Forgiving others often involves struggle. As I wrote a few months ago, forgiveness does not necessarily mean condoning. Rather, it means accepting, moving on, and not holding your life hostage to the actions of another person.
Does this same logic apply, however, to the actions of a public official? As one of my congregants recently asked me, can we forgive a comment like that of Congressman Todd Akin, who contended that certain types of rape are “legimimate?”
Furthermore, what does forgiveness mean in this case? Since the comment was not directed at any individual in particular, who is entitled to forgive?
These are not easy questions, and in the case of my congregant, it is a hypothetical one, as she does not live in Missouri and has no connection to Congressman Akin. Yet, it does demand some soul searching. How do we judge the words and convictions of others, and how do we hold them accountable?
Here’s what I said:
1. Forgiveness demands a clear and unequivocal apology: We have all received apologies where the offender says “I’m sorry for how my actions and my words made you feel.” In most cases, this is not an apology for one’s actions. It is simply an acknowledgment that what he or she did or said hurt us.
Congressman Akin needs to apologize for what he said unequivocally. It is not enough to say he misspoke. It is not enough to engage in a new ad campaign. He needs to show that he understood the ugliness and dishonesty of what he said. It is not politics. It is ethics.
2. Forgiveness and atonement are not the same thing: As Rabbi Brad Hirschfield points out in his thoughtful article, forgiveness is letting go of one’s anger and moving on. Atonement, on the other hand, involves reconciling oneself with the offense. It involves a renewed relationship and understanding. It takes more than a few days, and more than letters and advertisements.
3. Keep an open mind: Politics thrives on divisiveness. It is about who wins and who loses. Human relations, on the other hand, thrive on empathy and understanding.
Todd Akin probably has no future in politics. Yet, he does have a future as a human being. Let’s hope that future is one of growth and empathy.
By Evan Moffic,
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