This piece originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of "Celebrations" magazineOne summer I had the opportunity to speak to a group of religious women in London, England. Taking my cue from the readings of the day, I based my talk on forgiveness.
Later that day, I learned that two of the sisters had recently returned from Liberia where they had been beaten and raped by rebel soldiers.
I was shocked. I had to ask myself whether I would have had the courage to speak so freely about the need for forgiveness if I knew that among the listeners were women struggling with that level of victimization. It challenged me to ask myself if I really took to heart the words of forgiveness I spoke so easily.
Every Sunday, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before a congregation which knew deep victimization. They experienced discrimination on a daily basis. Most of their grandparents had been enslaved. Many of their family members had been imprisoned and even executed unfairly. And yet, every Sunday, he looked them squarely in the eye and preached the gospel of forgiveness.
For Rev. King, non-violent resistance was not a political strategy, but a gospel. Inspired by Jesus' words and life, he kept his eye on a deeper liberation, a deeper type of freedom: one born of reconciliation rather than revenge; of cooperation rather than dominance.
What if his congregation failed to listen to him and follow him? Rev. King would then be one of thousands of unknown Southern Baptist preachers. But, his congregation and countless others were moved enough to forgive, to seek reconciliation and to claim their rights in a non-violent way.
While it's certainly courageous on their part, we shouldn't be surprised by it. The human heart longs to hear God's Word of reconciliation and forgiveness. The human heart leaps when it hears God's Word proclaimed in uncompromising terms. That is the foundation of our confidence: not in our own cleverness or glibness, but in the power of God's Truth.
There are Christians who everyday take Jesus' words of forgiveness and reconciliation to heart. It happens in families between spouses, it happens in work places and it happens in prisons. God's Word of forgiveness is embraced by His People in great and small ways because the human heart understands that it is the only path to true peace. This holiday is an opportunity for us to celebrate the witness of so many Christians and citizens while at the same time re-committing ourselves to work for justice through reconciliation.