Starred Review. “When a gunman killed five Amish children and injured five others last fall in a Nickel Mines, Pa., schoolhouse, media attention rapidly turned from the tragic events to the extraordinary forgiveness demonstrated by the Amish community. The authors, who teach at small colleges with Anabaptist roots and have published books on the Amish, were contacted repeatedly by the media after the shootings to interpret this subculture. In response to the questions why—and how—did they forgive? Kraybill and his colleagues present a compelling study of Amish grace. After describing the heartbreaking attack and its aftermath, the authors establish that forgiveness is embedded in Amish society through five centuries of Anabaptist tradition, and grounded in the firm belief that forgiveness is required by the New Testament. The community’s acts of forgiveness were not isolated decisions by saintly individuals but hard-won countercultural practices supported by all aspects of Amish life. Common objections to Amish forgiveness are addressed in a chapter entitled, What About Shunning? The authors carefully distinguish between forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation, as well as analyze the complexities of mainstream America’s response and the extent to which the Amish example can be applied elsewhere. This intelligent, compassionate and hopeful book is a welcome addition to the growing literature on forgiveness.”
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Starred Review. “The crime—shooting innocent schoolchildren in a one-room schoolhouse—was shockingly vicious. More shocking, virtually incredible, was where it happened, in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country, commonly associated with bucolic tranquility, not gun violence. This remarkable book explains, exceedingly well, Amish reaction to the horrific Nickel Mines shootings. The outside world was gravely taken aback by the Amish response of forgiveness. Some in the media criticized the Amish as naive and hypocritical (didn’t they shun members of their own community?), but most simply couldn’t understand the Amish concept of forgiveness as unmerited gift. How could they forgive humanly embodied evil? The authors, all authorities on Amish culture, emphasize that the Amish response reflected the sect’s heritage and deeply embedded faith. They distinguish forgiveness from pardon and reconciliation. Forgiveness relinquishes the right to vengeance, while pardon forfeits punishment altogether, and reconciliation restores the relationship of victim and offender or creates a new one. They discuss the shooting mercifully straightforwardly before exploring the broader perspectives of forgiveness and concluding with reflections on the meaning of forgiveness. At times difficult to read, this anguished and devastating account of a national tragedy and a hopeful, life-affirming lesson in how to live is itself a marvel of grace.”
— June Sawyers
Copyright © 2007 American Library Association. All rights reserved.
America, the national Catholic news weekly magazine (December 17, 2007)
On Oct. 2, 2006, the unthinkable occurred. Ten Amish girls were gunned down in a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
A community known for its gentleness, religious faithfulness and rejection of modern technological society had been severely violated. As astonishing as this story was, what followed captured the attention of the country even more. Within six hours of the shooting, Amish leaders reached out to family members of the killer, Charles Carl Roberts IV, and let them know that they forgave him.
Some skeptics thought the Amish to be too innocent to understand the realities of the world, where revenge is a commonly accepted response. Others thought the Amish too quick and maybe disingenuous in forgiving so soon. To forgive a murderer for this crime seemed beyond human, they thought.
The authors of Amish Grace, who are scholars of Amish life, culture and spirituality, compiled this book in a very short time to address such questions about why the Amish acted as they did. They divide the book into three parts. In the first part, they set the scene and tell the story of the shooting. Then they discuss Amish spirituality and answer questions that were raised about the authenticity of the community’s faith response. Finally, they reflect on the meaning of forgiveness for the Amish as a witness to non-Amish Americans.
To the Amish this act of forgiveness was not a surprise. It was as much a part of their spirituality as breathing. Their tradition of forgiveness is a heritage from their 300-year-old history, during which their ancestors, the Anabaptists, were persecuted and tortured by Catholic and Protestant religious authorities who objected to their belief in a second baptism. Those Anabaptist martyrs forgave their persecutors even as they were burning at the stake—and just as Jesus did during his crucifixion.
The Amish accept the limits of their humanity and recognize its capacity to commit evil or misguided deeds. Thus, a typical Amish attitude about forgiveness is that “we have to forgive others so that God will forgive us.”
— Olga Bonfiglio
© 2007 America Press Inc., New York, N.Y. 10019
Bill Moyers: “In a time of war and rumors of war, of violence and calls for vengeance — with so many people feeling helpless before unwelcome events — I want to recommend a book — one I could scarcely put down when I started it last weekend…” Read the transcript. View the video.
“Men and women, clergy and lay people, those who are Amish and those who are not, will find in this moving and informative book, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, inspiration and challenge for living in our fragile, terror-filled world… It is a remarkable book about good but imperfect people—the Amish—who individually and collectively consistently try to live Jesus’ example of love—for one another and for the enemy. I recommend it highly.”
— Dr. Carol Rittner, distinguished professor of holocaust and genocide studies, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
“Amish Grace is a casebook on forgiveness valuable for all Christians. It takes the October 2006 tragedy at Nickel Mines and mines it deeply. Not content with the abstract, the authors interview the Amish and then drill beneath the theory to their practice and even deeper to the instructions of Jesus.”
— Dr. Julia Upton, provost, St. John’s University
“Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy is one of those rare books that inspires deep personal reflection while recounting a moment in history, telling a sociological story, and exploring theological issues. In the fall of 2006, following the murders of Amish school children by a deranged gunman, how did the Amish manage to forgive the murderer and extend grace to his family so quickly and authentically? Making it clear that the answer involves no quick fix but an integrated, disciplined pattern of life—a pattern altogether upstream to the flow of American culture—the authors invite us to ask not just how to forgive but how we should live. In our era of mass violence and the derangement from which it comes, no question could be more timely.”
— Parker J. Palmer, author, A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach
“A beautiful testimony to the power and the joy of Amish grace—grace under fire, grace that wrenches something beautiful out of the jaws of tragedy. Amish Grace is also a challenge to the rest of us to more fully embody the teachings of Jesus.”
— William H. Willimon, Bishop, the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
“A story our polarized country needs to hear: It is still grace that saves.”
—Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television
“Amish Grace tells a story of forgiveness informed by deep faith, rooted in a rich history, and practiced in real life. In an American society that often resorts to revenge, it is a powerful example of the better way taught by Jesus. Anyone who seeks to practice faithful discipleship will be inspired by this book.”
— Jim Wallis, author, God’s Politics; president, Sojourners/Call to Renewal
“In a world where repaying evil with evil is almost second nature, the Amish response to their children’s killer reminded us there’s a better way. This book, in plain and beautiful prose, recounts the Amish witness and connects it to the heart of their spirituality: the deep and steady commitment to follow Jesus no matter the cost.”
— Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking
“Here is an inside look at a series of events that showed the world what Christ-like forgiveness is all about. It is a story of the love of God lived out in the face of tragedy.”
— Tony Campolo, Eastern University
“A kind of ‘anatomy of forgiveness,’ Amish Grace dissects the deep-rooted pattern of forgiveness and grace that, after the Nickel Mines tragedy, caused the world to gasp.”
— Philip Yancey, author, What’s So Amazing About Grace
“A scholarly and engaging look at the remarkable Amish forgiveness of the murders at Nickel Mines school. Covers the subject in a superb way. I felt I had a private tutorial in Amish culture and religion such that I understood their unique perspective on life and death and forgiveness.”
— Fred Luskin, author, Forgive for Good; director, Stanford Forgiveness Projects