We have been awakened to injustice among communities of color. The effect of Covid-19 cases and the brutal deaths of African Americans at the hands of police have led to a perfect storm in race relations. Our communities are echoing the voice of George Floyd: “I can’t breathe!”
We have witnessed racial protests before, but what’s happening now seems different. We may be ready for a transformation of mind and soul.
Symbols of white superiority are being overturned. Many white folks are beginning to acknowledge their complicity in racist behavior. There seems to be a glimmer of hope that the division among us is reparable.
How might we experience transformation and redemption?
I think an answer lies in acknowledging our complicity in racial inequity and taking corrective action. This begins with giving and receiving forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not forgetting or accepting the harm and pain. Rather, forgiveness releases the inward hostility that disempowers us. It frees us from the grip of torment and anger.
In my early years as an advocate for social justice, my pastor said I had “rocks in my bed” — disturbed sleep because of unresolved issues. He advised me to seek the root cause of my night restlessness. I discovered it stemmed from my inability to forgive.
I am an Anabaptist of African American heritage. Both lineages have a history of personal forgiveness while working against institutional evils. Both are informed by our spiritual relationship with our Creator, through Jesus. We don’t take it lightly that forgiveness is the centerpiece of redemption.
Many say Jesus’ environment was not as complex as ours. Some believe he didn’t define the terms of forgiveness. Scripture teaches otherwise. Jesus espoused examination that leads to forgiving one’s self and others (Luke 6:37, 42).
Our response to injustice is often based on an emotional reaction. The forgiveness Jesus commands requires us to examine ourselves.
I saw a T-shirt with the saying, “Keep your faith. Ditch the baggage.”
Forgiving one’s self, which leads to transformative action, requires us to shed the baggage of racist attitudes. We ditch our suitcase of guilt and seek to understand others as we ask to be understood.
There are others like you who seek healing, forgiveness and redemption. Some are perceived enemies who have begun to question their actions. They have their ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. Like you, they have a story to tell that can help us move toward forgiveness and redemption.
Forgiveness doesn’t require action by the offender. It only demands action from you. Unforgiveness keeps things as they are — revengeful and destructive. Forgiveness creates change for the better.
We can’t forgive unjust systems. But we can transform systems by holding individuals accountable for actions that support unjust institutions. To do that, we must be willing to approach people with a forgiving spirit.
I take courage from the words of Søren Kierkegaard: “If you wholeheartedly forgive your enemy, you may dare hope for your own forgiveness, for it is one and the same.”
Listen to your heart and conscience. When you no longer have “rocks in your bed,” forgiveness and redemption are taking hold.
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.