Mercy, Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Racism

Inspired by Dear White Peacemakers and Hidden Brain Podcasts on Forgiveness and Mercy

Have you had that experience where an idea that surfaces in one place appears in a wholly unrelated place just a little bit later?  I use that as a guide that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me or teach me.  It happened recently around the ideas of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.  If you follow these blogs, you know that I am slowly meditating on Dear White Peacemakers…trying to stay connected to Ms. Moore’s ideas and her spirit.  And recently, I have listened to two podcasts on the show Hidden Brain:  “The Power of Mercy” and “The Power of Apologies.”[1]  Where did their ideas converge?

The ideas converged around the notion that forgiveness is a gift that honors another’s humanity, their imago Dei; around the idea that forgiveness can take a long time; and, around the idea that forgiveness does not mean denying the anger, betrayal, frustration and fear also present.  Both Ms. Moore and the two psychologists featured on the podcasts agree that mercy is grounded in empathy:  the ability to see another person as a human being worthy of respect simply because they are a human being.  They agree that mercy is a gift both received and given, that it is part of choosing to forgive and that it is not a free pass for the transgressor to harm again.  And finally, they agree that forgiveness, while part of reconciliation, is not the same thing as reconciliation. 

Ms. Moore says it this way, “Forgiveness, however, is not the same as reconciliation, and the two must be distinguished.  While forgiveness is vital to a life lived in love, we must also love ourselves enough not to subject ourselves to ongoing retraumatization.  Jesus’ way of love opens the door to reconciliation, but it’s not a guarantee.  People are also free to continue in their sin, and it isn’t healthy for us to join ourselves to them while they are in that state.”[2]  Truth. 

Here’s my first set of inklings about what the Holy Spirit is telling and teaching me from these converging ideas:

  1. Forgiveness is deeply empathetic and therefore human and Jesus was all about restoring us to our full humanity. Hence the researchers in this area can demonstrate real physical and mental benefits that accrue to those who practice forgiveness.  It’s good for us!  But then, Jesus knew that.
  2. Mercy and forgiveness are cousins to reconciliation. They are not the same thing, however.  It is wise not to confuse that, conflate them or assume that reconciliation has happened because forgiveness was offered. 
  3. It is possible to hold both anger and empathy in a given situation. One does not cancel out the other.  The grace is to be able to own both realities and to ask for God’s mercy to keep them in balance so that anger does not dehumanize the other, no matter what they’ve done.
  4. Black and brown people have righteous anger, holy anger that I must accept as part of the truth of the story of racism. But those who wish to follow Jesus into the Beloved Community can hold that anger next to empathy and so open the doorway to forgiveness.
  5. There’s no such thing as cheap grace….glossing over the hard work to change both personal attitudes and national systems and structures in favor of kind words, hugs and even tears. It’s not enough.   In my last blog I said Ms. Moore makes me cry in almost every chapter I’ve read.  Well, I didn’t cry in the last two chapters I’m meditating upon.  Instead, I found myself face-to-face with the hard work necessary for justice to come for black and brown people: accountability, personal conversion and substantive systemic change.  Then reconciliation happens. Oh, and by that, I mean my accountability, my personal conversion and my commitment to work for substantive change.  That’s the reconciling work of the Beloved Community.

So I close this blog with this truth:  I am continuing to learn, and that learning is leading me to accept accountability, to desire companions on the journey toward justice for black and brown people, and to realize that Jesus expects this work from his followers.  It’s not additive.  It’s constitutive.

May mercy enfold us so we can offer it to all.

May forgiveness be the grease that makes our relationships strong enough to hold anger and forgiveness…side-by-side

May reconciliation be the hallmark of the Beloved Community, come to through accountability, conversion and action for justice.

May the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

[1] “The Power of Mercy” features psychologist Charlotte Witvliet’s research on the benefits of forgiveness for the mind and the body.  “The Power of Apologies” features psychologist Tyler Okimoto’s research on the barriers that keep us from admitting when we’ve done something wrong.  Both episodes are available on Spotify.
[2] Page 280 in my Kindle version of Dear White Peacemakers.



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