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The Power of Forgiveness: A Conversation About the Emanuel Church Shooting


Father Dave discusses the power of forgiveness with Brian Ivie, Pastor Dimas Salaberrios, and Rose Simmons, all of whom were involved in the making of “Emanuel,” a documentary about the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

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Pastor Dimas, co-pastor of Infinity Bible Church in the Bronx, New York, and one of the producers of the film, immediately flew to South Carolina after the shooting four years ago and ministered to the Emanuel congregation. Father Dave asks him why riots didn’t break out in response to the shooting that left nine church members dead, as they did in Baltimore and Ferguson after violent acts targeted the African American communities there. Pastor Dimas responds that the perpetrator in the Charleston shooting picked the wrong place to start a race war: a church. He explains that Catholics used to wear red robes to signify that they would die for Christ, and the victims of the shooting metaphorically did the same thing. He believes that they’re now wearing white robes because they’re in a place of honor in heaven for their willingness to die for Christ.

“Emanuel” director Brian Ivie and Pastor Dimas both agree that this film has a message of forgiveness, and they hope to help people see forgiveness in a new way. Pastor Dimas states that one of the purposes of the film is to “turn the blood that was shed to start a war into the blood that’s gonna bring peace to our nation.” Father Dave points out that forgiveness is the most difficult thing Jesus asked us to do, so how exactly did survivors, congregants, and victims’ family members forgive the shooter?

RELATED: Why Is It so Hard to Forgive?

Rose Simmons, the daughter of Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., who was killed in the shooting, explains that she forgave the shooter for her own well-being. She didn’t want to live a life filled with hate and bitterness, so she chose to forgive, and that gave her freedom. She adds that forgiveness has been a journey for her and that “forgiveness does not deny justice,” but in the end, forgiveness is a privilege for her since Jesus was also able to forgive when he was dying on the Cross. Brian adds that forgiveness requires humility, especially when we ask for God’s forgiveness.

Pastor Dimas compares Charleston to the city of Jericho in the Bible, as people in both places used praise to save their cities. By promoting singing in the wake of the tragedy instead of violence, Pastor Dimas believes he performed God’s duty, and he encourages more people of faith to take up causes in the name of the Gospel. 

Watch the trailer for “Emanuel” here.

Originally published June 15, 2019.