaithfulness were revealed by a homosexual prostitute, I'll confess my first impulse was ...

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The Scandal of Forgiveness
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January 2007

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