Today - Season 62After admitting that she had used a racial slur, and with a lucrative commercial empire to protect, Ms. Deen took to YouTube seeking forgiveness. In the broadest way, she was addressing her fan base, customers and sponsors. Implicitly, though, she was throwing herself on the mercy of the African-American church. And indeed, as The Associated Press reported on Wednesday, Ms. Deen has directly appealed to the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Who was it, after all, she was denigrating when she used that racial epithet? Black Americans. And which religious institution in America sits most directly in moral judgment of this nation’s original sin of slavery and all its continuing bigoted manifestations? The black church.
Ms. Deen, facing that specific kind of theological court, is likely to be far more fortunate with it than with the commercial partners like the Food Network and Walmart that have dropped her. African-American Christians, drawing on both the Jesus narrative and the civil rights movement, have become well-practiced at forgiving their racist tormentors for both idealistic and practical reasons.
“The tradition of forgiving was central to the civil rights movement, and it’s grounded in two things,” said the Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of Christian morals at Harvard and minister of its Memorial Church. “One cannot be held accountable for how others treat us, but we can be held accountable by God for how we treat others. So forgiveness and reconciliation are central to us. Particularly for Martin Luther King, it was not about defeating an enemy but defeating injustice by bringing people from opposing sides into beloved community.
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