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Watch 2022 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Conversation with Anthony B. Thompson

John Bradshaw - Conversation with Anthony B. Thompson

John Bradshaw - Conversation with Anthony B. Thompson
TOPICS: Conversations, Forgiveness

In June of 2015, Pastor Anthony Thompson's world was turned upside down. Tragedy struck. But he has allowed God to take that tragedy and use it to touch lives all over the world for good. This is our conversation.

John Bradshaw: Pastor Thompson, thanks for joining me. I appreciate it very much.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, thank you for being here to do this, I appreciate it.

John Bradshaw: I wonder if you'd take me back to June of 2015. Walk me back through the events that took place on June 17 and leading up to that time.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, on June the 17th, 2015, prior to the Bible study for that night, um, Myra was just at home trying to get the Bible study lesson together. She had everything spread over the dining room table. She's a perfectionist; she wanted to get 100 percent, and...I told her, "You can get 99 but not 100". She wanted me to help her. Of course, I was done. I was like, "I've had enough of this". And, uh, but something unusual was going on that morning because, uh, she had this glow about her, and I, I found out later on what it was, but at the time I didn't understand. It, uh, she'd move around our house; it was not like she was walking; it was like she was actually floating. And she had this overwhelming smile and, and joy. She was just overwhelmed with joy. I couldn't understand. I knew I didn't make her feel that way. And I wanted to ask her, but then I said, "I'll wait until she returns from Bible study". Because I, I wanted her to keep that moment, you know; it was just a beautiful moment. Um, then all of a sudden, she was ready to go. And we never leave the house without saying, hugging each other at the door, kissing, "Love you, goodbye". Well, it never happened that day. Um, for some reason, she got to the door, and I just couldn't get there, and I, I could hear her say, "Honey, come on, I'm getting ready to go. Come on now, you know I, I can't leave the house until you come to the door". But I just couldn't get to the door. And, um, she's walking to the car. I can hear her outside saying, "Okay, I'm to the car. Have to meet me to the car". Next thing I know, she's talking to somebody on the phone. I found out later on she was talking to our daughter, who was in Charlotte at the time. But I didn't know that then. And, um, well, that's the last time I saw her. Never had a chance to say goodbye.

John Bradshaw: How did you find out about what had happened at Mother Emmanuel Church that night? How did you find out?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, I was here, because we had Vacation Bible School for the first night. As a matter of fact, she's the one who, who, who told me to come. Because I wanted to be at the Bible study, her first Bible study, and we always support each other, but for some reason that night, she kept telling me she didn't want me to go. She didn't want me to be there. She said, "You go to your church". She said, "Because it's going to be the first night, and the ladies may have a lot of drama going on". And I, and I said, "Really"? And so that got me to come here.

John Bradshaw: So you may well have been at the church that night?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, I wanted to be there. I, my intentions were to be there. And for some reason I told her I was coming, and I don't even know why I told her because normally she would expect me to be there. So I wouldn't have to say I'm coming, but I, I just blurted it out. And she said, "No, I don't want you to come". And we went back and forth like for about five minutes with, "I'm coming". "No, you're not coming". "I'm coming". "No, you're not coming". Uh, so, I didn't understand it at that time. Of course, afterwards, I understood it very well. And so that's what brought me here. And for some reason I couldn't get away from here to get to the Bible study that night, and so, upon leaving here, I went home, thinking she would be there before me, because normally on Wednesday she will get home before I do. But she wasn't there. Um, I remember her saying she wanted a certain kind of food, so I, I ran out to get that to make sure I have it when she gets home. And I'm, I'm thinking she would get home; she would be there by the time I get back. She still wasn't there, so I thought something's unusual. Then I receive a phone call. One of the members of Emmanuel Church called and said, uh...well, first she called, and she says she wants to speak to Myra. I said, "Well, she's not here". She said, "Well, she has to be home. We just had a meeting. I left the meeting. She left the meeting, so should be home". I said, "Well, no, they have Bible study". She said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot they have Bible study that night". So, Myra left the meeting, went to Bible study. And so she told me to hold on the phone because somebody else was ringing her. She came back to the phone, said, "Reverend Thompson, you need to go to the church". I said, "Well, I just left my church". She said, "No. Emmanuel". She said, "A shooting is going on around the church". And I just dropped everything, ran out of the door. I mean, I don't remember locking my door. Got in my car, headed down to Emmanuel. Got there like one of the first responders, because we're like five minutes away from Emmanuel. And I ran into a police officer, had the street blocked. By the time he and I exchanged conversation about what was going on, he told me that they took everybody out of the church, took them to the hotel, which was adjacent to Emmanuel, right across the street. So I'm thinking everything's okay. So I take another street, jump out of the car, and I'm running down Meeting Street, which is where I'm at now. I'm, I'm just maybe a minute from the church. I'm passing this service station, and I see nine ambulances strategically parked... no lights, nobody's sitting inside. I'm thinking, He didn't tell me everything. Because, you know, I was a, I was a retired agent for 27 years, been in situations like that, so I knew something else was, something else was wrong. Anyway, I proceeded to the hotel, got there; I'm trying to find out where, where everybody is. I got to a room, opened the door, and I saw it was Polly Sheppard, who was one of the survivors. She had her head laying down, and she, she was just...upset. I mean, crying and just... Then I look to my left, and I saw Sister Felicia Sanders and her granddaughter. There were two other, two other survivors, and they didn't see me. I mean, they're just crying and consoling each other. And so I'm trying to figure out where's my wife. And where's everybody else? And on my way out of the door, Felicia Sanders turned around and looked at me. She said, "Anthony, Myra's gone". I'm like, "Okay. I'll wait till she gets back". She said, "No, no, no. She's gone". I said, "I told you I'll wait till she gets back". She said, "No, Anthony, she's not here anymore. She's gone". And I'm like, "No way. No way".

