THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Forgiveness is Not Passivity
WEEK VII / DAY V
Friday, March 30, 2018
Scripture | Romans 12:19
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Our History and Its Legacy
After Dylann Roof murdered 9 Black Americans in a historic church in Charleston, SC, family members of the victims were asked to forgive him. The forgiveness offered by some of these family members was applauded by many White American Christians and yet was met with much dissonance within Black American communities.
Immediate Black forgiveness for historic and contemporary suffering perpetrated by Whites has become a ritual in this country. There are a few things that may be at the center of this ritual. In addition to righteous anger and a desire for justice, Blacks have demonstrated swift public forgiveness because it has served as a necessary coping strategy in a historically White supremacist society. Blacks are patently aware of a past where expressing anger or a lack of forgiveness for centuries of White transgressions led to beatings, shootings, stabbings, hangings, burnings; being raped, being imprisoned, being herded into insane asylums; job termination, stolen land, dismissals from schools. Blacks are also aware of the current pressure to not appear to be the “angry” Black man or woman.
Many believe that Christianity has been misappropriated to teach Blacks passivity and weakness in response to White terrorism in hopes that this “turning of the cheek” will merit a grand reward for suffering silently. This is due to an incomplete understanding of forgiveness and lays the foundation for forgiveness to be nothing more than a mere ritual. When Black people say “we forgive” it must be more than just a healing ointment for White anxiety, fear, and fragility.
As a Christian, an African-American, and a pastor, I cannot ignore the biblical call to forgiveness. I cannot ignore the radical ways in which I have been forgiven. A holistic understanding of forgiveness means we lay aside our right to revenge. This means that we fully accept that the death of Jesus on the cross paid the price for our sins as well as the sins perpetrated against us. It means that we trust God to be the good and just God that He has declared Himself to be.
Forgiveness is not absolution of the consequences of sin, however. This is why forgiveness and repentance are substantively different. Both are required for reconciliation. Far too often, Blacks have been made to feel like forgiveness is synonymous with reconciliation. This leads to the ritual of forgiveness which is merely an assuaging of White guilt without restitution. This is contrived forgiveness and not the heart of God.
True forgiveness frees the offended from the bondage of bitterness and revenge. True repentance frees the offender from the bondage of pride, lack of empathy, and apathy. If White Christians truly felt the pain of Black Americans, when times of cruelty, injustice, and violence occur, immediate and contrived forgiveness rituals would never suffice.
There are two things that forgiveness does not mean:
FORGIVENESS NEVER MEANS WE STOP SEEKING JUSTICE.
Forgiveness of sin does not absolve the offending party of consequences for sin. Forgiving a criminal does not mean that the crime goes unreported. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t press charges or refuse to testify in court. Seeking justice must be rooted in the desire to protect others and advocate for their flourishing, not because we want to enact revenge and retribution.
FORGIVENESS NEVER MEANS WE PUT OURSELVES IN VULNERABLE POSITIONS.
The great migration of the early 1900s of Blacks from the Jim Crow South to Northern and Midwestern industrial cities was not indicative of a lack of forgiveness. There isn’t a call in Scripture to expose ourselves to continued and blatant harm.
Reflection and Response
Black Christians biblically forgive by viewing our legitimate hurts, frustrations, and anger through a redemptive lens that proclaims, “I will renounce my right to get revenge for all the ways that this present kingdom has broken my heart. I will also believe Jesus’ words that the kingdom of God is indeed at hand. This means that I will pray with my heart and work tirelessly with my hands and feet to see signposts of how the perfectly restored coming kingdom invades the broken, exploitative, and racist kingdom of this world.”
Written by Darryl Ford