Father Robert Libby

Photo by Raquel Garcia / Islander News 

Spiritual Contemplations: racism, reconciliation, forgiveness and love

In last week’s column, I suggested that racism was a basic spiritual problem and therefore has a spiritual remedy. I quoted Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts Jr. saying that, “We are at best bigots in recovery.” Then I referred to Bishop Desmond Tutu’s declaration that, “There is no future without forgiveness.”

Forgiveness is a major theme in both Judaism and Christianity. The high holy day of Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. Atonement, i.e. At-One-ment, means bringing back together that which has been set apart. Forgive and or forgiveness appear more than two dozen times in the Christian Scripture. In the Lord’s Prayer, it has two parts: 1. Forgive us our sins, 2. As we forgive those who have sinned against us.

When I was being prepared for confirmation at age 11, I was taught that God would forgive me for the bad things “I had done and left undone,” provided that I was truly sorry; would do my best not to do them again; and make amends, if and when that was possible. “Make amends?” Are we talking about “reparations?” Am I guilty for the sins of my great-great- grandparents, or am I called upon to mend the damage that has been done?

Regarding #2, “As we have forgiven those who have sinned against us,” there are some real possibilities.

In 1992, when I published The Forgiveness Book, that idea became a cornerstone of my pastoral ministry. I came to the conclusion that when one has been hurt, abused, defrauded, etc. it is important to acknowledge the offence, seek justice, healing, and finally grant forgiveness. Acknowledging victimhood is a pit stop on the road to healing, it’s not a final destination.

The most quoted paragraph from my book states, “When we define ourselves by the people who have hurt us or the people who hate us, we remain in bondage to those people until we are able to forgive them. When we are unable to let go of the past, our identity is defined by those moments of hatred and pain…But, as Christians we are called to identify ourselves with one who loves us and was willing to die on the cross for us.”

Racism and self-centeredness may be a part of human nature, but that’s not all there is. Recently, I saw a feature story on TV about an experiment on two little toddlers. They not only exhibited self-serving behavior, but a sense of fairness and the capacity to share. Might this be an infantile example of loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

Is love the answer to racism? Are human beings capable of love…especially across racial and cultural barriers?

Last May when millions tuned into the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, we were confronted with a declaration of the “radical power of love” by the African American Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.

The same theme was pronounced by Rabbi Joel Caroline last October, when the Key Biscayne community gathered with him in solidarity with the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue bombing.

“Love is stronger than hate,” proclaimed the Rabbi, and the crowd shouted “AMEN.”