John Bradshaw: Tell me what goes through your mind. "No way"...what, how, how do you feel? How do you react? Tell me about the flood of emotions you experience.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, I just started getting scared. You know, because I'm like.. "There's just no way she could be gone". Mm-mm. So I run out of the door, and I get outside the hotel. I'm, I'm laying down on the hotel's, um, flowerbed, and I'm looking at the church, trying to figure out how to get over there. By that time there's, it's just surrounded by first responders, FBI, DEA, SLED, everybody. And something says, "Just get up and run". And I got up, and I ran. Uh, and I got by everybody. I don't know how it happened. I got past everybody. And I got to the gate, and I'm like, "I'm almost there," because the gate I was going to was a side door to the Emmanuel Church, where police officers coming back and forth... And I was trying to get to that door. As soon as I opened the gate, before I can even get inside the gate, somebody snatched me back. And, um, I found out later on it was a FBI agent. But we tussled for a while because I was trying to get... uh, I was like, "I need to get in there". And he's like, "You can't go," and I said, "Well, I'm going". I said, "You need to get out of my way". So it took five people to hold me down. Five people came, and they held me down. So I asked a lot of questions about what's going on. No answers. And I'm thinking, you know what... and then, then my, my experience is kicking in. I'm like, Okay, I'm asking the wrong questions. I said, "Well, is anybody in there who was in Bible study"? They said, "Oh, yeah". I said, "Well, if they're in there, why can't they come out"? And he said, "Well, I can't tell you that". Everything was "I can't tell you". So I figured out by then either she's dead, or she was in there suffering. But die? [exhales raggedly] [groans] I just couldn't take it. You know, I lost control right away. And I fell down on the ground, right on the pavement, kind of on the street, and I just wallowed, crying, you know, saying, "I don't know what to do". Because she's gone. [crying] You know, "I don't know". [exhales] You know... you know, it, it was over. I just knew...I had no more purpose in life. And this is what I'm thinking. And when I'm on the ground, I hear this voice say, "Get up". A very harsh voice. So I'm looking up to see if it was one of the first responders. I'm trying to figure out why, why they're being so harsh with me. Then I heard a voice again say, "Get up". And I didn't see anybody. Third time it said, "Get up". I said, "You know what, this is, this is, this is the Lord. God, God, what do you want"? And I'm like, "Well, why You, you know, why You so harsh? You know, You just tell me, 'Get up.'" No "This is the Lord...fear not". Nothing like that. Just "Get up". And so I got up. I'm like, "I don't even want to hear what You have to say," you know. And He's reminding me, He's telling me, "Well, remember what you tell your congregation? Almost every Sunday, you tell your congregation, if, if something happened to one of their peers"... and she could relate to this... "and what if something happened to one of your people, you know, if, if you lose a wife or a husband, a son, or a daughter, they die unexpectedly, and you cherish them more than you cherish God, what are you going to do"?

