Magazine article The Christian Century

Judgment and Forgiveness

Magazine article The Christian Century

Judgment and Forgiveness

Article excerpt

I AGREE WITH most of David Heim's political and legal judgments ("Judging Clinton: The Religious Debate," March 10), but I believe he misunderstood the appeal to love in my book, From the Eye of the Storm. My first concern is with love as spiritual reality, within individuals and in the culture at large. I have felt that in our response to the presidential crisis we were, as a society, defining ourselves. When the president is savaged by judgmental attacks, that has cultural consequences. It leaves the impression that if we can just punish a highly visible sinner enough, that will restore the moral health of the land. I doubt it. Moral recovery must show greater respect for his humanity and, indeed, for the many aspects of his life and character that are quite commendable.

The president's repentance, which bothers Heim and the authors of Judgment Day at the White House, registers the unacceptability of the conduct. Then the question is whether there is a loving way to move on.

Heim speaks of nonjudgmental love as a "flimsy instrument" of analysis. Love certainly requires thoughtfulness in application. But I am bothered when he speaks of "grounding love in moral principles, or in norms of justice or in the practice of virtues." Of course, we must make judgments and uphold justice. But we do not so much ground love in moral principles or norms of justice as we ground the principles and norms in love. Without love, there is no norm or principle or virtue that really matters much. Love is not just a flimsy tool of analysis; it is what keeps all other tools from being flimsy.

Hence even the terms "cheap grace" and "tough love" have to be scrutinized more carefully. How often, when we use the words "cheap grace" dismissively, we imply that there should be no grace at all. And how often when we speak of "tough love" it is all "tough" and no "love." Of course, so much more needs to be said. And yet, the spirit in which we say it really does count. When the spirit of love is present, we can think more lucidly and act more creatively--as the South Africans have done with their ingenious Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as the civil rights movement did in our own country. …

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