A friend mildly rebuked me today: referencing some of my opinions related to Rob Ford. Some of my material (written and spoken) has been a wee bit on the harsh side, and Mr. Ford has (repeatedly) offered apologies, essentially asking for forgiveness (although I don’t actually think those specific words have come out of his mouth). But the exact words involved are less important than the central concept. As a Christian (and a once-pastor, a leader in several of my communities), the question is central to my activity in the city: do I need to forgive Rob Ford?
Yes. The simple answer. The first Biblical reference that I think of is Matthew 18:22; I need to not only forgive him, but I need to do it “seventy times seven times” (NASB). (Sheesh, and some would argue that Mr. Ford is getting pretty near that limit… not that I think there is an actual numeric end to our forgiveness.) But… and here I want to be very, very clear: that does not mean I need to take back very much of what I’ve written, or much of what I’ve said. Contrary to what the supporters of Mr. Ford might think, blithely quoting Bible verses willy nilly, he does not get a free pass just for admitting to his sins before he was charged with them. I’m going to take a few days and look at those very passages as they have been applied to Mr. Ford.
First, a philosophical note… and one of the things I do need to forgive him for. In producing his multiplicity of a apologies, Rob Ford has, if anything, cheapened the whole concepts of grace and forgiveness. He’s dirtied them, made them seem “easy”. He seems to expect that by just uttering those (now common) words, “I apologize”, he gets a “free pass” to start over again, as though nothing had happened. This is not what forgiveness means, although it is a commonly misunderstood error.
Yes, I need to forgive Mr. Ford; but the fact is, he hasn’t committed very many transgressions against me, personally. You see, “forgiveness” applies to actions and transgressions: individual acts of bullying and greed and arrogance that Mr. Ford has committed over the years. Many of these have offended me, yes, as an individual: they’ve angered me and I’ve fought against several of them. Of those he is forgiven (or would be: except that the actions that most offend me, like trying to shut down libraries, are also the high points of the Fords’ careers). However, forgiveness does not really apply to character traits or temperaments or perspectives. In spite of what he says, Mr. Ford still has most of the same characteristics he had a year ago: at this point it will take professional intervention to change those. Individual actions are forgiven; but that does not mean I don’t learn what the person is like who has asked forgiveness, and from that determine if they should be trusted in the future. The Bible does not actually tell us to forgive and forget: rather, I would maintain we need to forgive and move forward, to learn. Indeed, the only way to really forgive is to fully understand the person who is being forgiven.
Several years ago I was helping to counsel a woman who had been abused by her husband. We were part of a conservative church, and several of our parishioners tried to convince the woman that part of “forgiveness” meant going back to her husband as though nothing had happened. I disagreed completely. I argued that forgiveness only meant being able to look at him (and other men) without fear and loathing because of what he had done. Forgiveness did not imply that she would return: but only that she could return, and only if she truly believed he had changed his heart and mind. Rob Ford has changed nothing.
So I certainly forgive him for desecrating the office of Mayor of our city: and in forgiving him I acknowledge what Mr. Ford has taught us about who he is. I’ve suspected it all along; he has provided ample proof (much more than what has been recently revealed). Forgiveness does not mean he escapes the consequences of his actions; forgiveness does not mean that he regains the public trust that he has squandered. Forgiveness means that as soon as he stops doing the actions for which he is being forgiven (when he resigns as mayor), he should be allowed (encouraged) to seek counselling and to repair the damage he has done to all the relationships who really need to forgive him: family and friends and co-conspirators. My forgiveness is easy compared to theirs.
The problem is, I don’t think he’s going to do what’s necessary. Forgiveness is a two-way street, and implies apology (of which we’ve seen entirely too much from Mr. Ford) which, in turn, requires repentance (of which we haven’t seen enough). With regard to his apologies, I can only quote Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” I truly pray that Mr. Ford will learn what it means to apologize, and really be able to ask for forgiveness. And that the people of Toronto, the counsellors and other leaders and citizens, will be able to move forward. This city needs to heal.