“I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be.”
—John Newton, author of the words to the hymn “Amazing Grace”
It’s been tough to make sense of last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, let alone what we’re called to do in its aftermath. Many leaders have called for healing, forgiveness, and unity. Now, I believe in forgiveness, and I very much want healing and unity for this nation. But none of those things is possible without repentance, accountability, and a full reckoning of wrongs done.
Here’s a deep truth: it is only through real, sometimes very tough accountability that some people will understand that they’ve lost their way. Being held accountable has helped me to learn, and to be and do better, so why would I hold that blessing back from others? Sometimes helping people find their way to truth, love, and justice means insisting that truth is truth—even if it isn’t polite; even if it leads to argument. We may even need to say “I love you, but I will never agree to disagree on this. Truth is too important to set aside just because it challenges and upset you.”
Holding people accountable for the impact of their behavior is not revenge; it’s what makes change and growth possible, and no real healing in community can come without it.
While I don’t believe we’re called to seek unity with those who committed acts of insurrection and violence, we are absolutely called to continue affirming the fullness of their humanity. Wanting people to be held legally accountable for harmful behavior does not mean we can’t insist that society provide for their basic needs, just as it should provide for the basic needs of us all. Even the most despicable people are still human beings, and are deserving of care. Even those who have committed grievous acts have the capacity to grow, to learn, to experience a change of heart.
This is why there’s nothing we can do that will separate us from the love that holds us. This is why there is nothing we can fail to do that will make us unworthy, or blot out our dignity.
Like the shepherd who leaves a large flock to go in search of a single lost sheep, may we never lose faith in the human capacity to someday, somehow find right relationship again, no matter how lost we might get. Amen.