I would humbly assert that Ferguson, Mo., as well as the nation to which it belongs, needs “forgiveness.” Yes, the only thing that could make a lasting and redemptive difference that all of us can live with would be “forgiveness.”
I am referring, of course, to the latest episode in the tragic and seemingly never-ending saga of American racial conflict, which some now understandably fear may not have revealed its most savage chapters. According to Wikipedia’s summary:
On Saturday, August 9, 2014, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American male, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. The incident sparked protests and acts of vandalism in Ferguson as well as nationwide calls for an investigation into the incident. On August 11, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened a parallel civil rights investigation … .
On August 10, after a day of vigils, some of the crowd began looting businesses, vandalizing vehicles and confronting police who sought to block off access to several areas of the city. Local police stations assembled approximately 150 officers in riot gear. The following day, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd at a QuikTrip convenience store that had been burnt out the night before. According to reports, gunshots were fired in Ferguson and five were arrested. On August 14, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon stated that the Ferguson riots were “deeply challenging” and promised “operational shifts” to ease the situation, using the Missouri State Highway Patrol to direct security.
On Monday, August 18, National Guard troops arrived in Ferguson at the request of Governor Nixon, who also ended midnight to 5:00 a.m. curfews that had been imposed. Although some street violence continued to occur, most protesters were peaceful and at one point organized a human chain to block agitators who had thrown bottles at police. In another area, objects were thrown at police who responded with tear gas. Also on Monday, Brown’s family and Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner who examined Brown’s body on Sunday, released findings which showed Brown had been shot at least six times to the front of his body, that the fatal shot was fired into the top of his head and exited from the front, and that he did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no powder burns were found on his body. (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferguson,_Missouri )
Again, I would humbly submit that only “forgiveness” could make the difference we desperately need.
“Forgiveness” running from all directions to all concerned, even if tangentially, which really means “all of us!” “Forgiveness” that acknowledges we are accountable for both the active and passive violence that swirls around us—these days in ways obvious to all but, on most other days, still there coursing in wild torrents just below the murky surface. Yes, “forgiveness” alone will be adequate for a better future, if anything will be. “Forgiveness” that cries out in helplessness for the help of Another whose ways have already demonstrated both sacrificial and miraculous accomplishment.
“Forgiveness” for the hubris that senses no complicity or need and would thus demean this “F-word,” hubris that can visit both victims and perpetrators, though in different ways. Let me be more specific, though I freely confess no doubt in an inadequate though hopefully “forgivable” way.
When I learn that in the town of Ferguson, residents are overwhelmingly and predominantly persons of color, while the police authorities are overwhelmingly and predominantly white, it signals a need for the “forgiveness” for which we must plead. When the profound and incalculable grief of one family’s loss of a son suffers additional, compounding deficits because their loss is overshadowed by the outrage of some who feign empathy, the indifference of others who presume innocence, the impertinence of news hounds and informational opportunists, and the unjust possibilities—real and imagined—now haunting the future as far as eye can see—all of these dynamics beg for “forgiveness.”
Consider the reports, both official and anecdotal: that rage runs deep and wide in the community, that on all sides of the multiple and complex issues raised by this shooting people tend to demonize those on the other sides, that the accusations or responses of one party often only draws out the worst in other parties, that nearly all can hardly resist the urge to fall into ranks with “our kind” (whites against black, police against civilian, politicians against citizens, residents against outsiders, etc.), that outside crusaders exploit the circumstances to advance their cause, that the news reported tends mostly to reflect the most sensational and incendiary “developments,” and that while public outcry suggests strong support for a stricken family, following the flow of money reveals a nasty underbelly and a shocking hypocrisy—all of it begs for “forgiveness!”