John Bradshaw: This was happening in your mind right then and there?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: This was still fresh and raw.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Oh, yeah. I mean, He's taunting me like, and I'm like, "Why? You know, why are You bothering me at a time like this? I, I don't even want to hear what You got to say," you know. But He's coming on strong. And so, next thing I know, He's, He's giving me scripture. You know, "Yeah, this is what I want you to preach Sunday". I'm not even thinking about Sunday, you know. St. Luke, 17th chapter, I'll never forget it. I came here that Sunday, and I preached it, but, you know, I, I didn't, of course, I didn't know what it was right away. Afterwards, I went home and read it. And it says, uh, things will happen in life to cause you to stumble, and, but woe to those who, who, who cause one of my little ones to stumble. Um, they'd rather have a millstone tied around their neck and thrown into the sea than to bother one of my little ones. And I'm like, "What, what's that got to do with me"? [scoffs] Really? "And this is what You want me to preach? Okay". But then further on it says, "Forgive". It says, forgive those who do you wrong. Then it goes on to say, then if they, if they offend you 70 times in a day and 70 times come back and repent and say, "I'm sorry," you have to forgive them. I'm like, "Forgive who"? because at that time, uh, we didn't, we didn't know who it was, you know...Dylann, not anybody... and I wasn't thinking about him, so I'm trying to figure out why, what is this scripture all about. Well, anyway, 48 hours after that, after that night, we have a bond hearing, and I'm at home in my pajamas, and my daughter comes to me, says, "Well, Father, you know they're having a bond hearing, and, and we need to go". I'm like, "I'm not going to no bond hearing. For what"? You know. I was an agent for 27 years, like I said. I've taken a lot of people to bond hearings. My understanding, you go to a bond hearing; they set a bond; you determine whether the person's going to get out of jail or stay in jail; they go back to their cell. I didn't find it to be very important. So I'm like, "I'm not going". And so my daughter came, and she said, "Well...I understand, Father. You don't go; we won't go". And that's what got me up. Because I felt like I was being selfish. I said, "Okay, we're going". I said, "We're not going to say one word". And I was very adamant about that. I said, "When we get there, we're going to be there for a few minutes. Keep your mouth closed," because this had never happened to us before. "Whatever you say... you're going to hear it again". And so, we went. We got to the bond hearing. I'm sitting down, huh, I'm looking at my watch, and I'm looking at them, make sure they keep their mouths closed. And the first voice you hear is Nadine, who was, um, uh, whose mother was Ethel Lance, was one of the persons killed. And she's telling Dylann, "Lord, have mercy on your soul, and I forgive you". And so I look at my children, and I said, "When she gets through, we're leaving". And they look at me and said, "Okay". And so I said, "As soon as she sit down, we're getting up". And Nadine went and sat down, and we were getting up, and the magistrate came out and said, "Is there anyone here in Myra Thompson, Myra Thompson family who wants to speak"? And I look at my kids, and I say, "Shut up. Don't say anything". He said, "Is anyone here"? He asks us again. Before I knew it, that same voice say, "Get up". I'm like, "Not again". So I got up. You know, the thing about that voice is, you know, I recognized that voice that night and again because I know that voice. If you have a relation with the Lord, you know when He's talking to you. He...and, and the first time I ever heard His voice was when I was 7 years old, and He told me I was going to be a preacher. I told Him no. I'm like, "Lord, not me". Anyway, He won that battle. And so, I knew it was Him. And I got up, and I walked to the podium. I'm saying, "Okay, You better come on because I don't have anything to say. If You got something to say, You better tell me, because don't embarrass me up here like this. I don't have anything to say". The next thing I know, He's saying, "I want you to get a good look at Dylann. I want you to get his attention". I'm like, Really? How's that going to happen? He's behind a screen. You know, so I'm like, This is ridiculous. The next thing I know, I'm saying, "Son, I forgive you. My family forgives you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Confess. Repent. Give your life to the One that means the most: Christ". And when I said, "Christ," he lifted his head, and he glanced at me, and I'm like, Oh, my God, he heard this; he heard it. God knew what He was talking about. Then I went on to say, "If you do that... you're in a lot of trouble right now... going to change your ways, going to change your attitude. And if you do that, no matter what you're going through, no matter what's going to happen to you, you're going to be all right". And I'm on the way to my seat, and I'm on my way to my seat... I just, I began, I started shaking, and I asked my children, "Did you see me shaking"? And they said, "No, you weren't". I said, "Yes, I was". But then when I thought, when I...thought about it, it, looking at the room, was like only Dylann and I were the only two in the room. Didn't see anybody else...while I was going through this. And the next thing I knew, I just, my body just started shaking and felt like things were leaving me. And from, from my shoulders on down to my hands, the next thing I know, I'm, I'm light as a feather. And I feel this peace like no other. And I'm, I'm like, What just happened? But I'm just so peaceful, you know. I mean, He took it all; He freed me. God freed me from the anger and the hate. He freed me from the sorrow, even the sadness I was feeling about my wife; He just took it all away. And I experienced a peace, that peace that surpasses all understanding. Uh, that's what I experienced. Now, I've preached that; my members can say I preached that sermon I don't know how many times, and I thought I was telling them how to get that peace, that we had it, and I had it. We didn't have it. Because I felt it that day.

John Bradshaw: And now you do?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Now I do.

John Bradshaw: Nine people were shot dead.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: In cold blood.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Cold blood.

John Bradshaw: They'd gone to church to study the Bible.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: This is the last place you expect a crime like this to happen.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: And adding a complicating layer to it, this was a hate crime. This was a white man going into a black church for the purpose of fomenting hate and causing trouble.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes.

John Bradshaw: How did that fact, that additional complicating factor play on you? This is South Carolina. There's no shortage of racial tension from time to time... or maybe any time... and this was done purposely to stir up racial hatred.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: So as a black man whose black wife was shot by a white man intentionally...

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes.

John Bradshaw: ...tell me how that played on you, played with your mind, got at your heart. How did...and, and, and was that an extra difficulty to overcome, or in the final analysis did it make no difference?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, to be honest with you, I never thought about that. You know, Dylann was the farthest thing from my mind, you know. All I could think about was my wife, you know. How did it, you know, just, just what was she going through? You know, why, why, why wasn't I there? So, Dylann never once came to my mind, and, and once I forgave him, that peace I had... I didn't question anything.

John Bradshaw: A murder happens. Nine people are left dead, Countless families are upended and thrown into confusion and a haze that most of us could never imagine. And here's a man whose almost first impulse is to forgive. We must find out more, and we will, as my conversation with Pastor Anthony Thompson continues in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Thanks for joining me. This is Conversations, brought to you by It Is Written. My very special guest is Pastor Anthony Thompson. In June of 2015, received the very shocking news that his wife Myra was among nine individuals who lost their lives in a very tragic shooting here in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. But you're much more than a victim. You're much more than somebody. Your story goes way beyond that. You're a church pastor. You mentioned already 27 years as an agent.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Tell me a little more about yourself, your background, and, and your history. You served your country, for example.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes, I did. Well, I was brought up in a Christian home. My mom and dad, strict about us going to church, Sunday school. So I was involved with Sunday school and being in the pulpit, being the lay readers, and doing everything possibly that you possibly can do in the church before I even became a pastor, so I guess it was like God's plan already. I was heading that direction. However, I ran from it. And that's when I pursued other avenues. You know, went to college, and after college, thinking I was going to be a school teacher, and I did an intern at a school, some high school students, where I thought, Maybe this is not for me.

