Forgiveness is not ours

forgiveness-blog-dandelionListen to this conversation among religious leaders who talk about what forgiveness should look like in Charleston, S.C., where two weeks ago a young white man, espousing white supremacist ideology, shot and killed nine people studying their Bible at Emanuel AME Church.

I appreciated everyone’s contribution to this conversation, but I am drawn to the Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, theology professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. She said,referencing the multiple Mother Emanual family members who publicly forgave the alleged shooter — while calling on him to repent:

I think white America craves this language of forgiveness because they want to forget.

Because for some of us living in white America, the families so quickly and stunningly forgiving the shooter lets the rest of us off the hook.

But it doesn’t. We who were reared in religions that taught forgiveness above all (God forgave us, we should forgive the rest of us) might not understand what has to happen to complete the circle, to heal the hurt. This is one awful event in a long series of events that embody our racist past, present and — potentially — future. The rest of us need to ask ourselves, among other things: How did this young man embrace so heartily the language of hate? Why was the language so available to him, and where were the filters, the loving people to stand by him and explain the corrosive nature of hate? How did we get here, and how are we complicit?

This is not a condemnation of those beautiful people saying, one by one, “I forgive you.” I am stunned at the love and compassion showed by those families, but I am every bit as convinced that their graciousness is not a call for us to move on. We can’t.

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  1. ” I am stunned at the love and compassion showed by those families, but I am every bit as convinced that their graciousness is not a call for us to move on. We can’t.”

    ‘Zackly. It’s far too big a hook for us to slip off so easily.

  2. I think those families have a different, better , working definition of “forgiveness” than is commonly used. It doesn’t mean they don’t still hurt, and will for a very long time. It doesn’t mean they absolve him of all responsibility. It does mean that they choose not to carry the burden of hate and retribution and revenge themselves. As my Aunt Pola, who left us 6 years ago today, would have said, they won’t allow him to live rent-free in their heads and hearts, not even for a day.

    Such radical forgiveness would “heap coals” on the head of most people, but this man is a sociopath. Why didn’t anyone see it coming? In my cynical opinion, they saw it but considered it to be normal behavior for that place, and that time. I think there are more like him, just waiting for someone to give them a signal.

  3. Well stated! I think feeling deep sadness and taking steps to make the world a better, safer place can sit beside forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t an ending by any means!

  4. I agree with Rev. Thisltethwaite, which makes me question whether religion can provide any impetus for change necessary to effectively confront those issues raised by the Charleston Massacre.

    We cannot even begin to attempt to find real solutions…substantive change… to the problems you cite, (why? how? where?), without fundamental critiques of both cause and the failure of everything we’ve done thus far.

    However, fundamental critiques of cause, effect and failure are off limits, constrained by an existing power structure made up of privileged classes materially dependent on that power structure in ways the vast majority of Americans are not. Even when cause, effect and failure become self-evident…obvious…to that vast majority of Americans outside the privileged classes, no solution, no proposal, no answer that recognizes what is obvious can be tolerated if it even hints at substantive change to that existing power structure. So we are locked in an endless loop of bourgeois reformism…or…doing essentially the same thing over and over and over again expecting different results each time.

    The Right Wing has consolidated it hold on the existing power structure by moving to the extreme right. The “Left” Wing, traditionally the faction that challenges existing power structures, has sacrificed its influence on…its ability to effectively challenge…existing power structures by moving to the right. (See the ratchet effect.) All that remains is a Democratic Party centrism that promotes the politics of appeasement and capitulation while clinging to an identity that’s about as valid as Rachel Dolezal’s. (Cue This Masquerade.)

    C.B. Macpherson, 1977:It is increasingly difficult to reconcile liberal democratic values (much less anything remotely resembling genuine democracy) with today’s monopoly-finance capital. Something has to go. And that is exactly why capitalism is off-limits to honest discussion, and why the constraints placed on public debate in our political culture prevent any real, permanent forward movement.

    Change will require change. Can’t have it without it.

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