3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness

Robert Wheeler:  In the discussion of this past weekend some issues were raised about unconditional love, forgiveness and sin. The question was whether, under my definition of unconditional love, there can be any meaning of forgiveness. It IS a problem of definition. A few years ago, my brother, Richard, referred me to a book titled Philosophy in the Flesh, by Lakoff and Johnson. It posited the problem, as the authors saw it, of philosophy, and I would also say theology, treating ideas as though they were objects like any other physical thing that we can manipulate. I see a number of religious ideas as subject to that problem. I have been asked what I have meant by certain statements. Indulge me to explain my meaning of my statements concerning compassion by starting with definitions.
Sin: “anything that separates us from the love of God” (thank you, Dr. Nida)
Compassion: “the ability to see, to be sensitive to, and to share the joy as well is suffering of another”
Forgiveness: “a gift we give ourselves to restore us to a relationship with another”
Accountability: “a just, dispassionate adjustment of accounts through rational, generally accepted practices ”
And finally, one of my favorites, Righteousness: “a dynamic of right relationships, and not a ‘thing’ to be possessed.”
From my view, Jesus, the “love of God,” and “the kingdom that is at hand,” have everything to do with right relationships; and meaningful relationships are compassionate ones.
Albert Schweitzer was once asked about his notion of “respect for life:” do you use antibiotics? “Yes I do, but I do not use them lightly.” Elsewhere he has been quoted, “By having a reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world. By practicing reverence for life we become good, deep, and alive.” . . .

Forgetting has nothing to do with forgiveness. Forgiveness and accountability are two separate matters. That is the reason that we can “discipline” our children and still unconditionally love them (which does not have to be a negative action, and must not be destructive). After we have disciplined our own children, do we go about looking for other children to discipline? No. They are not our responsibility although it may be our responsibility to protect other helpless persons that we see harmed with no power to protect themselves. Even that has some limits of social responsibility. This is what I meant when I suggested that the only person who has the right to decide whether their sexual orientation or how they act upon it is sin or not, is good or bad, or is right or wrong is that person and the one with whom they are in relationship.


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3 Compassion, Accountability, and Forgiveness

19 Concluding Response to Georgia

Georgia, you mentioned about how much liberal politics and religion had dominated family e mails.  Whether or not it has dominated, I would like to explain my heavy contribution, if that is necessary.

I have observed over the years that fundamentalist-sounding language was a regular part of e mails exchanged with family.  That is the language that our family is familiar with and it is the underpinning of much of our values. It is to be expected that many of the family have gotten to love and acceptance of others by that path, and others have gotten there by other paths.  (I don’t think anyone of us would be accused of being uncaring of other people, although I, at least, can be accused of having faults, generally or in specific instances.)  In recent years I have noted an increasing globalization and with that the need for us to understand that all the world, whatever their ethnicity, religion, culture or even sexual orientation are loved and accepted by God as they are.  If we cannot accept that, we will never be able to get along.  I cannot escape the message of Matthew 25:31-46: it is not just a proclamation that one loves another that brings one into the kingdom, but acts of compassion for all those in need, for whatever reason, those in prison for whatever reason, even those deserving prison because they did bad things.  Jesus, in that passage does not make entry into the kingdom conditioned upon right belief but upon loving action, compassionately drawing the outsider into the circle of loving community.  This story further interests me because those who were righteous and were told to enter the kingdom were surprised: “when did we see you?”  They clearly did not act compassionately “in order to be saved,” but out of genuine love.  And those who thought they belonged in the kingdom but were told “to go to Hell” are also surprised and ask the same question, “when did we see you.”  To me the message is inescapable: that compassion is what brings one into the kingdom of heaven, without regard to race, orientation, creed or even religion.  I don’t know what the judgment would be if we are compassionate to some but not to others.  Since it is our lot to be forever working on sensitivity and compassion for others,  I suspect that it is not just “either/or” but that there is some degree of becoming in that process and, just as in life, we get second chances to “get it right” and a good dose of grace.

I have noted a polarization of the Christian community along lines of “right belief,” often used as a justification for excluding some from what ought to be, in my opinion, our inclusive and loving communities.   The world cannot thrive, to my mind, with such judgmental exclusion.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an expression of this polarization on the basis of a sense of entitlement bestowed by God Almighty, which, in that view, trumps compassion and justifies clinging to things.

I voted for President Bush (both of them).   When the second was elected upon the decision of the Supreme Court, there were those who supported Gore who were upset, but in a short while the rancor evaporated from public view.  When Bush led us into two wars, he was supported by both parties and by the public.  The people of the US backed him and the Supreme Court win to election was no longer an issue.  When he used religious labels of evil to mark rogue nations, I thought it was a mistake.  I saw it at risk of falling into the same line of false sense of altruistic commitment as when Islamic terrorists took down airplanes to sure death of all on board with cries of “Allah is great!”  I became concerned with some of his cavalier responses to serious situations, such as “bring it on.”  It concerned me that we were alienating much of the world community that we, in truth, are part of and that we ought to be in community with.  But, I didn’t begin bashing Bush or preaching the imminent demise of our country because of what I believed to be some unwise positions.  In fact, I also wondered if indeed we were fortunate in the wars we found ourselves in that we had experienced people guiding the President such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powel.  Time will tell if we were fortunate or if that was the beginning of our path to demise.  And that is how I feel with President Obama – time will tell.  But I get frequent e mails, not just of the usual political banter and humor, but mean-spirited and claiming that we are heading to ruin.  I hear mean-spirited political commentary on the radio and on TV.  I see lies as a means to oppose legislation to reform health care instead of honest, lively debate that our framers intended.  Now, I see many of the same labels that Bush used for rogue nations being applied not abroad but to our own president, who, like it or not, has been elected as our leader.

I believe that I should use much of the same language of our religious tradition – my roots and inspiration, also – not to undermine the faith of others, but to call for compassion, as Jesus taught.  And so, I have been willing to bring to the light some of those who have been judged as undeserving of our compassion, not just an idea of such people, but real people I know.  These people bear good fruits, and Jesus said good fruit does not fall from a bad tree.  “By their fruits you will know them.”  I know there are other scriptures that say that right belief saves, but if the Bible is inerrant, then those beliefs must not violate these commands to be compassionate to the outcasts, to all our neighbors.  I happen to have a different view of the scriptures and of their truth.  But that is not important to my mind – Jesus calls all those who show compassion to others into the Kingdom, whatever the path that takes them there.  That is just what I believe, but I respect that you get there by another path.

Love, Rob

I have spoken out not to divide us, but to strengthen our community of love and to enrich it with even the outcasts of our society.


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19 Concluding Response to Georgia

17 My Friend’s Reply to Me


Yes, I acknowledge that people are born with all kinds of difficult defects and physical tendencies.  I’m no expert in societal level efforts to protect vulnerable people, so I don’t have a suggestion for how we as a society protect a young hermaphrodite or how best to help them.  I do not that personally they need to be loved, cared for, defended.  I do know that a parent would be wrong to abort because they don’t want the inconvenience of loving and raising them.  I do know that I need to treat them with love, respect and compassion.

My Friend


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17 My Friend’s Reply to Me