There has been some coverage about the ‘forgiveness’ offered to Dylann Roof by some of the Christian parishioners of Emanuel AME church that survived his attack. Matt Schiavenza in the The Atlantic describes this. [For some other responses as to why people do or do not forgive Mr. Roof, which I have not had time to read, check out this Google page.] I have to say for myself that I am willing to forgive him as these people did, but I still think he should suffer the earthly penalty.
But what is important is that in a time when we are trying to remodel the gospel of Jesus to one of ‘tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion’, Mr. Roof’s behavior cannot be tolerated, accepted, or included. So the old Jesus, who spoke a gospel of forgiveness, can include Mr. Roof in it; but the new Jesus cannot include him. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal happened to be in town for the funeral, and concluded that the lack of bitterness and rioting had to do with the Christian heritage of Charleston:
“[T]he remarkable spirit of conciliation in Charleston . . . didn’t come from their religion alone. It came from their habits of religion. . . . Where will a predominantly secularized society learn virtue?”
Of course, “habits of religion” tend to lag a generation or two behind religion in a culture; when a culture becomes predominantly Christian it takes a while to shed its old habits, and the same is true of cultures that go from Christian to something else. Most Germans today are not believers, any more than most Japanese, but the German response to the Holocaust and the other events of World War II has been quite superior to the Japanese response, and that is because the Germans have not yet shed their Christian habits. Will they? It is an irony to me that Luther indeed said some very nasty things about the Jews, but that was because he was basically cranky and he had expected that they would accept this new version of Christianity, and they didn’t. But his Jew-hatred was on a completely different basis than Hitler’s. And arguably, it was Luther and Luther’s gospel that made the Germans into the sort of people that could face up to the Holocaust and repent and receive forgiveness, rather than the sort of culture that arises apart from Christ, where to confess is to lose ‘face’ and one must deny that one has done wrong.
Secular cultures can make it on a sort of non-revealed secular morality for a long time. But something is lost. One thing that happens when revealed morality is rejected is represented by Marxism, where certain ideas of Christian charity were taken out of context and became utterly monstrous. The current situation, on the other hand, is one where a fine distinction is being lost: the distinction between Christian ‘forgiveness’ and secular ‘tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion’ seems frankly beyond the ability of secular people and cultures to accept. I can’t help thinking that something important has been lost.