Sunday, March 16, 2008

Comment: Ministers, Theologians and Pardons

Today, the Jamaica Gleaner features an editorial on pardons and mercy written by the Public Theology Forum, an ecumenical group of ministers of religion and theologians. In part, it reads:
It's a truism that the quality of the justice of a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. In a similar vein, we can perhaps argue that the quality of the mercy of a society is to be judged by how it treats those who do wrong, especially serious wrong.

 ... In Luke's account of the crucifixion of Jesus, among the words spoken by Jesus from the cross were "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." In so doing, he asked pardon for those that had handed him over, those who had sentenced him and those that had participated in his crucifixion.

... As things now stand, we tend to reduce the notion of forgiveness to a personal private matter between individuals. Furthermore, forgiveness is dismissed as an activity for weak people, i.e., those who don't have the power to get even or take revenge. (It is a spectacle to behold conflict between children where one threatens the other to bring an older sibling or parent to fight his opponent who has bested or dissed him in some way. So we could point out that an unforgiving spirit may be the last refuge of a cowardly person.) Forgiveness, therefore, is seen to be unrelated to larger social issues or public matters that resonate on the lives of many persons. As individuals we often relish being in position to pass judgement on others.

... A key dimension of forgiveness that is often forgotten is that to forgive does not remove the need for punishment and recompense.

... Forgiveness requires and is tied to notions of repentance and reconciliation. In our justice system, there needs to be a deepened emphasis on rehabilitation and restorative justice that goes beyond simply the paying of penalties for wrong done.
...This does not mean that we should demur in our duty to establish the rule of law and seek justice. It does mean that since we know that the miscarriage of justice is a distinct possibility we avoid the rush to judgement and open ourselves to offer the opportunity for renewal.

The other danger is the danger of using one human being as a means to the end of deterring other human beings. When human beings become simply means to an end, it only serves to devalue human beings. The intention cannot simply be that we make a very public example of this person to deter others. Experience alone teaches us that this simply does not work; it might satisfy many who are out for blood, but it does not work! Rather, the good of the person who has done wrong must also be sought and the administration of punishment fitting the crime should have the intent to rehabilitate and reconcile.

... The problem is that all of us at one time or another finds ourselves doing what we know to be wrong. If the axe of judgement is laid at the root then none will stand. They will be none to recover and renew and offer or receive the offer of a second chance. Pardon is a better teacher than punishment.
See full editorial here>.

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