On June 17, 2015 Dylann Roof, a white man, killed nine African Americans inside their church - the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I don’t know much about black American Christianity, but this particular church is so famous that even I had heard of it. The crime was immediately framed in the media as a racist hate crime, and there were immediate calls for the removal of the old Confederate battle flag’s removal from some Southern state legislatures and other public memorial sites. It seemed like a non-sequitur to me: Dylann Roof kills nine black Americans so the solution is to eliminate the display of the old flag? Duh.
Of course, advocates draw a connection. One, Roof posted Facebook pictures of himself with the flag. Two, the flag is an offensive and hated leftover from the old slave-owning South. Three, the display of the flag in public sends a message that what it represents is still legitimate and the sight of it might even nurture old, illegitimate racial/racist ideas among the young today.
Advocates for the Confederate flag eulogize its heritage value while downplaying all the rest. Whatever you might think of the two arguments the anti-flag argument seems to have the stronger hand. But I am still left wondering about the connection between addressing gun violence in America and the notion of removing the rebel flag from public view? Maybe it is only a case of American blacks seeing their road towards eliminating gun violence in America - especially gun violence against blacks - totally blocked, and the fresh opportunity to make progress on the flag issue is at least a partial victory and a partial surrogate.
Within 48 hours, as Mr. Roof was appearing before a judge (by video link) the victims’ families were proclaiming tearful forgiveness of the killer. One woman was especially memorable: Nadine Collier.
I am not impressed with expressions of forgiveness because, on the one hand I think it is used differently by different people to construct their narrative of events, and on the other hand I think most people think wrongly about what it means. When African-Americans talk about forgiveness they are speaking about one of the necessary tools they need to negotiate life in racist America. They are talking about an everyday experience. But when whites talk about forgiveness they use it as a magic word to pretend that life is not as bad as it really is.
Forgiveness is the erasure of malice, not guilt, the replacement of love for malice.
Being saved in Christ does not mean that Christians will not go to hell. Of course we will.
Most people think wrongly that forgiveness means erasure of guilt; absolution; forgive and forget; a clean slate. No. That’s not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is the erasure of malice, not guilt, the replacement of love for malice. So a person who is forgiven is still subject to responsibility for their actions, crimes, sins, etc. because they are still guilty of them in the sense that they are still responsible for them. Culpable for them is another matter. I’m talking about responsibility, not culpability. I measure guilt by responsibility, not culpability. You can forgive a murderer, but that does not mean he is no longer a murderer. Of course he is. His victim is still dead and he must still face the punishment for it. Forgiveness does not bar punishment, and these black parishioners in Charleston who forgave Mr. Roof are probably not expecting him not to be punished. Forgiveness only means that a perpetrator will be punished in a fair and loving spirit of justice, not in a spirit of malice and revenge. Being saved in Christ does not mean that most Christians will not go to hell. Of course we will. We are guilty of sin, and to hell we will go. It’s just that we will be condemned to hell in a spirit of loving justice, not in a spirit of malicious vengeance. When I say that to people they think it’s nonsense because their error of associating forgiveness with erasure of guilt is so entrenched. I want to say to people, “I forgive you. Now go away and die” not because I hate them, but because I love them.
We can forgive each other our foibles and then continue living side by side with no illusions about ourselves.
If I forgive my neighbor for being an asshole it does not mean that he is no longer an asshole. Of course he is. We can forgive each other our foibles and then continue living side by side with no illusions about ourselves. It ought to be liberating.
I forgive you. Now go away and die.
At the same time I want to say that I despise “victim impact statements” which first became fashionable in America and has since spread to Canada. They are such awful, mawkish, self-centered things.