Written by W. Evan Golder
I remember when one of our sons, then a teenager, was mugged on the sidewalk after school. I'll never forget how angry I felt afterward in the emergency room as the doctor stitched his ear, torn when the thugs snatched his Walkman from his head.
I had already gotten mad. I wanted to get even.
That's why I'm all the more amazed—and chastened and inspired—when I hear stories told by members of the group "Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation."
It happened again last month at the anti-death penalty conference in San Francisco, when a woman seated near me stood up.
"Some people think executions are for the benefit of murder victims' families," she said, "that killing the murderer will bring closure to them. That is absolutely wrong! It keeps the wound open. If you spend years of your life waiting to see a person killed, what kind of a person do you turn into? Certainly not the person you were before."
Who is this woman? I wondered.
After the session I met her: Carol Duncanson from Santa Ana, Calif. At age 82 her mother had been raped, beaten, strangled and stabbed to death.
"Of course I was angry," she said. "But then I thought, all parents want their children to be happy—and I knew that's what my mother wants for me. She was always cheerful and positive, seeing and seeking good in everything. That's who she taught me to be."
Our meeting room was lined with photos and statements of murder victims family members, taken from a book, "Not in Our Name." Walking around, I learned about some of these people.
Bud Welch's daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and he raged for revenge. "I could have killed Timothy McVeigh myself," he said. Finally he visited McVeigh's father and saw that man's love for his son. "I was able to tell him that I truly understood the pain that he was going through," he said, "and that he—as I—was a victim of what happened in Oklahoma City."
Sadie Bankston of Omaha, Neb., was ostracized by her family and friends for forgiving the 19- year-old murderer of her 16-year-old son. They even questioned her love for her son. "God calls us to forgive," she said.
The Rev. Walter Everett's son, Scott, was shot and killed by a man named Mike. Edwards, from Hartford, Conn., was bewildered and angry over the senselessness of one human being killing another. Trusting in God, he finally offered his son's killer forgiveness and testified on his behalf before a parole board. Seven years after his son's death, Everett officiated at Mike's wedding.
These persons gave incredible gifts to strangers who killed their loved ones, gifts of forgiveness, gifts of life. Through their stories they also give us gifts, gifts of hope and the possibility of discovering within ourselves the best that God created us to be.
To obtain a copy of "Not in Our Name," stories and photos of 51 family members of murder victims who speak out against the death penalty, send $10 to MVFM, 2161 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140.
The Rev. W. Evan Golder is editor of the national edition of United Church News.