Forgiveness has been in the headlines this week with celebrity academic and former spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Victoria, Waleed Aly, offering his latest sermon on current events. I don’t say that disparagingly; when someone interprets events through a moral, and at times, theological lens calling an audience to change and act, they are in fact engaging in the art of preaching – and as a preacher myself, I am heartened to see this happening on primetime TV!

This week centred around the issue of Muslim immigration and terrorism. I want to call out both sides in this debate. Firstly, it is inhumane and nonsensical to call for an entire group of people to be forbidden from entering our country on the grounds of their religion. And let’s be clear, this is not racism, as Islam is not a race, but it is uncaring and stingy prejudice. On the other side we have a cadre of commentators who are offering the irrational and clearly ridiculous counsel that Islamic extremism has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Both sides are wrong on these points and what ensues is heated, bigoted, and blinkered discourse which only entrenches people into their already held views. Surely we can talk about Islam without demonising Muslims, and surely we can allow people to share their fears without calling them hateful.

Waleed Aly called for a movement of forgiveness and I think he is right in this and agree wholeheartedly. But just what are we being called to forgive? Can you forgive people for being afraid – even if their fear is irrational? Can you and should you forgive Islamic extremists who have murdered innocent men, women and children, and who not only show no remorse but think they are serving their god by doing so?

The forgiveness that Jesus modelled and calls us to is based on both truth and love. Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” And in saying this, Jesus reveals that:

  1. We all need God’s pardon and forgiveness – EVERYONE has sinned.
  2. We have all been sinned against, and need to work towards reconciliation, redress and forgiveness of those who have wronged us.
  3. We have all wronged others and need to repent and seek their forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not denying the needs and rights to justice, nor is it ignoring hurt and loss, but addressing and confronting it with reconciliation in mind.

We desperately need a movement of forgiveness in our society and we also need a model and example of what it looks like. As he died on the cross in order to show God’s forgiveness to a rebellious humanity, Jesus prayed, “Father God, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” Forgiveness will flow from those who know their own need for God’s forgiveness. Our world needs to see what real forgiveness looks like – and Jesus is the supreme example of it. Let’s speak up about how God forgives us in Jesus and how Jesus taught us to forgive. Preaching is not illegal!

Nicholas Tuohy

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