Forgiveness in the Wake of the Charleston Massacre

Submitted by Adrian on

Originally posted here:

There has been a lot of discussion about forgiveness lately that started after the families of the victims of the Charleston Massacre expressing their forgiveness to Dylann Roof at his arraignment. Then yesterday a friend shared a Washington Post news article titled “Black America should stop forgiving white racists”.  She then commented on the article asking the question, “The notion of forgiveness has been on mind recently -- after reading The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal -- on the possibilities and limits of forgiveness - "You are a prisoner in a concentration camp. A Nazi soldier asks for your forgiveness. What would you do?"

This got me to thinking about forgiveness as well.  I then googled “What is forgiveness” and read an article that stated that forgiveness as a “conscious, decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group that has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness”.  This tells me that forgiveness is actually more for the victim than for the one who committed the wrong.  This makes sense.  Without forgiveness, the victim is unable to heal, get better and move on with their life, not allowing their hurt and pain to take over and control their life.

In the case of the Charleston Massacre it means (to me) that the families of the victims are not going to let Dylann Roof’s actions control their lives, and as such diffuse the influence of his actions over them and allow them NOT to behave as white America expects.  This means that African Americans once again take the moral high road and behave at a higher level, more spiritually than our oppressors.

Now I think about what my Faith, the Bahá'í Faith teaches about forgiveness. Up till now I think I had a “generic” understanding of what forgiveness was (which in actuality was more in line with absolving one of their “sins” against me rather than the actual definition of releasing my feelings of anger and resentment so I would be able to move forward). 

We, as Bahá'ís are taught that we are to forgive others:

“If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, 2nd ed., p. 453

And when we look at people we are to look beyond their imperfections and shortcomings:

“Do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness. The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. The eye that covers faults looks toward the Creator of souls.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93)

We must look at people in a positive light so that we can be better individuals and improve the life of all people and for our own spiritual well being:

“You must manifest complete love and affection towards all mankind. Do not exalt yourselves above others but consider all as your equals, recognizing them as the servants of one God. Know that God is compassionate towards all, therefore love all from the depths of your hearts, prefer all religionists to yourselves, be filled with love for every race and be kind cowards the people of all nationalities. Never speak disparagingly of others but praise without distinction. Pollute not your tongues by speaking evil of another. Recognize your enemies as your friends and consider those who wish you evil as the wishers of good. You must not see evil as evil and then compromise with your opinion, for to treat in a smooth, kindly way one whom you consider evil or an enemy is hypocrisy and this is not worthy nor allowable. No! You must consider your enemies as your friends, look upon your evil-wishers as your well-wishers and treat them accordingly. Act in such a way that your heart may be free from hatred. Let not your heart be offended with any one. If some one commits an error and wrong towards you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them and if you wish to give admonition or advice let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the heart of the hearer. Turn all your thoughts towards bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! Lest ye offend any heart. Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one and shelter those who are overshadowed with fear. In brief, let each of you be as a lamp shining forth with the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God. Be a Bahá’í.”[41]” Portals to Freedom

But I did find something surprising but the more I think about it the more it makes sense.  We are told that we are not to forgive a person who commits a crime against you:

“If a person commit a crime* against you, you have not the right to forgive him.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 154

* crime a: an act … that is forbidden … by a public law of a sovereign state and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law in a proceeding brought against him by the state … an offense against public law (as a misdemeanor, felony …) providing a penalty … b: an offense against the social order … that is dealt with by community action rather than by an individual…. Merriam-Webster unabridged, 1971.

The Bahá'í Writings go on to tell us that if we were to forgive criminals they would continue their behaviors and society as a whole would suffer:

“If the community and the inheritors of the murdered one were to forgive and return good for evil, the cruel would be continually ill-treating others, and assassinations would continually occur. Vicious people, like wolves, would destroy the sheep of God…. So if, at present, the law of pardon were practiced in all countries, in a short time the world would be disordered, and the foundations of human life would crumble. For example, if the governments of Europe had not withstood the notorious Attila, he would not have left a single living man.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 269-270

That it is best to deal with criminals with justice rather than forgiveness:

“The canopy of existence resteth upon the pole of justice, and not of forgiveness, and the life of mankind dependeth on justice and not on forgiveness.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted in Advent of Divine Justice, p. 28

“… I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice.” Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian #64

As a Bahá'í I do not interpret the Bahá'í Writings but instead I strive to gain an understanding, so what I have expressed here is just that, my understanding.  It can/will be different for everyone and I offer this glimpse for those who this knowledge might help in dealing with and understanding what is happening today.

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