PUBLISHED: Friday, June 7, 2019 by Brad Lyons

It’s tricky for any publisher, let alone a Christian publisher, to take on the political issue of guns. Forgiveness, on the other hand, seems like a no-brainer. Those two concepts meet in For Such a Time as This: Hope and Forgiveness after the Charleston Massacre  by Sharon Risher with Sherri Wood Emmons, available now from Chalice Press and wherever you buy books.

No doubt you’re aware of the long, long, long list of mass shootings plaguing America. In 2019 alone we’ve had:

  • the Virginia Beach municipal center
  • the Highland Ranch, Colorado, STEP school
  • the University of North Carolina-Charlotte
  • the Poway Synagogue
  • the Aurora, Illinois, workplace shooting
  • the Louisiana spree
  • the Sebring, Florida, bank shootings

Leaving 33 dead and 26 injured. I’ll admit I didn’t know about one of those events, in part because there are so many mass shootings that they blur together.[1]

In my mind’s litany of mass shootings, 2015’s Charleston massacre was especially awful in its cruelty and distressing in my memory. It took place in a historic church, following Bible study, and was followed by a multi-state manhunt that ended up in the capture of a white supremacist who confessed to killing the nine victims. The nationally covered memorial service, in which President Barack Obama delivered an inspirational address to the community and the nation, added to the spotlight. Bree Newsome’s daring removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds added a heroic element to the story. Charleston stood out from the crowd – a tragic distinction, to be sure.

So when I was introduced to Sharon by Michael W. Waters, a Chalice author who had crossed paths with Sharon on the social justice trail, I was immediately spellbound by her transformation – from a chaplain working at a hospital best known as the place where John F. Kennedy died after being shot to a nationally recognized speaker calling for sanity on gun laws. I knew from my very first conversation with Sharon that she had the courage to preach the uncomfortable truth about guns and violence and the cult of hoplophilia [2] that has emerged in recent years.

The next step would be pairing Sharon with a veteran writer who could ask Sharon the right questions, craft a compelling narrative, and document the story accurately. Author and journalist Sherri Woods Emmons immediately came to mind; Sherri had helped Franklyn Schaefer write his book, Defrocked a few years earlier, and we knew Sherri was more than up to the task. The two of them clicked, and the manuscript began to take shape. (Waters' brings his prophetic voice to the foreword.)

Sharon RisherSince the manuscript for  For Such a Time as This arrived, Sharon has continued to make the rounds, speaking at the March for Our Lives rally, making television appearances, hitting the college speaking tour, and more. Each time I see Sharon post another appearance, I’m amazed at how she has transformed what was a crushing loss into a resurrection-like mission to make our world a safer place.

At the heart of the story, though, is forgiveness. There are, to be sure, many interpretations of what it means to forgive. Sharon shares how she continues to wrestle with forgiveness – of the shooter, of her sister, of herself. Forgiveness is not an easy task even on our best days, and Sharon has some mighty challenging forgiveness on her plate. But she acknowledges that God calls to forgive. To forgive is holy. And if we are to be godly people, forgiveness is perhaps the ultimate assignment.

You may disagree with Sharon’s politics, and that’s your right. But reading  For Such a Time as This can also help you think about how you forgive and who in your life needs your forgiveness. Order For Such a Time as This here.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States

[2] A semi-real word combining the Greek hoplon, meaning "arms," and phobos, meaning "fear." Here's a bit about the word's origin. I would suggest avoiding Googling it; it's a pretty depressing chore.