Listen 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.