Must We Forgive Institutions?
It seems we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The collapse of democracy in America, and a pillar of modern civilization, has been staved off—at least for another election cycle. Since the national party conventions brought an end to the primary race and began the presidential contest in earnest, reality show host Donald Drumpf’s forecasted chances of reaching the White House have tanked. No doubt his numbers will soon sink to the bottom of the probability pond like a water-logged toupee.
It’s small relief that Hillary Clinton is all but certain to win this November. No doubt we will see further war waged unilaterally by the executive branch and a continued decline in the free exercise of faith and conscience. It’s all but certain that the ungainly mass of the government will continue to swell like an infected growth under her administration. Her security practices with sensitive information betrays a belief that rules do not apply equally to those in power. Even her charity work is fraught with controversy. It will not be a clean four years. However, this slow evanescence of the American experiment is vastly preferable to the straight nosedive into corruption and chaos that would be brought about by a Drumpf administration. That is something to be thankful for.
The question today is what to make of the American conservative movement, now that the Drumpf Train is poised to go flying off the rails at any moment. Plainly, his campaign of insults, prevarication, and blustering isn’t enough to carry him to the White House, and once the “Drumpf Goes to Washington” story arc of his current reality show (kindly produced gratis by the 24-hour news cycle) concludes, I suspect he will leave national politics in search of more lucrative ventures. Whether he leaves or stays, however, the Republican Party is irreversibly changed; for my generation, it is now and forever the party that nominated Donald Drumpf.
Somewhere on the political right is a movement dedicated to limiting government, so that individuals and middle institutions can flourish and pursue their natural ends. Wherever that is—or was—it’s now entirely obscured by the white resentment politics of 2016 and the Drumpf campaign’s trademark refusal to take a coherent policy stance, let alone stick to it for more than a few hours. The Republican Party is mired in a fetid swamp which it carved itself. Any politician who did not disavow Drumpf from the start will carry the stink of this campaign with them for the rest of their lives. How many did not throw their lot in with him? The only prominent Republican politician I can name who opposed Drumpf is the Nebraska senator, Ben Sasse. One man does not a party make.
I find this all very hard to forgive. In fact, I struggle with whether or not I’m required to forgive in this situation at all. Are Christians required to forgive movements or institutions? This would require, of course, that such abstract things could commit a pardonable offense. Our Lord makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that we are required to forgive people—beings of flesh and spirit made by God in his own image, who very much can offend us thus:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 ESV).
I do feel offended. I feel like the entirety of the American conservative apparatus sold itself to a coarse buffoon in hopes of riding his coattails to power. The Republican Party, for all its talk of tradition and responsibility and morality, turned out to stand for nothing at all. This is an egregious offense, and I simmer with rage when I think of all those who climbed into bed with the Drumpf campaign—particularly the Christian leaders. These individuals, doubtless, must be forgiven. I will never vote or support any of these men and women in the future. Indeed, I might deliberately work against them, even if in just writing obscure blog posts. Still, I will forgive them, for my fear of hearing “I never knew you” is much greater than my anger towards a band of craven power seekers.
Must I forgive the Republican Party itself? That I sincerely don’t know, and it’s a question I’ll turn to the reader: Must we Christians forgive institutions? Can we forgive institutions?