Diplomatic Notes

Will Smith and the end of forgiveness

At the most recent Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, an event transpired that is sometimes referred to as the “slap heard around the world”, when Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock to the astonishment of attendees and viewers alike. This was an awful moment – something that was abhorrent and out of order.

Will Smith later apologized but, appropriately, he was punished by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. There was much speculation about what happened, what triggered such an apparently out-of-character action from someone not known to be violent or thuggish. There might have been less surprise had it been a gangster rapper or Hollywood tough guy, but it was none other than the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. Some people blamed his wife. Some people felt he was grandstanding or that it was designed to get more viewers and higher ratings for the academy.

Whatever the reason, it appears that forgiveness and redemption have been taken off the table. Not only is he punished for his actions but it appears that there is an effort to cancel him not only now but in perpetuity. This seems to be a growing trend in the world today; the attempts to erase a person from the face of the Earth if they do something out of character, make a mistake, do something egregious or stupid. The calls for cancellation and the unforgiving people seem to believe they will be exempt from one day doing the same type of thing and end up in need of forgiveness. In what must be one of the most idiotic actions, some were calling for all of his shows, including the “Fresh Prince”, to be taken off the air because he did one thing stupid, on one night.

He apologized, asked for forgiveness, accepted his punishment yet that was not enough. There were calls to remove all of his movies, deny him future movie roles. A white country singer uses the word hated “N” word and the same thing happens to him. He apologized, is punished, his music is taken off the air, and a year later, there are calls for him to be permanently eliminated.

His actions were terrible, he should have understood that we are living in a time when Black people are being mistreated by law enforcement, discriminated against and targeted; now is not a good time to do something so foolish. The problem is that human nature shows that all of us are capable of doing something similar to what Smith did or what the country singer did. Would you want to be treated the same way if you were in their position? Or, would you want a second chance to make things right? If you would want it for you, then you should also want it for them.

Jesus told us some very strange words that certainly would not fit into cancel culture and the culture of unforgiveness. He said love your enemies, do good to those who are spiteful to you, forgive because you were forgiven. Nelson Mandela once said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.” If someone is truly sorry for their actions, and they ask forgiveness, who are we to say they should not be forgiven? If they have faced the consequences of their actions and received the appropriate punishment, why pile it on indefinitely?

Why am I so adamant about this? I am adamant because I was one of those people who benefited from forgiveness. I did many things I was not proud of. If I could not get away from my past, the people who I have helped, the lives that I was able to touch would have been denied their future because someone who might have done something just as egregious decided to ignore their own faults and penalize the one whose sins became public. The woman who was caught in the act of adultery by men who probably did the same thing were confronted by Jesus when he said, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” This is one of the most powerful lessons in the Bible. Be careful when you cast stones and you refuse to forgive or allow others to be redeemed.

Smith has been punished enough already. I believe it is time to let him live. Let him show he is remorseful and give him an opportunity to make it right. His actions were not indicative of his normal behavior. Instead of ending forgiveness, I believe we need to end unforgiveness and show compassion, realizing it could be us next.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.

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