John Bradshaw: That changed your mind?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: That changed my mind. And then I took, uh, what I call a left turn, and I became a lia...a court officer. You know, helping people who had drug problems, trying to, um, give them an alternative to going to jail and be in our program. Then from that I became a probation agent, you know, for the state of South Carolina, which you, which you heard. I retired after 27 years. But during the course of all of this, I mentored children, from one years of age to 21 years of age, for 40 more years, still doing it right now, specially those who were physically, sexually abused. Yeah, really, really targeted, targeted them.

John Bradshaw: So yours has been a life of service?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: A lot of service.

John Bradshaw: Helping troubled people?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes. Always.

John Bradshaw: Uh, you made a very interesting decision to forgive. Why do you think it was important for you to forgive? I'm going to ask you in a moment why it's important for others to forgive. The answers will be related but maybe not quite the same. Why was it important for you to extend forgiveness?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, at the time, I didn't have no idea that I should or I should not forgive, you know. It just wasn't, my mind wasn't there. Um, be honest with you, it was just God's divine intervention. You know, He just came in, put me in a place where I didn't want to be. Had me doing something that I really had no idea what I was doing. And then, when I did it, that's when I discovered... that forgiveness was for me.

John Bradshaw: What did forgiveness do for you?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: It gave me a peace. You know, it, it, it enabled me to move forward in my life because prior to that, I'd already given up. You know, I, I said, "This is it. I don't know what to do. I have no more purpose". And, and I was really going through like, well, what I'm going to do, because I, I had already...had in my mind everything I did was for her, so now she's gone; you know, my job is over. Not that I thought about taking my life or anything, but, you know, I just thought I was done, and then here God steps in and put me in a place I don't want to be, have me to say something I had no idea I was going to say, or what it's going to do to me. And then when I received that peace, then He gave me new purpose.

John Bradshaw: Tell me about that peace. Explain that to me.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, it's, it's a little hard to describe. It's like...for once... you know, when I was wallowing down on the ground on Calhoun Street on that pavement and crying uncontrollably, when I got up, when I got to that bond hearing, I was no longer in control; I was no longer out of control; God had taken control. That's the kind of peace I'm talking about. Peace of knowing that, you know what, Myra's gone, but God promised that she would be with Him, and she would see Him face to face. know, your peace of knowing that... you know, He gave me new purpose, because He, because what I didn't tell you is when I received that peace, immediately after that, He came at me again, and He said, "Okay, you got a new mission, and that is to spread the gospel of forgiveness". So He gave me new purpose, you know, so, that's what that peace entails: new purpose, God being in control of my life, and me being able to move forward.

John Bradshaw: This is such an important subject because everybody has forgiveness issues... parents, teacher, employer, spouse, children, neighbor, colleague, mailman... everybody. Everybody has forgiveness issues somewhere.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: Tell me why, from your point of view, and certainly from a biblical point of view... you're a man of the Bible... tell me why forgiveness is just so important?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: It is very important, because, uh, the world interpret forgiveness as letting the person off the hook.

John Bradshaw: Right. But forgiveness is not letting a person off the hook.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: It's not. It's letting you yourself off the hook. Because the forgiveness is for the one who had been offended, not for the, the one who offended you, you know. It, it's, it's to grant you peace, you know. It's to give you the satisfaction that you are looking for sometimes with other means, through hate or anger or revenge, because that's the natural inclination of most people, you know, "I'm going to get this person back". "I'm just going to be angry; I'm going to be mad". But then, this person doesn't know you're mad or angry. Neither do they have an idea that you're going to take revenge, so they're going on with their life... like Dylann, Dylann has no remorse. You see? So, so forgiveness was not for him; it was for me, so that he can be... so that I can be released from Dylann's control. You see, his purpose was to start a race war and have control, you know, to guide us in a certain direction, a violent direction, uh, a direction that Satan himself would want us to go into. But then that forgiveness released me from that. And it released our family, our church, and released our community from that.

John Bradshaw: That's a very interesting point, too, because many people were expecting that once nine people had been shot in a historic church by someone bent on hate, people believed, some people believed that Charleston could have just descended into an absolute mess. There could have been rioting and violence and anger and demonstrations, but none of that happened. So speak to me about the connection between the forgiveness demonstrated and how that impacted not just you but, as you mentioned a moment ago, the community.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Okay. Well, first of all, like you said, the community did not expect that. The community did expect us to start a race war. Like Dylann wanted. They expected us to burn down the city, find a white person, beat him to death, or whatever. But forgiveness, the act of forgiveness, conquered all of that. You know, when you think about what Isaiah said concerning Jesus dying on the cross, he said, "By His stripes we are healed". That was 500 years before it actually happened. Five hundred years later, here come Jesus dying on the cross and saying, "Father, forgive them," for, for what we did to Him. You understand what I'm saying? "For they know not what they do". And the whole world was healed that day, just like Isaiah said: "By His stripes we are healed". And so, that's what forgiveness does, and that's why the city and everybody reacted the way they did, because of God's divine intervention. Forgiveness, the act of forgiveness just bring God in, bring Him in. And He changes people's hearts, and He changes people's attitudes, and that's what happened in the city of Charleston, because everybody just came together.

