Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The "F" Word: The "Roof" Is Not On Fire

Someone once said that not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. When it comes to Dylann Roof, I imagine that some individuals would hire a HAZMAT team to assist them in handling an even more toxic cocktail.

Roof is the white supremacist responsible for the mass shooting of nine church members at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC in June 2015.  Included in this is the assassination of Clementa Pinckney, a state Senator and the senior pastor of the church.

This whole tragedy is rich is nuance, so I'll focus on one particular development. During Roof's bond hearing, several family members of the victims had an opportunity to speak directly to him. Some of them made the decision to offer him forgiveness and told him that they were praying for his soul. Of course, in a tragedy such as this, one cannot expect everyone to be ready to forgive...even if it has been over a year since it happened. Recently, Reverend Sharon Risher, daughter of one of the Emanuel 9, said these words recently in an interview:

Risher: My sister...was the first person voice (sic) you heard on the tape with forgiveness. There was a lot of anger in me not understanding where that came from, knowing my sister. And then I realized it was not her. It was God using her to set the tone of what needed to be done at that time. I've been very vocal about not being able to forgive Dylann Roof. As a pastor, I understand that forgiveness is a journey and some people get there faster than others...I still can't be authentic and say I'm going to forgive him. Eventually that will happen, but for now I'm going to be my authentic self and voice what I feel. There is no forgiveness from me at this time. I can't. I just can't do it. I'm trying real hard, but I can't.
Interviewer: And what do you say to those folks who would say that..."well, as a reverend, thats what you're supposed to do..."
Risher: And I know that. We will be truthful and authentic no matter what title we wear. Sometimes being your authentic self means that you have to be alone. But I'm ready to take that on and I've been doing it, and I'm going to say your faith and your walk is what you need to do for you. For Reverend Risher, this is the walk God has given me at this time and I have no choice but to go there.

Here is the subsequent response from the in-studio panel of political and social figures. The names have been removed to protect the "intelligent"...

Panelist 1: I appreciated (her) for being so forthcoming and honest about not falling on the forgiving train. Hopefully she can be an inspiration to her family members and people there to not be so passive in the midst of a massacre. But I'm also interested to see what's going to happen with this guy being his own attorney...he will be confronting the people that forgave him. It will be interesting to see if they're gonna continue with that forgiving perspective after having to deal with him in the court under those circumstances.
Panelist 2: I don't think he wants to get off...He wants to be a hero to white nationalists and white supremacists across the country. He wants to be a legend. And that's what this is about - building his own personal platform. And I would definitely agree with this forgiveness trope that only Black people are saddled with. To me, it's tied, quite frankly, with our very infusion of Christianity into us from the slave period, I believe...this belief that we have to wait until we die to get our rewards, but while we're here, we can be persecuted, we can be murdered, we can be violated in any and every way possible, yet we and we alone are expected to forgive in the moment. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Amazing how quickly some judge people on their motivation for forgiveness and label it as a trope. The truth is this: if someone chooses to forgive another, that is that person's business. That person decided to give their victimizer - dare I say, "oppressor" - a "get out of 'jail' free" card so that he/she can be unencumbered with anger and hostility toward someone who committed such a heinous act of hate. And no one has the right to criticize that person for rejecting the move to be imprisoned by his/her own blood-thirstiness to get some get-back . Forgiveness is not passive. It is always active. Because the person offering it is taking control of his/her own emotional self-awareness as well as defusing the victimizer's future attempts to push his/her buttons and turn him/her into something worse than their victimizer: his/her own god.

President Obama leading the assembly in "Amazing Grace".

The logic used to label someone's act of forgiveness as "passive", "ridiculous", and tied to a slave mindset conditioned by a warped and demented Christocentric worldview is just as faulty as the logic to accuse Risher of not being truthful to her "calling" in relation to this tragedy. I'm not saying that Risher's point of view is consistent with good theology; in fact, any titular figure is susceptible to scrutiny when situations like these arise. But to ham-handedly castigate those who wish to rise to a higher standard of humanity by forgiving a known white supremacist for atrocities committed is a low blow. It is their inalienable right to rise to that standard...especially when others desirous of the same standard consciously justify falling short of it.

I know this might sound like I'm judging the "Rev". But consider this: what if those who forgave Roof were being their authentic selves? What if they were being truthful to the faith and walk to which God called them? Maybe, just maybe this is the journey of forgiveness that they are committed to traveling and they are prepared to travel this road alone. Maybe someone should speak on their behalf to laud them for their forthcoming and honest stance in excusing themselves from partaking of the cup of poison passed in front of them.

It's rather convenient for some to judge the pardoners for being complicit in a legacy of shuffling and head-hanging without unbiased critical understanding of their plight. It would be one thing to do this and violate your conscience because you know the system is not going to give you a fair shake. In that way, I can understand how it can be attributed to the unfortunate slave psyche shaped by the "Christian" slave master. It's completely another thing to do this with a clear conscience knowing that the system is not going to give you a fair shake. This speaks to people who have decided to appeal to a higher authority - an authority, despite a humanistic argument, who ultimately controls said system and decides who does and doesn't fill the seats in said system.

Forgiveness is not a trope. It is not a tired, weak, insipid, played-out broken record designed to excuse bad, wicked, or insidious behavior. Forgiveness is a divine characteristic, a godly quality that stresses the pardoner's need to be liberated from anger as well as his/her relinquishing the temptation to exact his/her own brand of vengeance. Notice that I did not say justice. These terms are not synonymous.

The difference is simple. Vengeance jumps the fence and runs amok until it satisfies itself no matter how long it takes. Justice trusts the fence and accepts its rightness, yet makes sure every square inch inside the boundary measures up to it. Vengeance from a human bent is not and never will be fair. Justice - when correctly, impartially, and consistently applied - always is and will be fair. Famously stated, justice is blind...especially when righteousness is involved.

Something tells me that the people who forgave Roof are deciding to wait on the ruling from a much more "supreme" court than the one in South Carolina...or even Washington, D.C.

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