Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why forgive George?

Stephen Giem and I made as an experiment in encouraging thought and discussion about forgiveness and its role in moving us forward.

We live in Portland, Oregon, so there's a lot of visible anger about Bush. Like most people, I've experienced a lot of righteous anger in my life. It's never felt good, and I have always felt better when I have forgiven.

In the God-centered culture of the American South, where I grew up and lived for many years, this is not a particularly radical concept, the idea of forgiveness. Most southerners are familiar with this exchange from the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”

In Portland it has the opposite effect to use the Bible as basis of support for a concept, so instead I'd point to Barack Obama. As he said yesterday in Baltimore, on his whistle-stop trip to his inauguration:

What's required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives, our own hearts - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry and narrow interests - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

...if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay, straight, disabled, not - then not only would we restore opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.

I'm just so tired of hating the other side, whatever side that happens to be. I know we will only make progress as a country when we come together and reach a shared consensus on what's important to us.

Before the string-music begins, let me tell you that Stephen and I found ample evidence that we have a ways to go before we are all together on this. We launched the site during Christmas week, thinking it would be a good time for reflection on these issues. The site spread quickly, with thousands of visitors from all over the world. In addition to many thoughtful acts of forgiveness, there was a constant stream of unrepentant anger.

And, as the posts on this blog show, many people felt that forgiveness implied letting President Bush off the hook for all that he's done. Others felt too victimized or raw to be able to forgive yet. Perhaps we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like they had in South Africa to deal with the crimes perpetrated under the Apartheid regime?

Thanks for your participation and interest in this project. Stephen and I welcome your comments, either on this blog or by email.


From the archive

Hundreds more to click through here.

Katie says:

I can't do it, dude.

I want to. He found himself in a situation greater than that which he was equipped to deal with, and that's not necessarily his fault. I can empathize.


Forgiving someone who doesn't have the self-awareness to ask for forgiveness, to know he's screwed up (and screwed us up), sounds a lot like being taken advantage of, and I gave that up for lent in 2003.

Maybe I'm just not ready. Give me time.

Glenda says:


I am wondering what it would be like to ask forgiveness of the Iraqis or from prisoners tortured.
Maybe forgiveness comes after a time for truth and reconciliation.

David says:

I have to confess I am not ready to forgive GB yet. While I am quite ready to move on, there is something about keeping his crimes in the public consciousness that will serve us all well as a reminder of what’s up in our fair land (even if he never ‘gets’ it).

As Oregon’s own William Stafford once wrote,

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Anyway, a provocative and important query.

John says:

Still working on forgiving George - enormous damage done to so many people by his war.

Kathleen says:

I love this idea. Not sure I genuinely feel ready to forgive Mr. Bush, but maybe it’s like the bit about “smile and happiness will follow”?