A Brick in the Valley


Forgiveness: Which is More “Christian”?
June 25, 2007, 1:36 pm
Filed under: Forgiveness

 The Truth and Reconciliation Act in South Africa was a complex approach by South Africa to move beyond Apartheid.[1]

My purpose in this blog is not to critique South Africa’s strategy with the Truth and Reconciliation Act.  Rather, I would like to raise a question about a comment made by one of the Christian participants in the hearings. 

Read this account by Solomon Schimmel and see who you think is more Christian in his analysis of the situation.[2]

“The commission had adopted the rule that amnesty would be granted to those who had committed crimes truthfully and fully, and provided whatever information they had about the crimes in which they had participated.  Among those participating in the forum was a white police officer.  This man had ordered that two houses in a black township be set on fire.  Seven adults and five children were inside, and all 12 were killed.  The amnesty rule freed the police officer from any legal obligation to the families of the victims, and from any punishment for the crime.  [A rabbi] recalled: ‘As the [officer] recounted his story, lamenting how much he regretted his action, audience members began to weep, eventually giving him a standing ovation.  I was aghast.  ‘I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous,’ I called out . . . ‘You can’t sadistically murder 12 innocent people by burning them alive and just say, ‘I’m sorry!’  One Christian participant in the forum immediately attacked the rabbi for his comment, saying, ‘That’s because you Jews don’t know how to forgive.‘”

Again, I don’t want to critique South Africa’s solution to the post-apartheid situation, which was unbelievably complex.  Perhaps, one might defend the approach on pragmatic grounds.  But, the above account raises any number of questions.

Who is more Christian in his assessment of the situation, the rabbi or the Christian participator?

Can we be confident of the repentance of one who confesses such crimes only after being given a promise of full amnesty?

Do we truly love and respect people if we do not hold them responsible for their actions?

Does Christian forgiveness mean the elimination of consequences?


[1] See Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999).[2] Simon Schimmel, Wounds Not Healed By Time (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 8, emphasis added.

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1 Comment so far
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While one might indeed doubt the sincerity of this repentance, Matthew 6:14-15 etc etc clearly shows that it was right for individual Christians to forgive him. Whether the state should punish him is a separate matter, and in this case it is probably good that it chose not to.

Comment by Peter Kirk




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