On the third day of the conversation I (along with Tim Keel of Jacob’s Well and Emergent National Coordinator Tony Jones) was given the opportunity to engage Dr. Volf on his latest book Free of Charge. Me and Tim both had questions for Dr. Volf. Here’s the question I put forward to him. This is an issue I am becoming more passionate about as I engage in this kind of ministry on the local level. His thoughts were most helpful. I am very much anticipating his next book that will be dealing with ‘memory’ or as he put it ‘remembering rightly’. A very large part in the work of reconciliation is about dealing with the history. Anyways….here is the question I put forward to Dr. Volf:
As someone engaged in the work of reconciliation along racial/ethnic lines in the church I was intrigued by your thoughts on the Forgiver’s Memory. Specifically this notion that in our emulation of God as ‘forgetter of sin’ that we in turn ‘forget the particular sin’ of our offender. And I want to quote a passage from the text:
Why should we let it slip into oblivion, someone may protest? When offenses are forgotten, it looks as if they never happened at all! But they have happened, and honesty demands that we acknowledge them. For that reason, we should remember, the argument concludes
The next passages give us more nuance by reminding of us what you said previously about the work prior to actual forgiving. You say:
So what happens to the obligation to remember when we let the forgiven offense slip into oblivion? Notice that “forgetting” follows condemnation of sin and release from penalties and guild, it doesn’t happen apart from it….
Does this way of seeing and practicing forgiveness overly-individualize sin (giving too much to the narrative of Western individualism) and downplaying the systemic nature of sin. Let me give a concrete example (the scholar who offended me recently or the various instances in which I as a black man in America (in the Church) experience what I name as sinful racialized patterns of thinking and being in the world (or what the apostle Paul referred to as the ‘course of the world’ in connection to the dis-ordering work of the principalities and powers). In going about the work of racial reconciliation I am encountering speech, ways of relating, and images that reflect the systemic reality of particular racialized patterns of thinking that bring harm and exclusion. We are not talking about isolated individual events of offense but continued racialized systemic patterns of thinking and being in the world.
When I encounter my conversation partner who may have offended me with a particular racialized speech or way of relating in individualizing (isolating the offense to individuals) sin and not naming the systemic character of sin in our journey of racial reconciliation do I not leave him simply wrestling with flesh and blood and not (as the apostle Paul would say) with spiritual forces of wickedness; principalities and powers that influence sinful racialized patterns of thinking and being? Other systemic issues seem to become invisible as well: white privilege, what Cornel West refers to as black nihilism, etc..