Paula Deen, Forgiveness, and The Unpardonable Sin
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
– Jesus (Luke 17:3).
“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” – Jesus’ defense of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:7)
While I’m a fan of eating, I’m not particularly a fan of Paula Deen nor have I followed closely the accusation that she used a racial slur or her responses, seemingly awkward at times. So it would be improper for me to attempt a deep analysis.
But I can speak on repentance and forgiveness. This sad happening does give us pause to consider these vital subjects.
First, there is of course a difference between being forgiven and being able to resume life as if nothing happened. Some wrongs are of such a magnitude that they require life adjustments (even prison) and restoration over time. Some may mean the permanent loss of a position—just ask King Saul. We need to ponder: What was done? When (recent or long ago)? Where? To whom and how broadly? How intense (flippant or malicious)? How often? How long? How regretted?
Second, in the story of John’s Gospel, chapter 8 *, Jesus speaks the poignant challenge, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Frozen silence. What persons, even dedicated Christians, haven’t uttered an intemperate slur in the heat of the moment? Few, I’m sure.
[* I am well aware that including this account in John’s Gospel is doubtful based on manuscript evidence. The narrative and Jesus’ replies are thoroughly consistent with Jesus’ life experiences and teaching recorded elsewhere in the Gospels.]
Third, could there be a tinge of self-righteousness in those who would bring down wrath and fire over a spoken word from long ago?
I wouldn’t fault businesses for making decisions based on how a celebrity’s action affects the bottom line. But bringing such a “stance of righteousness” into a secular context seems selective and strange.
And if a single racial slur can doom a career, how many other celebrities should be doomed for demeaning those of another race or social standing or political viewpoint? How many have demeaned Catholics or Protestant fundamentalists. How many have demeaned God by taking his name in vain—the ultimate slur? Why aren’t these career-killers?
Perfectionism is an ugly attitude, be it religious or secular. In religion, it makes those who think themselves superior into very unforgiving judgmentalists. Apparently the same can be true in the secular realm.
Fourth, this happening should be a learning experience in the art of seeking forgiveness. Seems Paula Deen has apologized profusely—perhaps too profusely.
There are circles of offence, hence circles of seeking forgiveness. The most immediate circle includes the person or persons directly sinned against. The plea for forgiveness must be first and foremost directed toward them. (In the case of murder the people directly attacked are gone due to the perpetrator’s malicious act, making murder a sin for which forgiveness cannot completely be sought.) The circles enlarge to the families, friends and close associates of the victims. There may be other circles such as a societal circle, in the case of wrongs that tear the fabric of society.
Since all sin is an offense against God, he must be included in the immediate circle. This is especially true if the wrong demeaned the humanity of another. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness…this should not be” (James 3:9-10).
The problem I have with a general plea for forgiveness, a “To whom it may concern” plea, is that it is so broad that the circles of forgiveness are washed out. If addressed to everyone, has it been addressed to anyone?
Finally, we must not treat a racial slur, be it ever so repugnant, as “the unpardonable sin.” Jesus did speak of an unpardonable sin (blaspheming the Holy Spirit of God). But don’t forget his broad word of mercy: “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven”—even “a word against the Son of Man”—against Jesus himself (Matthew 12:31-32).
God is generous in forgiving and restoring. Let us be too.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon…”
– Prayer of St. Francis