He’s dead now.

I doubt that many cried when he died. He, John William King, died last Wednesday night, twenty or so years after his victim. James Byrd, on June 7, 1998 was dragged to death for three miles behind a pick-up in Jasper, Texas by King and two other men. All because Byrd was black. By all accounts Byrd was a great guy and his family has urged peace and has set up the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing. Bless them!

A similar story caught my eye a few years ago.

Reading the newspapers and drinking a cup of coffee are the first things I do in the morning. I normally have pleasant thoughts at that time of day. My mind is clear and mostly focused on the day’s activities. I don’t normally get incensed at breakfast unless we are out of coffee or my newspaper gets wet from an unexpected rain shower.

But one particular morning, I got incensed. My first thought over coffee was: “There’s a special place reserved for him in hell.” (By the way, his special place would be next to my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Kirby, who would get mad and “go on the warpath” and throw books…at us.)

I thought about Deryl Dedmon’s special place in hell when I read the opening paragraph of an article about the 19-year-old white male who pleaded guilty to murder and the hate crime of running over a black man in Mississippi.  The judge in the trial said that it was a stain on Mississippi that will take years to fade.

I read on. The story brought tears to my eyes. The victim was James Craig Anderson, a 47-year-old car plant worker who sang in his church choir and was remembered for his sense of humor. Unfortunately, humor is hard to find in this story. You see, one night Dedmon and some others were partying and decided to find a black man to harass.  They found Anderson.  They beat him and ran over him because the color of his skin did not match theirs.

This was not the first time that Dedmon and his friends had targeted blacks for harassment.  They had usually gone after homeless or drunk people who would not likely report it to the police. Not only are they bigots, but they are cowards too.
Anderson’s sister, Barbara, addressed the court with tear-stained eyes: “Because of my brother, James Craig Anderson, our lives were richer, with love, respect, and a love of God.” She then dropped this bombshell on the court and left me in awe: “We, the Anderson family, are praying for racial reconciliation not just in Mississippi but all over this land and country.  We are praying for the defendant, Dedmon, and his family that they find peace.”

How, on God’s green earth, could she find the grace to forgive someone who ran over her brother because of the color of his skin?  I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it had something to do with a death on a cross and a resurrection.

Dedmon apologized to Anderson’s family saying, “I pray for forgiveness. I was young, dumb and full of hatred.”  He was sentenced to two life terms in prison.

I respect Dedmon’s apology and repentance. I also need to have some compassion for my 5th grade teacher. Anyone who would throw textbooks at kids must have had a lot going on in her life.

By the way, I will leave the “special place reserved in hell” to the judgment of God; that’s not for me to know. But I happen to believe that there is a special place reserved in heaven for Barbara, as well as the relatives of James Byrd—a place on the front row.

~Pastor Steve

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