New York Times op-ed: The Dangerous Politics of ‘We Will Not Forgive’, by Esau McCaulley (Wheaton):
President Biden, in the somber tone and muted dress indicative of responding to tragedy, addressed the nation late last month. The Kabul airport attack had just claimed the lives of 13 American troops and over 60 Afghan civilians. He spoke movingly of the ultimate sacrifice made by our servicemen and -women. Then he turned his attention to our enemies. He said, “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Mr. Biden’s response echoed the sentiments of George W. Bush 20 years ago in the wake of Sept. 11. For most of my life, I have listened to American presidents, Democratic and Republican, promise death to our enemies. The logic behind this is basic enough. Acts of evil demand justice. No one can watch caskets draped in the American flag return home to weeping family members and final salutes from fellow troops and not be stirred.
My family knows this fear. My grandfather served this country as a part of the U.S. Army. My wife has done so for over 15 years of active and reserve service in the Navy. I have pastored in churches near military bases. I understand the unease that surrounds combat deployments. It is precisely these experiences that give me pause about Mr. Biden’s promise to “not forgive.”
We have seen what anger and the desire for revenge can do. It metastasizes within and among us. Our desire for justice can quickly turn into hatred, coldness and even vengeance against entire peoples. The innocent in Afghanistan and elsewhere become no different from our true enemies. Our picture of foreigners becomes distorted, and we see them as threats instead of gifts to the republic. This anger has been turned toward different ethnic, racial and religious groups depending on the season. It has floundered this way and that, never finding rest or satiation.
We have seen the fruits of a politics of revenge, but the politics of forgiveness and restraint remain largely untested.
What if we stopped feeding the beast? What if a president stood before the country and chose a different path? We have the strongest military in the world. It is fair to consider what is necessary to protect our country, but power can be also revealed in restraint. ...
Here is a radical and seemingly untenable proposal: We meet hatred with forgiveness and even sometimes love.
Could not American grief lead to displays of grace? What if, in response to tragedy, we declared war on the human despair that is a breeding ground of terrorism and steered far more aid money and efforts to helping the poor and refugees? We could display, in the very places where terrorists recruit, that we care about the disinherited. We could show that America is a friend and not an enemy to the hurting people of the world.
This may appear to be a naïvely pietistic view of the realities of global politics, too rooted in a Christian view of the transformative power of love to gain a hearing in our secular age. The world respects strength, not mealy-mouthed pastoral reflections on love. ...
It may be that Americans believe that love and forgiveness are tools only of the disenfranchised. This is a missed opportunity. Our political and military strength means that we do not have to forgive our enemies — but it’s all the more powerful if we do. The idea that love and forgiveness are strategies only of the weak misunderstands the revolutionary aspect of Christian response to evil: our belief that God, who had power, opted for weakness, vulnerability and love as a means of transforming the world. If our leaders are going to continue to invoke this God, they need to take that claim seriously. It is an antidote to the rhetoric that may feel good in the moment but does not free us to find a better way.
Other New York Times op-eds by Esau McCaulley:
See also David Brooks (New York Times), A Christian Vision of Social Justice: Social Change Pursued With Mercy And Hope
More on faith and forgiveness:
- Tim Keller: The Fading Of Forgiveness — Tracing The Disappearance Of The Thing We Need Most (May 16, 2021)
- Ted Lasso, Law School Deaning, And The Power Of Forgiveness (Aug. 2, 2020)
- July 4th, Hamilton, And The Power Of Forgiveness (July 4, 2020)
- Forgiveness And Mercy: Our Most God-Like Power (Jan. 5, 2020)
- Forgiveness: Law, Faith, Christmas, And Hamilton (Dec. 8, 2019)
- From Moses To Hamilton: A Dean’s Journey (Aug. 31, 2017)
- C.S. Lewis & Lin-Manuel Miranda: How I Found My Faith In Mere Christianity And Deepened It In Hamilton (July 24, 2017)
- Hamilton And Law School Deaning (July 7, 2017)
- Forgiveness In Charleston (And Beyond) (June 21, 2015)
- Forgiveness (Oct. 25, 2013)