“You have to forgive people,” a friend of mine told me not long ago.
I took issue.
You don’t have to forgive anyone.
At no point, no matter what happens, are you required to forgive someone for what they’ve done.
I had literally just wrote that sentiment in a bit of trivial fiction, and I had meant it.
We got into it, and what they meant of course was that redemption has to be possible, and that is perhaps true.
If redemption isn’t possible, offered another friend, then people may as well commit suicide after their offense or faux pas: there is no incentive to change.
This isn’t wrong.
It has to be possible to forgive someone, but there is the key word: “possible.”
You can forgive people for any offense, but nobody is entitled to that forgiveness.
The Christian pastor Billy Graham died this past week, and while many American Christians remember him fondly, many in the LGBT+ community aren’t willing to forget his despicable claims that HIV/AIDS was divine punishment brought down on the gay community.
A claim that is utterly wretched.
Believing that people deserve to die because they’re LGBT+ is simply evil, and this is only the tip of a horrible homophobic iceberg when it comes to Billy Graham.
Someone told me he recanted the HIV/AIDS claim later, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that.
More to the point, I do not care if he did.
It doesn’t change the fact that for years Billy Graham used his pulpit, his fame, and national attention to advocate that gay people deserve to die.
We are still living in the fallout of this rhetoric, and likely will be for generations still.
Nobody has to forgive that.
Maybe (just maybe) if we could wind back the clocks and redo the last half of Billy Graham’s life, and say he spontaneously realized what exactly he was saying and spent just as much time championing LGBT rights as he had previously advocating death, maybe I could see my way to forgive him.
But even if that could happen, it would never completely erase the harm he did.
Even if I could forgive him in this miraculous 45 year do-over, I could never demand that others do the same.
Because (and say this with me now), “THAT IS NOT HOW FORGIVENESS WORKS.”
Forgiveness can’t be mandatory.
It’s not magical points you earn.
People chose to give it, or they don’t, and you have to live with that.