“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica…. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he’s helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4.9-11
Forgive and forget! That’s the Christian mantra to describe the process of forgiveness that isn’t quite as biblical as people claim. I’ve already talked about the the importance of repentance and confession in different blogs. In this one, I wish to focus on the idea of forgetting or forgetfulness. My purpose is to show how forgetting or forgetfulness isn’t always the best policy.
On August 13, Pastor Rick Warren writes on his Facebook that God thinks all lives matter as an alternative to Black Lives Matter movement. Thereafter, a firestorm erupted on this thread with an almost unifying voice of condemnation from our black brothers and sisters and almost a unifying voice of support from our white brothers and sisters. A simple appeal to God’s name shouldn’t divide the church, but it does and it has. Why? We no longer hold slaves. We no longer call black folks the N-word. Well, at least most of us who sincerely try to follow Christ don’t. Slavery and mistreatment of blacks are something that belong to a distant memory … at least for some folks, namely the white brothers and sisters who defend Pastor Rick. The same is not the case for the black brothers and sisters who still feel like second-class citizens. That explains the chasm, but it doesn’t explain the spirituality that causes the chasm.
The spirituality that causes the chasm is precisely what is wrong with the innocent Facebook post. Such a post is usually posted by a well-meaning person who doesn’t understand that the struggle is real for some folks today. The logic of such a person usually reads something like this. Since I’m not racist and I have minority friends, the world must be a better place already. And since the world is already a better place, why not forget the past, forgive the trespass (since I’m not racist) and move forward to bigger and better things. This logic is pretty much repeated in many posts that defend this attitude of “I’m OK; you must be OK.” It doesn’t work.
I remember growing up in the new South (Florida) as an immigrant and many of my classmates told me many racist Ching Chong jokes. Believe it or not, some of them are still my friends today (well, some aren’t). You know why? It’s because I’ve forgiven them. Whether they apologized personally to me or not doesn’t matter because they themselves have moved on to bigger and better things and they themselves have grown into better people. Many of the same folks have grown to be open-minded and mature Christians. So, we remain friends. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I forget those incidents. Forgiveness only means that I don’t hold grudges. When I see parallel incidents happening today, my radar is still up. Why? It’s because I forgave but I didn’t forget. Forgetfulness is spiritually harmful not just to the individual but to the Body of Christ.
Just because some people have grown up to be better and become “OK”, it doesn’t follow that everyone and the system that promotes that has been fixed. We don’t forget history. The church’s spirituality to forgive and forget has abused and will continue to injure many a member before someone calls her out. Easy forgetfulness isn’t progress. Easy forgetfulness is folly. It’s the naivety that causes historical terror to repeat itself.
As I type this blog, our nation still has a long way to go. Fraternities and sororities in the universities across the nation are some of the most racially segregated organizations. So are churches. It doesn’t matter that Pastor Rick’s churches have members that speak 67 different languages. So what? Some of those churches are foreign churches. Of course, these people would speak the local languages. The problem of Black Lives Matter is an entirely different issue. It isn’t merely about diversity. It’s about the present injustice that can sometimes happen to black folks as we non-black Christians forcefully ask them to forgive past trespasses so that we can forget any historical lesson that can prevent the PRESNT system from abusing more black folks.
If we read the writing of 2 Timothy, we must understand that forgetting past wrongs isn’t a biblical requirement. The author pointed out that he didn’t forget those who had abandoned him. He didn’t hold grudges but he also wasn’t naively believing that everything was “A OK.” Nothing is “A OK”. The author didn’t forget, even though he seems to have forgiven Mark’s possible trespasses when he abandoned the Pauline mission. Just because one guy came back to the Pauline mission, it doesn’t mean that other guys didn’t replace him in being derelict in their duties.
The spirituality of the Bible is realistic. It isn’t some impossible ideal. Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting or forgetfulness. Instead, it requires gracious memory that teaches a historical lesson. To forget the historical lesson or fail to identify the present problem is to damage the Body of Christ because when one part is hurting, the other part should advocate for it or risk further injury. The biggest offense that comes from posts like Warren’s isn’t the truth it proclaims, but its failure to acknowledge the pain in the Body of Christ. Such half-truths are schismatic and ultimately will split the Body of Christ unnecessarily via the racial divide.