The Christian Calling Card
January 29, 2013
Three years ago, Kate and Andy Grosmaire received the kind of news that is every parent’s worst nightmare: Their daughter, Ann, had been shot in the head by her fiancée, Conor McBride.
When Andy Grosmaire arrived at the hospital, he realized that unless God did something “wondrous,” Ann would not survive.
Sadly, Ann ultimately died. But, nevertheless, before she did, something wondrous did happen. While he stood praying at his unconscious daughter’s bedside, Grosmaire felt he heard Ann say “Forgive him.” His initial response was to say “No way. That’s impossible.” But he continued to hear Ann say “Forgive him.”
When McBride’s father arrived at the hospital, Andy Grosmaire hugged him and thanked him for coming, adding “but I might hate you by the end of the week.”
For reasons Andy still doesn’t understand, Conor McBride listed Andy’s wife Kate as one of the people allowed to visit him in jail. As she left to visit him, she asked her husband if he had a message for the man who had shot their daughter. Andy replied “tell him I love him, and I forgive him.”
As extraordinary as that was, what Kate and Andy Grosmaire understood by forgiveness was not limited to words. After meeting the prosecutor prosecuting McBride, they realized that they had it in their power to affect the outcome of the trial. After meeting with Conor McBride, they asked that he receive a 10-to-15 year sentence.
The prosecutor, sympathetic to the family’s wishes but still representing the state’s and community’s interest, insisted that McBride serve twenty years–under Florida law he could have served a life sentence and may have been sentenced to death.
The Grosmaire’s pursuit of what Christians call “restorative justice” was not limited to reaching out to Conor McBride. Andy Grosmaire didn’t wind up hating Conor’s father. On the contrary, the experience brought the two families closer.
The kind of forgiveness on display in this story is the antithesis of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” The Grosmaires are all too aware of the damage McBride caused, and they still feel the pain that that damage inflicted. As Kate Grosmaire told the New York Times, “forgiving Conor doesn’t change the fact that Ann is not with us . . . I walk by her empty bedroom at least twice a day.”
Andy Grosmaire is equally clear-eyed about what happened: he rejects talk about “God’s plan” and sentimental drivel about God “wanting another angel.”
So, why did they forgive their daughter’s murderer? Because Andy Grosmaire realized that “it was not just Ann asking [him] to forgive Conor, it was Jesus Christ.” As Andy put it, “I hadn’t said no to him before, and I wasn’t going to start then.”
Saying “yes” to forgiveness was the only way forward from this unimaginable loss. As Kate Grosmaire put it, “Conor owed us a debt he could never repay. And releasing him from that debt would release us from expecting that anything in this world could satisfy us.”
This kind of forgiveness is Christianity’s greatest calling card. To be able to love those who have done you unimaginable harm and seek their good is truly wondrous.
Other faiths speak about mercy and compassion. Some even urge you to “let go” of old wounds for your own sake. But Christians worship a savior who, even as he was unjustly executed, prayed for those who placed him on the cross and insists that those who profess his name love their enemies, not just their friends.
It’s what makes this kind of “yes” possible.