John Bradshaw: When you say people came together, tell me what, what that looked like.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: I mean, it affected everybody. Everybody was, was in tears. And they're hugging each other, consoling each other, encouraging each other, wanted to do something to make somebody's life better. Not necessarily the, the lovers of the victims, but any and everybody. It didn't matter; whoever they came in contact with that day, they wanted to make your life better, you know. We had 15,000 or more people stretching hands across from Emmanuel Church, across the 2 1/2 mile bridge, all the way to Mount Pleasant, praising the Lord, you know, and, you know, having a good time trying to find out what can we do, what we would do different. Now, you think about Charleston, South Carolina, back...okay, being the city where slaves came, I mean, it was, slavery was prevalent, you know. Two-thirds, two-thirds of the slaves came here. And then, after slavery, you know, we, we're relinquished to a, to a minimum... put it like that. Then you, we have a city like this that's very hospitable, but then you have the undertone of racism.

John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Okay? And, but that day... it began to get lesser and lesser and lesser. For some reason, people began to just want to turn a new leaf. People began to understand what happened back then, what could have happened after the tragedy, and it didn't happen, you know. And, and I think people just started feeling shame and guilt, you know, and at the same time, you know, just a love for each other. I, I preached at a church, um, a, a predominantly white church in Mount Pleasant, and it was about, you know, the light of the world, and it had to do about forgiveness in the end. And a white lady about my age stood up, and she said, "Reverend Thompson, I used to be a racist". I'm like, Okay. We need, we need to clear this air. You know, what else is coming? She said, "But I repented of racism when I heard about you and the families, other family members, forgiving Dylann". She said, "Because I realized that, you know, God is real, and I realized I was wrong". You know. And I, she, she didn't want to be labeled with, with, um, with what, um, Dylann, with his intentions of starting a race war. And she had her two boys there, she said, because she wanted them to be here for this occasion to hear what she had to say. And she talked about how she learned racism and how when she got older, she found out it was still wrong, but peer pressure and status and all this other stuff... but just the act of forgiveness alone, it brought her to repent. And after she got through, one by one, people, white, male, female, start standing up. Same story, you know. So that's what forgiveness does.

John Bradshaw: If you had stood up at that hearing and said, "I hate you, and you and your people are going to pay"...

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: ...if you'd taken the bait...

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: ...what might have happened?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: It could have been really bad. Because you have people here. You have the Black Panther Party. You have Black Lives Matter. You had everybody who wanted to rebel, who wanted to start a march, who wanted to do something to instigate some kind of violence in the city of Charleston, and we told them, "We don't need you here". So it could have been, yeah, it could have went the other way. But like I said, that forgiveness, again, kicked in, and we told them, "We don't need you here". And they left. You, you hear in the documentary one of the, one of the guys said, "You know what, we came here to rally, to rebel, to get things going, to do something about this". He said, "But, that act of forgiveness," he said, "it's over".

John Bradshaw: Power of forgiveness.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, it was over.

John Bradshaw: Let me ask you a question. So, so we...racism is as old as the United States, older, you know, older, but in, in this country it's as old as, as the country is. Uh, it seems to me that if you have two peas here and two beans there, then they're going to find some reason to, to, to not get along.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, yeah.

John Bradshaw: This is probably a question that would take a lifetime to answer, but from your perspective, if we're going to really experience healing from racism, what's it going to take? How do we get there?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, that's what we're doing here in Charleston right now. Okay, the first thing we did: We started reaching across denominational barriers, cultural barriers. The church started. That's where it's supposed to start: in the church. And now the church is taking responsibility in the city of Charleston. And we're, you know, like my church, for example, we're, we're associating with some of the biggest predominantly white churches in the Charleston area; we're exchanging pulpits. Every Lent season our congregations exchange churches, you know, Bible study, you know, everything. You know, trying to find out, you know, who are you? You know, you're, you're more than just white, and we're more than just black. We want to find out, you know, just who are you, Bob? Who are you? You understand what I'm saying? That's what we're doing. The mayor mandated a resolution recognizing, acknowledging, and apologizing for the part that Charleston took in slavery. I mean...

John Bradshaw: A very major part.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes, a very major part. They did that on the anniversary date of the tragedy, just this, this last year, okay? Um, the mayor just started a new department in his office, for the first time anywhere in the United States of America, called the Office of the Department of Racial Reconciliation. Just hired a new director for that position just last week. So those are the kind of things we're doing. Those are the changes being made in Charleston. We're now, we, we're talking about slavery. I mean, we're talking about racism, you know. We've had, we have forums, I don't how many forums a year, talking about racial reconciliation. The mayor formed a team of a, called an advisory council, of pastors, over 300 pastors, and the focus is on racial reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

John Bradshaw: I want to talk to you for a moment, and this is, this is going to take us... we'll talk up to the break and then beyond the break... but as a man of the book, as a man of the cloth, talk to me about, from your perspective, forgiveness from a biblical point of view.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Forgiveness from a biblical point of view is that, first of all, it's a command, you know. You said it; God commands us to forgive, you know. And, and with that He says, "Love one another as you love yourself," you know. And, and, and it, it says, you know, "Forgive those who trespass against you," you know. And, "If you want me to forgive you, then you have to forgive those who trespass against you". So, so, biblically, forgiveness is when you truly, sincerely from your heart forgive somebody, and once you've done that, you have no anger, no hate, no malice; you're not thinking about taking revenge. Secondly, forgiveness is people who say, you know, I mean, "You're condoning this guy's crime," you know. I mean, so, you know, "How could you forgive him"? You know. And I'm not condoning his crime. He's, he's spending time, you know. So he's being, you know, he's, he's being penalized for what he did.

John Bradshaw: But people do feel that... if you forgive, then you're letting them off the hook.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah. You're letting them off the hook, you know, um, and then they say, "Well, you know, forgiveness is a feeling". So, they ask me, "Were you feeling like you wanted to forgive him, or..."? But it's not a feeling, you know. Because, first of all, you have nothing to do with what happens after you do it. You have nothing to do with it at all. It takes God to help you to forgive.

