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TEXAS FAITH: Should nations forgive, too?


The following ran on the June 26, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News Texas Faith blog. Theology Professor William Lawrence provided expertise for this story.

June 29, 2012

By William McKenzie

Recently, I read an obituary of a woman who didn’t ask that money be donated to a particular cause or institution. She instead asked that people who read her obituary forgive more.
I found that very powerful, and thought of that request as I read this piece by T.D. Jakes in the Washington Post’s On Faith blog.
As Jakes points out, it can be hard to forgive. For one thing, we may have been genuinely wronged.
But there does a come a point at which it’s best to move on. Otherwise, we let the grievance get the best of us, including allowing it to turn us into victims, as Jakes writes.
All that makes sense. But how does an ethic like that apply to a nation?
Are we suddenly to forgive, say, Iran’s leader for demonizing Israel? Or, back during the Cold War, were we to forgive Russia for sending nuclear weapons to Cuba?
Probably most of us would say no, but don’t nations also let themselves become victims of their own grievances when they fail to let go of slights?
So, here’s the question for this week:
How should the concept of forgiveness play out between countries?
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
The concept of forgiveness between nations may be incomprehensible in the abstract but we have seen it in practice on many occasions. Americans were engaged in the bitterest and most socially divisive war in the nation’s history when Vietnam invaded the American psyche in the 1960’s. But a lot has happened in the decades since the war ended ignominiously for the United States in the 1970’s.
We have established a relationship with our former foes to locate the remains of military personnel who are missing in action. We have opened opportunities for travel, tourism, and trade with the people of the land that Americans once set afire with napalm. Forgiveness and reconciliation have flowed in both directions, from east to west and from west to east.
Perhaps even more compelling is the story in South Africa, whose healing in the post-apartheid period has been accomplished in part through the work of a “truth and reconciliation commission.” Leaders and former leaders of South Africa accepted the principle that it was essential for the nation’s future to be honest about its past. And those same leaders were determined that truthfulness about the country’s wicked system of racial division become the prelude to forgiveness for the facts about evil actions that the process unearthed.
Nations are very effective at practicing the arts of hate. But we have demonstrated more than once in recent years that nations can also practice the art of forgiveness....