As has become rather infamous already, an article in The Atlantic has called for amnesty for “what we did and said when we were [supposedly – .Ed] in the dark about COVID,” including harmful government responses to COVID. The response to said article probably is not what was anticipated. Many are doubling down on insisting on accountability for those who restricted and harmed us in any number of ways. The language in so insisting is not always polite. (Yes, I am engaging in some Anglican understatement here.)
I confess that I am heartened by the response. People standing up to tyranny always warms my cold, hard heart. But there is some confusion about the proper place of forgiveness and accountability on all sides, including mine. I do not presume to be able to bring clarity and charity to all, but some brief thoughts anyway.
First, forgiveness is not required when there is no apology. I have heard some well meaning Christians say we should forgive always no matter what, but they are misreading scripture at best. Now I do agree it is often best to forgive even when there is no apology for our own good, to avoid the toxicity of bitterness that can eat us up inside.
But asking and expecting people to forgive when there is no apology can be downright abusive and even add to the wrong done. So victims of tyranny and criminality should forgive the tyrants and criminals even when there is no justice and there is not even an apology? No. And apologies from the COVID tyrants have been extremely few.
We should remember that, although God makes His forgiveness available to all through Jesus Christ, He by no means forgives all. Those who stiffen their necks, refuse to repent of their sin, and pile on to their sin by rejecting Christ even to the grave will not be forgiven, never.
If that seems harsh, then perhaps one should meditate on the holiness and justice of God and on the sinfulness of sin against a holy God.
At the same time, while we should be sympathetic toward those angry over sin, it is presumptuous for Christians to say they would never forgive any of the living. God has brought many awful criminals to repentance in remarkable ways. St. Paul was a zealous murderer of Christians before God knocked him off his high horse and converted him not only to become a Christian himself but a great apostle of The Faith.
So although we should not push guilt on those sorely grieved at wrong, we should all be ready to forgive when there is a genuine apology. Never forget? Perhaps. Never forgive? Christians should not say that about the living whom God may still bring to repentance for all we know. Instead, we should love our enemies by praying for them as Jesus taught. That includes praying for repentance and forgiveness.
However, forgiveness is not the same as amnesty. Forgiveness does not mean putting aside justice, at least not always. Let’s say a murderer who has just been convicted or even is about to be executed breaks down in tears and makes a genuine apology to the family of his victim. A Christian with God’s help — and God’s help is needed to do this! — should forgive the criminal. And that has often happened in open court.
But should the repentant criminal then be released from his sentence? No. Forgiveness does not mean putting aside accountability and justice. I think it would a be good thing for many of the COVID tyrants to repent and apologize. I would hope I would be enough like Christ to forgive them. But do I then think there should be no accountability in the courts and at the ballot box for what they have done? No. (And I have voted in the mid-term elections accordingly.)
For there must be accountability in a functioning society. One reason I am dead set against amnesty for illegal aliens is that it sends the message to others that they can violate our borders and our laws without consequence. I can be kind to illegals (and have) but still therefore oppose amnesty for them. On crime as a whole, that there has been less accountability for criminal acts in Democrat run cities in recent years is the main reason there has been a great increase in crime. A big reason our freedoms are under siege is that those in power who have attacked our freedoms have not been held accountable . . . yet. Allowing tyranny and criminality to go unpunished invites more of both. A society must have accountability, must insist on accountability and justice for it to function.
At the same time, a society without forgiveness will tear itself apart. Just as a family without forgiveness will tear itself apart. A society must have both accountability and forgiveness. And the two do not contradict as some may think.
Yes, I have glossed over some weighty and complex topics rather quickly. But I hope this is helpful anyway in sorting through issues of forgiveness and accountability.
(This was originally published on my substack.)