John Bradshaw: Yes, it does. You're starting to touch on some very, very important things. We're going to explore them more. I'll be right back with Pastor Anthony Thompson. Forgiveness, in just a moment.

John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations, brought to you by It Is Written. We're talking about one of the most important things we could ever discuss: the subject of forgiveness. And you know, I know people have forgiveness issues. But what we're talking about here is not a forgiveness issue. I mean, a moment ago you talked about forgiveness and the command to forgive and how a person ought to forgive, and from a biblical point of view, you ought to forgive, and here's what I know. There are people who are still shaking their head...

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: ...and they're saying, "I understand what he said. That's why I forgave my neighbor when his tree crashed on my fence; I forgave that". "That's why I forgive that man in the parking lot who backed his car into my car and dented my fender".

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: People understand that. You step on my foot... "I'm so sorry". "Oh, think nothing of it; I understand it was an accident".

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: What your family has experienced, what so many families have experienced in the wake of this terrible shooting in Charleston was not someone standing on your foot.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: No.

John Bradshaw: But what you're talking about is forgiveness without limits.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah.

John Bradshaw: I, I'd like you to challenge that person right now who is saying, "I understand forgiveness when you borrowed my shovel, and you knew you should have returned it, but you didn't, so you stole it". People understand that.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: But you're talking about forgiving one of the worst acts of hatred that could ever take place. You're taking us to a new place in forgiveness.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, I mean, forgiveness is a choice, you know. God puts it before you to make that choice, and you have to let God be the judge. You know, He says, "Judge not, and you be not judged. Condemn not; you be not condemned". And then right after that, He says, "Forgive," you know. Um, because it, it's, it's, it's, you know, you don't know this person's heart. You don't know what they went through in their life. You don't know who hurt them, you know. You don't know who offended them for them to do what they did to you. That's why God says, "Bless your enemies," right? Okay. It's a deeper understanding. Bless your enemies, because it's not really that person... it's, it's, it's the evil that's in that person, like the evil that was in Dylann, you understand, that caused him to do what he did, you know. And so, I can't help but bless him. You understand? Because, first of all, he's a sinner, just like I'm a sinner. God forgave me, so why can't I forgive him? You know, I don't understand why can't a sinner not forgive another sinner. I mean, it just doesn't make sense if you can't, you know. I mean, because people look at it like this: They say, "Well, I can't forgive him because... I can forgive him because he lied to me, but I can't forgive him because he committed murder," you know. We have this natural inclination, again, to make things, one, one sin bigger and one smaller.

John Bradshaw: Forgetting, of course, that it was that we're all murderers, inasmuch as it was our sin that cost the life of Jesus. I understand someone saying, "Yeah, but that's different". And it is. And it isn't. You said a moment ago about, uh, the feelings that accompany or don't accompany forgiveness. Walk through that. Because someone thinks that if I forgive you for some terrible thing that you'd done to me, that suddenly I need to have you over, have Thanksgiving dinner, and we're going to walk arm in arm down Main Street. That's not the case.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Not the case.

John Bradshaw: So how can you forgive without having those rosy feelings?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, I mean, because a lot of people feel like reconciliation is part of forgiveness, and this is where the point about, you know... well, when I forgive you, we're going to, we're going to pray together; we're going to hold hands; we're going to become friends. You know, but I never knew Dylann. You know, so there's no reconciliation. You know, uh, and so, it doesn't take reconciliation to forgive somebody. There are sometimes, there's some points where you...maybe a friend, or it may have been a mother or father or sister, brother, and you want reconciliation, because you had something going on. You had a friendship. You had a relationship, and so you're forgiving, hoping, you understand, that we're going to get back together. Things will be much better. There's a difference, you know, but it doesn't require reconciliation to forgive somebody.

John Bradshaw: Right.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: No.

John Bradshaw: Somewhere along the line you made a decision that you were going to write a book. Talk to me about the process of writing a book. That had to have been cathartic on one hand and extraordinarily difficult on the other. You had to relive some things. You had to have some conversations. You had to go places in your thinking and in your heart. Talk to me about that process.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Initially, it was pretty tough. I didn't want to do it, you know. I, I really didn't want to do it, because I know, you know, what I was thinking at the time, and I was still... I hadn't mourned yet, you know. And I was, I was still... I miss Myra every day. Uh, that's never going to go away. And so, it took a lot of, it took some prayers. Had some people praying for me, actually, yeah...

John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: ...for this to go about. As a matter of fact, there's a pastor named Marshall Blalock at First Baptist Church... that's the church where I preached at first about forgiveness. I think I was the first black to preach there. And, and it's the first Baptist church in the United States of America. He and I have gotten close. And, and I met his wife, and she came to me, and she said, "Reverend Thompson, I know you're going to write a book". I'm like, "Yeah". She said, "No, I know you're going to write a book". I'm like, "Yeah". She said, "No! I know you're going to write a book". And I'm like, "Okay..." It was going to take her to get, get off of me: "Yeah, yes, I'm going to write a book". And then she said, "Well, I know somebody. I'll call them, if you don't mind me passing it". I said, "Oh, go ahead". I figured that was a done deal. And the next day I get a call from this lady named Denise Joyce. I'm like, "What"? She said, "I heard you want to write a book". And the first thing came to my mind... the Spirit of the Lord came and said, "Pray about it. You're not ready". Because I knew I wasn't. I was still, I mean, uh, you know, I didn't want to bring all that bad stuff back up.

