Forgiveness is not forgetting

Charleston's challenge

by Ken Sehested

        In the surge writing following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the most significant may be Roxane Gay’s “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof.”  (Stacey Patton has a similar piece in The Washington Post, "Black America should stop forgiving white racists.") I think it most significant not because I agree but because it states what so many feel because of a culturally-warped reading of Scripture.

        Gay realizes that this counterfeit forgiveness is a form of cruelty to victims. All she says is true—but not true enough.

        We have yet to grasp the distinctive character of the Beloved’s initiative on our behalf, “in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Only as we are shaped by this conviction—thereby unleashing the capacity for "transforming initiatives," in Glen Stassen's wonderful phrase—is the capacity for nonviolent living released, the power by which we confront injustice yet refuse to deepen the cycle of violence. Such living requires a beatific vision drawing us forward, not a misery-immersed shove from behind.

        “Emanuel” (Emmanuel, Immanuel, Emmanuil) is rooted in Hebrew, “God with us.”

        If forgiveness is dependent on repentance then there is no Gospel, only judgment expressive of vengeance designed to coerce behavior sufficing the kind of repressive ordering that is a mere semblance of peace.

        In other words: The biggest dog wins when all others cower. The result is not salvation, only empire. Among Charleston's challenges is for the church to reexamine its roots.

        Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Forgiveness—whose granting should never be goaded or rushed—is the first step in a much longer journey of mended relationship which may, or may not, be completed in our lifetime.

        Forgiveness is not forgetting, at least anytime soon. It is remembering in a different way, a way that displaces the slight, the dismissal, the trauma from the center of behavioral attention, freeing the heart from its perpetual return—like the tongue to a broken tooth—to such moments of fear-inspiring grief and relentless need for vindication and vengeance.

        Forgiveness, Hannah Arendt said, is the only way to reverse the irreversible flow of history.

©Ken Sehested @