When I say “forgiveness” I use the quotation marks because the very word and its content have themselves been hijacked by the same dynamics that beg for “forgiveness!” What the word “symbols” suffers the gutting of ideologues and propagandists. Thus, to forgive is to say you’re sorry and move on. To forgive is to dispute that it even happened, at least “that way.” To forgive is to insist there isn’t really more going on. To forgive is deny it altogether or to diminish its significance. To forgive is to indulge obvious wrong or relinquish the very idea and reality of wrong. To forgive is the tool of the powerful that forces the powerless to give up, acquiesce, surrender. To forgive is actually to avoid and disengage. To forgive is a fool’s counsel or a clever misdirection. I could go on …
Perhaps most obscene, however, to forgive in the common parlance amounts to a betrayal of the life and ways of some of our most venerated heroes. Thus, to forgive is to malign the best insights and accomplishments of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, and Jesus. For some of us, at least in terms of profession if not confession, the latter is not just a “hero,” but so much more. Yes, to forgive according to the current canons is to betray our best hopes, and to do so in a world that in virtually every corner today joins Ferguson and all of us in begging for “forgiveness.”
In contrast, “forgiveness” would rather lay its own life down than to take another’s. It strives to see from the perspective of the other; it positions to feel what the other feels; it walks in the shoes and paths of the other, the path that leads up to the offenses and responses that beg for “forgiveness.” It contends that there is more to see, more of reality than any one side or group or perspective can see, and it defers to the others in the interest of seeing that “more.” It listens and learns at the feet of the other. It demonstrates that Truth is counter-intuitive, on the other side of the cultures we idolatrously embrace, and can be approached only via a narrow and constricted way.
“Forgiveness” refuses to flinch in the face of wrong, but protests it whenever and wherever it appears before whoever does it for the sake of all on whom it is done. It bears witness through word and presence, in solidarity with those who are suffering, who cannot or will not bear such witness. “Forgiveness” declines the opportunity to join in fighting wrong with wrong, hate with hate, fire with fire, evil with evil. In fact, by nature “forgiveness” does not fight at all. But it does resist with unyielding resolution. It stands tall and unbowed in the face of evil—staring down the wrong until it yields or until the wrong strikes it down. Then, “forgiveness” stands up again, and assumes its position of resistance and opposition to all the wrong it sees and feels. The cycle repeats until breakthrough or until death. Then, “forgiveness” arises in third-day grandeur, to the shock and awe of all that had opposed it.
I affirm that “forgiveness” would rather lay down its life than to take another’s. I confess that at first blush I usually would not, for all the reasons one might gather from the above. I would rather assume the situation can more or less easily fall into right or wrong and the characters involved cast as good or evil. Then, of course, I want to side with the good and make the bad pay. The time for forgiveness will come later. Now is the time for action.
As though a “forgiveness” that would rather lay down its life than to take another’s is ambiguous and capable of analysis that obscures, and would be passive and weak. No, in the presence of “forgiveness” the would-be activists appear as they are—fearful, insecure, impoverished, and ultimately weak. In the presence of “forgiveness” wrongs will come into the light and suffer the exposure they deserve. Evil meets its match, is subdued, and is undone. The world is set right. Perhaps not immediately, perhaps not entirely in any one situation to the satisfaction of all, perhaps in some cases not at all in terms of sight, only by faith and hope. But surely, inevitably, stunningly and gloriously “forgiveness” will prevail.
At least, that’s the way to story goes.
O Lord God of all, who has embodied “forgiveness” to the death, up from the dead, and beyond death’s beggarly remains, have mercy upon Ferguson and all places like it! Have mercy upon us who believe in forgiveness but confess our and the world’s need for “forgiveness!” Enliven and raise up practitioners of the “mercy-crafts” that matches the needs of the world. Embolden followers of the Way to follow with both the wisdom and power that “loses” to win and “dies” to live, so the world can be set right. Amen!
Perhaps you think, “So what?” Or, “Now what?” The “activists” among us would eagerly raise such questions. Well, I do have ideas. But embracing “forgiveness” and following its ways are not the provenance of one or the practice of individuals, at least not at its best. Rather, “forgiveness” embodies, manifest and works in and through communities. The wisdom for the practice of “forgiveness” arises within and flows from a people that seek it together. So, I toss the question back to you (plural). What do you think? What now? So, what? What can you together imagine and envision, articulate and actualize? For Ferguson and the world?