John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know, I did not want to do that. I know taking to writing a book would do that.

John Bradshaw: Sure.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know. And I prayed, and the, the lady who called, she prayed with me. We prayed for about a month. Then her agent, he got in touch with me, and I told him, I said, "Nope. We're going to pray about this. You pray. I'll pray. She'll pray. And we'll see what God says". I said, "Because that's the only way that's going to happen".

John Bradshaw: Was it a difficult process? Did you find it a difficult process or a helpful process, or both, writing the book?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: At first it was a little difficult, but then as I began to talk, because we communicated... email, text...I went to Birmingham, um, and, um, and stayed there for a couple of weeks, and we talked. And so, each step of the way, it, it was like venting. I began to get it out. I, I began to feel better. And I started seeing where God was in it. And then that's what made the difference. That's when it made it very easy to write because I knew He had a purpose in my life for writing it, and then I started thinking about what He said at the bond hearing: "This is your new mission: the gospel of forgiveness". So, I'm like, "Okay, then this is Your book," you know. And I call it His book. I don't call it my book; it's His book, you know. So this is another way of getting it out. So, as I began talking about Myra and, and the eight people, you know, and then getting into the, seeing the good that God brought out of a tragedy, I was in awe. And then I became very comfortable. And then for speaking, before I actually wrote the book, speaking to people across the United States, I learned that the, the real reason the, you know... I mean, well, God knows everything. I, I found out what He...He was saying, "This is needed". Because I found that the people, the kind of questions they had, and they didn't know... they wanted to do it, didn't know how to do it. And so, I gained all that knowledge, and I was able to take that and put it in the book.

John Bradshaw: "Called to Forgive". Explain the title.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: I've been in that situation so many times, but not with such a tragedy that happened...

John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: my life concerning my wife. I can remember growing up, you know, having things thrown at, from some, from a white person. And at first I didn't really understand what that was all about because my father was a military man. We were in the military. People in the military, we all got along... white, black, Asian, you know. So, I came to Charleston. It was like, what? What, what was that about? And my cousins, they were running behind this person, wanting to get this person back, and I'm standing on the corner, like, Why are they doing that? And then they come back at me and say, "What's wrong with you? Why aren't you trying to get these guys? You know what they did to us"? "Yeah," I said. "Well, why, why are we doing this"? Then I learned about this racism. And I went home, and I talked to my mom and dad about it. And they, and they said, "Well, did you run with them? Did you run with your cousins"? I said, "No". They said, "Well, good. Sit". Said, "You're not... because you don't do that".

John Bradshaw: Mmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know.

John Bradshaw: Where are we on race as a country? Where are we?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know, we started out, uh, maybe...eight or 10 years ago, trying to pull together, you know, trying to talk about this thing. Trying to, you know, acquaint ourselves with each other. And then just maybe four years ago, it was thrown back in our face. And it's being thrown back in our face every day now, so, we're almost back where we started, you know, um, clearly, and it's getting worse every day. You know, it only takes one person, okay? Only takes one person of authority. And that's the way I feel about this nation, you know. If you're in charge, and you're expressing racism, and you're conning people with, because of their differences, then those who've been wanting to do it and been secretly hiding, they're going to join the party. And that's where we are right now.

John Bradshaw: Do you think everyday people... and you're the right person to ask about this because you witnessed people holding hands across a bridge, and you witnessed people coming together, and you witnessed and you heard people say, "I was looking to do this, but my heart is changed".

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Mm-hmm.

John Bradshaw: The man in the street, the woman in the street, is that person looking for a healthy way forward, or are they looking to hang on to their hate? Very general question.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yes.

John Bradshaw: But what do you see?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: They're looking to change, you know. But they're looking for somebody to motivate them to change, somebody to...they're looking for somebody to say, "You know what, I'm thinking the same thing you're thinking, and I know you've been thinking that for 10 years, and now that you know I'm thinking it, we can, you know, we can get together on this, and we can make some moves". You know, and that's what's happening here. You know, I can see people, people really want to change. I can remember there was a, the, the atmosphere was so cold one time when you opened the door for somebody, and they walked through the door and don't turn around and say, "Thank you" or nothing, just like, "You're supposed to do that for me". Well, it's a little different now. You open a door, and they turn around..."Oh, thank you". You know, open the door back for you. So, that's what I see. You know, I see it here.

John Bradshaw: You see progress?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, I see progress. People are seeking, you know, to, to change, you know. And they're looking for a leader. They're looking for somebody to say, "Yeah, let's do this," you know. And, and so I'm telling you, this forgiveness thing, people are latching on to it because they see that this is the way to do it. You know, we each have to start there. We have to start by forgiving each other.

John Bradshaw: Mm-hmm.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know, because it's, it, it's not just a white thing; it's a black and white thing. It's both sides. Got to the point now we're hating and angry and all this other stuff, you know. And I told them how it happened to the point is that's where we are, so that's where we need to start. We need to start right there, you know. We need to start stop defining each other by color, cultural differences, language barriers, and we need to get to know each other. That's what we're trying to do here. That's who I am, you know. You know, I'm, I'm not... this is not who I am. My heart is who I am. But come to find out where I am, here, and then we can begin to change, you know, because then we're going to find out that we have a lot in common, and we got some of the same ideas, and we want some of the same things. We were too scared to tell each other that for fear of, you know, putting yourself out there and being taken advantage of. but it's not gonna, you know, so...

