Discussing
Dylann Storm Roof and the scandal of forgiveness

Alex Bersin

Alex Bersin
June 22, 2015

It's understandable that some have scoffed at victims' families expressing forgiveness toward Dylann Storm Roof. This is the scandal of the Christian faith.

JKana
June 22, 2015

I take tremendous offense to people who call the forgiveness people in Charleston are offering as "easy" or "cheap." It is anything but easy or cheap. It is probably the hardest thing they can imagine doing, and the cost of doing it is unimaginable.

It's a shame our culture has such a poor generalized understanding of what real forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not the same thing as pardon--or regarding the offender as though nothing wrong had been done in the first place. Nor is it minimizing--or regarding the offender as though his acts were in any way less consequential than they actually were, or as though nothing concrete needs to be done to address them. Nor is forgiveness the same thing as reconciliation--as though the relationships that existed between the Charleston community and the offender (even the intangible ones) can somehow be simply restored to what they were before the offense. Forgiveness is none of those things.

Forgiveness is a decision of the will. Without denying guilt, it's a choice not to hold the offense against the offender. Or, to put it another way, it's a decision to love the offender--to seek the best for him--in spite of the offense. It's not wiping away consequences. It's not treating him as though he's entitled to all the same civil freedoms and privileges that non-offenders are. But it is desiring for him the same thing we would desire for ourselves: to know our Savior, who did the same for all of us at Calvary.

Forgiveness isn't cheap. It isn't easy. It's the way of the cross.

AlexBersin
June 22, 2015

In Reply to JKana (comment #27258)
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You might say it's a change of attitude, not a change of circumstance. Agree 100%.

Kimberly Davis
June 23, 2015

My parents and godmother and I spoke about this tonight at the dinner table, as it has been something I have struggled with understanding. What troubles me about the forgiveness offered to this racist, terrorist killer is the almost reflexive nature of it--in this case, it had been less than two days. As my friend, the writer Stacey Patton, also put it (I'm paraphrasing) it's as if black people aren't allowed to express public rage or anger at a racist, terrorist act. How long did it take for the Boston bombing victims to express forgiveness? What about the families of those killed by ISIL? Roof's own family hasn't expressed forgiveness.
When something like the massacre at Emanuel AME happens, the whole world looks to the families of these black victims and almost delights in their forgiveness, because it allows for the perpetuation of white supremacy and racism. Well, if the victims' families forgive, then... I don't have anything in myself to confront. The families are thrust into the healing stage before they've even processed their grief.
I would take a process if thoughtful forgiveness over this immediacy to show "love" any day.

AlexBersin
June 23, 2015

In Reply to Kimberly Davis 1 (comment #27262)
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I agree that forgiveness in the church is often misunderstood. However, I don't think forgiveness (either its speed or appearance) allows for the perpetuation of injustice. Rather, I think forgiveness divides people and gives them a choice. Either they can experience love and repent or they can resist it and harden themselves.

The penal system only deals with the actual crime and the debt to society (the physical consequences). But forgiveness deals with the spiritual consequences. It's not absolution of the physical; it's surrendering the physical to God (and his administration through the state) and confronting them with a choice that will affect the whole of their being.

But the world sees this and can't distinguish between the physical and the spiritual so it equates forgiveness with clemency. It mocks us for being doormats because most people will choose to abuse it. Physically, that's what we often are. In matters beyond our jurisdiction, we're doormats.

Jesus said as much when he told us to turn the other cheek, lose the tunic, and go the extra mile. Or when Peter told slaves to be submissive not just to kind masters but to harsh ones, and when Paul told slaves to remain in their condition even though he confronted Philemon.

It's the spiritual realm where we get to be that royal priesthood. Again, forgiveness is power, not weakness. Instead of viewing it as a concession or a loss (of justice, dignity, or pride), we need to view it as a muscle to be exercised. Exercise is painful, but it makes us stronger. It's not taking a beating, it's throwing a punch.

In this way, I think we would all want to jump at the opportunity to forgive. If we see it as this senseless act that we only do because God commanded it, then of course we'd want to put it off. But if we can see it as God's power at work in the world, then running toward it would be fulfilling Paul's belief that we can rejoice in suffering.

Mourning is essential to the Christian life, but I don't think it necessarily has to precede forgiveness because this assumes that we have to wait until we're finally over the injustice. And that assumes that every injustice should eventually cease to be mourned.

Kimberly Davis
June 23, 2015

Where in the Bible does it instruct us to forgive quickly? I've yet to find it. Moreover, biblical forgiveness is tied to repentance in Luke 17:3-4: So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says , ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

This killer has not expressed any type of repentance. None whatsoever.

Let me add that there is a gaping hole in your answer regarding African Americans and forgiveness. Where is that forgiveness or call to forgive for ISIL? For the Boston bomber? How soon was t expressed? I even recall the mother of Walter Scott being asked if she forgave the white police officer who shot him in the back. Why? Why can we not express rage and mourn without this specter of having to forgive hanging over us?

AlexBersin
June 23, 2015

You're right, expectations are different here for some reason. I would guess because many white people question whether there really are injustices worth mourning or raging over. I used to be one of them. If my tone was dismissive of African-America injstice, I sincerely apologize.

I do agree that we can express rage and mourn--we should. But what's stopping us from forgiving? Why do we have to wait until we're done mourning before we can forgive? You ask why we should forgive quickly but I'm asking why wouldn't we? If rage is keeping us from forgiving, have we not let the sun go down on our anger? Furthermore, if we don't forgive, how do we keep rage from boiling over into hatred?

Also, Luke 17 isn't making repentance a condition for forgiveness but rather reminding us that we have no reason to withhold it. If it were a condition, then we're stretching our hermeneutic to understand Jesus' forgiveness of those who knew not what they were doing.

I could be wrong about that. But just like I can't create a verse to say hurry up, I can't find one that says wait either.

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