Forgiveness Is Not Access

I love history. There is no surprise in that for anyone who has followed my blog posts. Historic events, writings and even historically based novels have informed the content of these messages from time to time. This week’s message is another case in point.

I just finished watching the second season of The Crown miniseries. It has been available for a while, but I was reluctant to watch it due to the rather negative portrayal of the Kennedys prominently featured in the publicity prior to the second season’s premiere. When the message is potentially negative, I prefer to ease into it without surrendering to absolute denial. And since our nation did not crumble in light of the revelations of this patently British production, I finally tuned in. I actually binged watch, if the truth be told.

To my surprise it was not the Kennedy episode that troubled me but the one relating Queen Elizabeth’s fascination with Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade, which took place in 1954. This was placed in juxtaposition to her quandary about allowing her uncle an opportunity to return to some form of public service, her uncle being the former King Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne reportedly for the sake of the woman he loved. The focus of The Crown’s storyline, however, was his Nazi sympathies expressed prior to World War II and the Queen’s dilemma about whether or not to forgive him in allowing his return in an official capacity.

I cannot attest to the historical accuracy of how this was all presented. Commercial productions of any kind, purported to be based on true stories still take great liberties with the truth for the sake of drama. To me such a maneuver is an admission that the people involved with the production lack faith, pun intended, in the importance and dramatic appeal of the truth. You can guess, therefore, by this diatribe that I was not pleased with the handling of this particular episode. All the personalities involved deserve an accurate portrayal of their character if not the factual basis of their behavior and words.

Of greatest concern to me was the scene in which Graham was summoned to the palace to advise Queen Elizabeth on the nature of forgiveness. She did not say who she had in mind to forgive or the details of the person’s offense. So any reply Graham could give would have to be of the generic sort. Christian doctrine is clear that generally withholding forgiveness is not an option and that is essentially the point mouthed by the actor portraying Graham. I found his response generically weak in keeping with the vagueness of the question presented to the young evangelist. This may be attributed to the script writer’s ignorance of Christian doctrine rather than the lack of insight and meaning offered by Graham if such an encounter ever took place.

To me movies and television programs are fantasy. You don’t go to them for a history lesson. But in keeping with their nebulous (and potentially nefarious) qualities, allow me to do a little time travel, mentally transporting myself back to that questionable encounter about forgiveness as the mans to provide my own opinion on forgiveness – had it been sought –  in service to Her Majesty.

I would first want to know, without the need to divulge the details, whether this was a personal matter or a matter of state. Not that it would change my answer necessarily, but it would likely impact the wording and tone of my reply. You can do a lot of verbal handholding as a form of comfort when given permission to discuss matters on a personal level. The alternative is to speak in a cold, academic manner, as if one were lecturing seminary students by relying on the meaning of words in the original language and the cultural context in which the words were written. But the subject of forgiveness deserves a better, more humane and compassionate presentation than the cold economy of intellectual discourse.

Forgiveness is a hallmark of the Christian faith, although it is not to be presumed that it is our exclusive domain. Forgiveness generally follows a person’s repentance and request for mercy, but even that simple form of process is not always the case. Forgiveness defies the scope of the transgression. Magnitude is not a prohibitive obstacle to redemption. But not all who are forgiven are to be trusted! My basis for such a sentiment rests on a little scrutinized statement written by the Apostle John contained in his second epistle.

Appropriately it was written to a chosen lady, befitting the status of someone like Elizabeth, chosen by right of birth as England’s queen. John acknowledged the woman’s children, implying that there was no husband at hand to provide the much needed care, comfort and protection in a society divided by ethnic, religious and political factions. His counsel to her was to continue loving everyone in truth, indicative of someone who understood the power inherent in the self-denying aspect of forgiveness. But he also counseled her with a qualifying factor I would want the Queen of England or anyone else struggling to understand their obligations when it comes to forgiving an offense.

John wrote, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching (loving in truth), do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (II John, verses 10-11).

The situation shown in The Crown involved the Queen’s decision about whether or not to assent to her uncle’s request to be granted a position in which he would be viewed as a representative of England’s commercial and political interests. He had sinned by placating Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, when der Fuhrer’s intent was yet to be fully realized for its diabolical means and goals. The question posed in the dramatization of his quest asked if the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, should be forgiven for his folly as a proponent of appeasement in the build-up leading to World war II. The answer on strictly religious grounds is of course! But should he bet let back into the house? The answer is emphatically no! He exhibited no sense of repentance and doubtless was clueless about the extent of his gullibility and stupidity. To have granted him a place of responsibility would have been to accept a share of his form of wickedness.

If we were to search the historical records, we would no doubt find that denying the Duke a place of public prominence was a political decision and not a matter of Christian doctrine. But by invoking a role for Graham in the decision making process muddies both the history and the truth of what it means to forgive in light of those nuances which accompany it. Forgiveness is not access. Protecting the house and all of its members is sound doctrine.

To ignore this aspect of biblical teaching is to leave the rest of us at the mercy of the King Edwards of our lives, for we do have them. Just ask the people who have shared their stories as part of the Me Too movement. The alternative is to allow the serpent back into the garden.

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