Before our society can be both pluralistic and healthy, racial, ethnic, religious, political, and sexual minorities must choose to forgive those who peddled societal odium and persecution in less tolerant times. Only then can society disentangle itself from past sins. Any attempt to move forward before true forgiveness becomes a reality, will ultimately fail: a desire for vengeful retribution will still remain.
Rhetoric that foments bitterness lengthens the healing process, but words of forgiveness can heal deep wounds. Recently, news broadcasts have illustrated the foregoing truth quite nicely. Driven by bitterness, anger, and loathing, some Missourians have repeatedly rioted in Ferguson (MO). Clearly, past injustices have not been forgiven. Vengeance, not peace, has motivated the rioters.
On the other hand, some people choose to forgive their oppressors; mercy is their guide. Anger is displaced by peace, and compassionate actions follow. Yesterday the BBC offered an inspiring example of this phenomenon. In the late 1970’s many white South African policeman were used to quell anti-apartheid riots; one such policeman drifted into alcoholism and lost everything. His road to recovery began when an African woman gave him shelter. She forgave him, and she was compassionate (listen here).
Only the inner revolution of forgiveness can heal a lingering wound – new laws, official apologies, and financial restitution are powerless to fix the underlying problem. Real change starts with the painful act of forgiveness.