ESB: The Roots and Purpose of Christian Forgiveness

Millennial‘s Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has a new article at TNR. She writes:

Christian forgiveness is compelling in this case in part because it is so heroically difficult, but also because it so starkly negates Roof’s diabolical goals. Roof hates black people to such an extent that he desires their total destruction. One of his strategies for the elimination of black people was evidently to spark a race war, presumably using the Charleston slaughter as its incendiary incident. But in the extension of forgiveness by his victims’ families, both intentions are undercut. By confronting him face-to-face with forgiveness, the victims’ families established a relationship with Roof, presenting themselves as persons urging and awaiting his repentance. This is the opposite of the kind of isolation Roof desires. Further, it is an act of black agency that averts the chain of violence Roof had hoped to ignite. The Christian spiritual practice of forgiveness has, therefore, had an impact. But we should not saddle it with the same expectations we place on political forms of forgiveness.

Forms of forgiveness that function as political tools take many forms: some are aspects of restorative justice schemes; others take the shape of pardons, exoneration, and so on. Whatever the issues with forgiveness-as-political-practice, none of these strictly political forms of forgiveness appear to be active in Roof’s case. The forgiveness he has been given by the families of his victims has not excused him from standing trial, nor will it prevent him from receiving punishment.

Nor should it confuse the public into believing that it is time to move on from the massacre.

The full article can be read here.