The Possibility of Forgiveness
Ray Hommeyer, Unity Young Adult Group
But what do you mean by forgiveness? One of our young adults raised this question at our last meeting in June. I found myself remembering a conversation with a youth from Unity. She was dismayed and outraged about bullying at her school, yet she was also concerned — and confused by her concern — about how bullies were regarded. Her head dropped and then lifted as she asked a courageous question: “Can you forgive someone who was wrong?”
In that moment I felt my anti-oppression training shouting: only impact matters! It raged against my faith identity that insists on covenant; insists on recognizing intention as well as impact; insists on the possibility of forgiveness.
“Yes,” I replied. And her face froze in unease and longing. “Yes, because forgiveness and excusing someone’s behavior are not the same thing. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you can’t also hold them accountable.”
“So... forgiveness and accountability are different?”
“They have to be!” My voice held both hope and desperation.
Forgiveness is not something of the past. It’s relevant and present in our young adult lives and the generations following us. Toddlers remind me of the importance of divorcing accountability and forgiveness. Kids throw toys, pull hair, pee on the carpet, but I continue to forgive them; yet if I forgave kids without also holding them accountable, they would never learn to not jump on tables or bite their friends! When I worked at a domestic violence shelter in college, my understanding of the difference between forgiveness and accountability was significantly complicated. I remember a time I was presented evidence that one of our residential survivors was being abusive towards another survivor at the shelter. How ought we respond to these complex situations — not only logistically, but emotionally?
Accountability is necessary, but so is forgiveness. Especially when I examine how I, too, am complicit in perpetuating the cycles of harm I am caught in. Yes, my yearning for forgiveness is somewhat selfish. I need the grace of forgiveness when I mess up; when I cause harm. But my belief in forgiveness is also an extension of my longing to live in community and work together with other human beings, fallible as we all are. I cannot envision living with people without a practice of forgiveness.
If we are willing to try forgiving others, can we also ask to be forgiven? In the multitude of work ahead of us laid out in our Ends Statements, can we ask for forgiveness for the ways in which we have already failed? In which our individual-centered lives get in the way of our efforts? Or, on the other hand, in which we ignore one another’s basic human needs in order to “get the work done?” Isn’t this courageous practice of forgiveness essential to the possibility of our collective vision?
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