John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), The Incomprehensible Witness of Forgiveness (Part Two):
Seven years ago, I wrote about the extraordinary acts of forgiveness extended by family members of the black churchgoers massacred by Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina on June 15, 2015. I titled that piece, like this one, “The Incomprehensible Witness of Forgiveness.” What struck me then—and now—is how offensive the idea of forgiveness sounds to so many.
In 2015, I was responding in part to New York Times columnist Roxane Gay, who insisted that some acts like the Charleston massacre are “beyond forgiving” and that she personally was “done forgiving.” Curiously, Gay still expressed “deep respect” for those family members who forgave, all of whom acted out of their Christian commitments. But as I wrote in response to her essay:
If forgiveness really merits condemnation or skepticism, then why not focus on those who gave it instead of deflecting, deconstructing, or downplaying their acts? The scandal of forgiveness does not lie with the media or the narrative—it lies with the very nature of Christian forgiveness: “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” And when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
If the kind of forgiveness commanded by Jesus is indeed incomprehensible, it should be unsurprising that many people will reject it as misguided or even immoral. The challenge for those whose faith commands forgiveness—Christian or otherwise—is to show why it matters.
Last week, my post about “pandemic forgiveness” engaged with Emily Oster’s Atlantic article, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty.” I also reflected on the nature of forgiveness by drawing upon many of the same sources I referenced in my earlier piece on Charleston. While I wasn’t sure what pandemic reconciliation would look like on a social level, I suggested that we might look first to our individual relationships with friends and family whose pandemic choices created relational rifts.
I received some strong reactions in comments on Substack, on Twitter, and in private messages. ... A number of the responses conflated forgiveness with either reconciliation or justice. Reconciliation, as I noted last week, is only possible when forgiveness is matched with repentance. Justice operates outside of the realm of forgiveness and repentance, and it is usually administered by the state.
Some of those responding to my post focused on public commentators and officials whose words and actions caused harm over the course of the pandemic. My post instead advocated for forgiveness and repentance in our interpersonal relationships. ...
The acts of forgiveness that emerged after the Charleston massacre are covered in the 2019 film, Emanuel.
For more, see Forgiveness In Charleston (And Beyond)
More on faith and forgiveness:
- Pandemic Forgiveness (Nov. 6, 2022)
- Faith, Forgiveness, And Little League Baseball (Aug. 14, 2022)
- Esau McCaulley: The Dangerous Politics Of ‘We Will Not Forgive’ (Oct. 3, 2021)
- 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)
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