Sunday, August 27, 2017
The Two Americans & Forgiveness
There is a story in the New York Times called The Two Americans which is a long but worthwhile read about two young men in an Arkansas town which lives intersect on the way to forgiveness. Abraham was one of three young men who got liquored up one night and vandalizes the local mosque. Abraham was the lookout and didn't actually paint the swastikas and racial slurs on the building. But when surveillance video eventually identified his mother's van as the vehicle related to the incident he was arrested and charged for this hate crime.
Strangely, Abraham was not raised to hate and had befriended Hisham, a young Muslim, part of a Syrian refugee family which had settled in the community years before. He did so even though there was prejudice against the newcomers who arrived with nothing and prospered through the years.
A sober Abraham was deeply remorseful for his actions and wrote a heart-felt letter of apology to the members of the mosque. In turn they received the apology as genuine and chose to forgive him as a matter of faith. Under the law though Abraham had committed a serious crime and despite the request by the Muslim community that charges be dropped against him the case proceeded to trial. Members of the mosque attended the trial and argued that they spent about $500 on clean-up, well below the threshold of $1000, which would then make this a misdemeanor. The prosecution claimed that an independent estimate put the damages at $1800. In the end Abraham was convicted and while released with conditions he now has a criminal record. He has offered to go to the mosque to apologize directly to the congregation but he is not allowed because of a restraining order.
Several thoughts emerged for me as I read this piece. One is that so much of the resentment and anger in the United States today stems from the jealousy directed toward those who continue to come to the country and fulfill the supposed American Dream of prospering through hard work. That some of these newcomers are easily identified by skin colour or dress makes them easy targets.
I was also moved by the motivation to forgive grounded in tenets of a faith. As Christians we have a powerful story to share of forgiveness through the witness and cross of Jesus, the Christ. This doesn't mean that we have an exclusive claim on forgiveness. When we seek the God of love and compassion we will discover the path to forgiveness and reconciliation, not the dead-end of contempt for the "other."
It occurred to me as well that the perpetrator's name is Abraham. His namesake is a central figure in the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. More than ever we need to seek common ground despite the differences of our convictions. It is unfortunate that the law, which serves an important purpose is an impediment to doing so in this situation.