What We Can Learn About Forgiveness From Paula Deen?
In some ways Paula Deen has done what a person should do who wants forgiveness. But she veered terribly wrong when she expected that forgiveness from human beings would be immediate. The process of forgiveness seldom works that way in this world because there are too many layers of healing to get through to get to the destination point where all is forgiven.
Still, the fact that forgiveness has not been immediate does not mean forgiveness won’t come. The truth is Deen has caused a significant amount of pain, even if you just go by what she has admitted to—among this, using the “N” word and calling black people “monkeys.” Certainly, she created an environment that made many employees uncomfortable and caused more pain than she realizes.
So what can we learn from the media disclosure that the celebrity chef used the “N” word? More importantly, what might we have learned if this whole public conversation had been handled differently? This is, after all, a glaring opportunity for us all to learn, for our country to perhaps take a giant step in racial forgiveness. But again, the dialogue has to be handled differently.
First, let’s look at Deen herself. She admitted in a deposition for a workplace discrimination suit that she used racial slurs some 30 years ago and more recently tolerated bigoted behavior in her restaurants. Bravo for Deen for being honest, for admitting to mistakes.
Admission and accepting responsibility for our actions is the first step in asking for forgiveness. Of course, I doubt that it was Deen’s conscious intention to ask for forgiveness when she answered questions in her deposition. She is probably still trying to understand everything that she needs to change within herself—and her company. Subconsciously, however, she did ask for healing by saying that she is a different person now and sorry for what she knows was wrong.
It is obvious she has evolved from someone who comfortably used racial epithets to a woman who former President Jimmy Carter said in an CNN interview should be forgiven, noting that her programs in Savannah, Georgia, benefit "almost exclusively oppressed and poverty stricken black people.” Even my friend Carla Hall, co-host of ABC’s The Chew, tweeted support of Deen—and I know Carla’s heart and trust her judgment.
That does not mean Deen is perfect or that she does not have a lot of flaws that need changing. For all I know, she may be guilty of the specific accusations made by her former employee in the lawsuit. But by uttering the truth—that she used a racial epithet--she set into motion this request for healing and acknowledgement of past “wrongs.” The universe—God—heard the request and responded. What is happening may not look like healing. In fact, her life appears to be chaotic, as one sponsor after another dumps her. But on a spiritual level, her life is being realigned.