John Bradshaw: What have you heard from people who've been impacted by your story, by your experience?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: I've had people that tell that it cha... I, I've gotten all kind of things from "I started going back to church. Haven't gone to church in years". Things from, "I'm calling my mama right now". "I'm getting on the plane". "I'm going to tell my sister I forgive, you know, I forgive her". I had a, a, a young man... I was in Vermont, and I was at, talking at an Episcopal church in Vermont, and this young man came up to me, and he said, he said, "I have a sister, a twin sister, and, man," he said, "we haven't talked to each other for 27 years". I said, "You're twins? Uh, twins don't do that". He said, he said, "Oh yes, we do". He said, "Because, well, she's waiting for me to apologize, and I'm waiting for her to apologize". He said, "What should I do"? I said, "Be the bigger man. Call her up right now. Don't apologize. Tell her you forgive her". I said, "She probably going to tell you the same thing". He said, "I'm going to do that right now". And he did, and she told him the same thing I told him she would. And he said, "I'm going to see her tomorrow". Things like that. Yeah, I mean... And so, and that's where I get my reward. And so that's what made the book so interesting, and that's what made it so good to write. I was able to get past the, you know, the looking at the tragedy as something sad, you know.

John Bradshaw: What do you think Myra, your wife, would tell you today about your ministry and, and, and going forward from here?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, she would tell me, "You're doing a great job, but you need to do more". That's what she would say. She would say, "You're doing a great job. You need to do more". And, um, um, uh, she, you know, she would encourage me.

John Bradshaw: You spoke earlier about the peace she had that day, that terrible day, the peace she had as she was floating, not walking, how there seemed to be something about her. Tell me a little about her. What kind of person was she?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Myra was an extraordinary person. When I say extraordinary, I'm not defining her like you normally would. I'm beyond the...I just can't come up with another word. She's a very loving person. She, she was a loving wife, a loving mother, I mean, loving grandmother. She was a teacher, a counselor, a minister, but the greatest of her gifts was giving. I thought I was a giver. Can't, I can't, I can't even touch her. Everything she did, from the time she was able to go out on her own and go to college... Well, she wanted to become a teacher; she wanted to become a teacher so she could benefit... other people could benefit...not her. Wasn't about having a degree, you know. It was about getting that degree because somebody else needed your services. That's what she did. She went and got her master's in reading, master's in, um, counseling for the sake of her students, the school she was teaching at. It was a very disruptive school with disadvantaged kids, orphan kids. I mean, they had a lot of baggage, you know, and so they were very disrespectful, cursing, and carrying on, but she saw beyond all that, she saw the real problem, and she went to school to come and fill that need. Changed the whole school, who quiet down. It was quiet; the whole school became... started with her classroom, made a friend. The whole school quiet down. Teachers would come get her. Then she said...then she went and got into counseling because she wanted to get to them a little closer, and the kids who were not going to counseling started going to counseling. That's the kind of person Myra was. Myra...nobody was a stranger to Myra, okay? I remember after the tragedy... she had a rental car. I took the car back to the rental place, and the people said, "We're sorry what happened". Said, "But your wife"... they loved her so much. She just met them for 5, maybe 30 minutes, and they said they fell in love with her so much she told them how to do their job. They said, "Well, we're not going to accept any money". I went to pick up our car. Our car was being fixed at Nissan. Went to pick it up. People said, "Well, we heard what happened to your wife," and everybody, from the, the, from the, from the maintenance shop, from the body shop, to the people who serve you, came and got me and told me, said, "Man, your wife, wherever she went, she just took charge". Said, "We love her to death". You know, she, nobody was a stranger to her.

John Bradshaw: Remarkable person.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah, very remarkable, yeah.

John Bradshaw: What do you think Myra would say to that young man if she had an opportunity to speak to him right now? What do you think she'd say?

Pastor Anthony Thompson: She would not leave that young man until that young man gave his life to Christ. She would stay right there until she... because that's the way she was. If she met you for the first time, and she found out, and you told her something about what you wanted to do, but you've stopped, before she left you, you'd have a plan about how to get back on, get back on it. So that's what she would have done with Dylann. She would have stayed there with Dylann, prayed with Dylann, didn't matter how long it take until Dylann gave his life to the Lord, and if he had given his life to the Lord, she would have made sure he rededicated his life to the Lord, because she would want to see him up there.

John Bradshaw: Our prayer has to continue to be that one day she will.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah. And I know that's what she's hoping. You know, she's hoping that he does that, so if she can get, she, you know... and, and that's where I come in at, you know. And that's why I wrote in that letter about her and about the fact that if he wants me to come and help him to make that happen, I'll come help him make that happen. Because I know that's what she wants. You know, she wants to be able to see him come down, so she could say, "Oh, you finally made it. Thank God. Let me, let me introduce, introduce you to the Lord". She would want to do that, yeah.

John Bradshaw: I have a feeling that because of this experience, because of your book, your ministry...God's book...

Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah. God's.

John Bradshaw: ...your ministry... I got a feeling that many people are going to find peace, forgiveness, and hope and faith in Jesus Christ. Thank you for what you're doing. May God bless you.

Pastor Anthony Thompson: May God bless you, and thank you for making this possible, for getting it out there, spreading the gospel of forgiveness some more. Thank you.

John Bradshaw: I appreciate your time. He is Pastor Anthony Thompson, I'm John Bradshaw, and this has been our conversation.
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