ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - How he could forgive the man who murdered his mother in a racially charged mass shooting? That is a question often asked of Chris Singleton, a former baseball player and now inspirational speaker who was the keynote speaker in the 5th Annual Ethics & Values Series: “The Gospel Response to Racism in the 21st Century” at Louisiana College where he spoke via a livestream.
Singleton’s mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was among the nine murdered in Charleston, S.C. at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015.
“Now, one of the things I often speak about is forgiveness,” said Singleton. “And people say, ‘Chris, how could you forgive your mother’s killer after taking her life based on the color of her skin?’”
And he tells them, “How am I not to forgive when I am already forgiven?”
He found the perfect example of forgiveness in the Bible when Jesus Christ was being crucified.
“Jesus has the kindness and forgiveness in his heart to say, ‘Forgive them Father for they know not what they do’,” he said.
“I know for a fact that God was working in my heart at that time,” Singleton said, adding that if he would have been told back then when he was 18 that he was going to forgive the killer Dylann Roof, he would have said there there was no way in the world he would do that.
“But I know for a fact that when I said the words, ‘Love is stronger than hate’ in forgiving my mother’s killer that it was the Lord using me to show me the power of forgiveness,” said Singleton.
Singleton’s mission is also to spread unity because he believes that it is a mission of Jesus.
“The Bible says we should love our neighbor and I think that it’s so important for us to grasp that,” he said. That includes loving those with different opinions, different perspectives and different experiences.
“Those messages need to be shared,” he said. “Those stories need to be heard.”
Leading people to the Christianity no matter what they look like, is what feels Jesus want Christians to do.
The Bible, said Singleton, does not say love your neighbor if they have the same skin color as you, hair texture, first language or political views.
“There are so many different examples of what unity looks like in the Word and here’s one,” said Singleton. He read Psalm 133: 1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! and Malachi 2: 10 Are we not created by the same God? and John Chapter 13 verse 35: Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.
“I think it’s so important that we talk about that,” he said. “Our love for one another.”
Changing hearts is how perspectives are changed, said Singleton.
He gave an example of meeting a man at another speaking engagement who told him he used to be a racist.
“This is what he said to me, ‘I used to be racist like the man that took your mother away from you’,” said Singleton.
He then asked the man how he came to have feelings like that towards people who looked like him. The man said his grandfather, father and was an older cousin he looked up were racists so he in turn was racist.
What changed the man’s perspective towards Black people? He has a granddaughter who is not White.
At first, when he found out he was having a grandchild that was not White, he told Singleton he hated his daughter. He thought his daughter disrespected and humiliated him.
But when he held his non-White granddaughter for the first time, he never knew how much he could love somebody. And that experience changed him forever because he didn’t want others to have the preconceived biases about people who were like her.
He shared another story of a woman he called Grandma E. who told him about her two grandchildren. One was black and one was white. She taught them to refer to themselves as chocolate and vanilla because even though they were different on the outside, on the inside where it counts, they were both just as sweet.
Singleton thinks if his mother’s killer had a grandmother like Grandma E, then maybe his mother would still be alive to mark milestones in their lives together such as having her meet her grandson for the first time.
“There’s so many things I think about daily,” he said.
He also spoke of Tywanza Sanders, 26, a friend of his who was also killed in the church shooting. The day he was killed, he posted a quote from the legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson on his Instagram account: “One life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.”
Sanders died a hero, said Singleton, because even after being shot, he stood up to the killer and said, ‘You don’t have to do this. We mean you no harm. I mean you no harm.’ Sanders stood up to face the killer and in doing so, saved his mother’s life and the life of his 8-year-old cousin who were both hiding nearby. Sanders, said Singleton. gave himself up for them.
Singleton thinks that if the killer would have had someone like Grandma E. in his life, he wouldn’t have done what he did.
“He didn’t have someone to tell him that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ,” he said. “We can teach like Dr. King when he said you don’t judge somebody by the color of their skin but rather the content of their character.”
Singleton said he would go further and say you don’t judge someone for things in life that were simply not chosen such as the language they speak, place of birth, parents or financial status growing up.
“We didn’t choose so many of these things in life and so we should never judge somebody based on those things,” he said. “We didn’t choose them. It’s that simple.”
His message is simple, he said. All that he is asking is that people love and serve each other as the Bible says.
“If we do that, if we serve people I believe the mission of unity that was intended for us will come to fruition,” he said. “And we will say that no matter where we are politically, or no matter what happens in this country, we will always strive to be brothers and sisters in Christ that are bringing people together - not dividing people.”
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