"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We ask to be forgiven by the Creator for our sins - falling short of what our God expects of us - but at the same time, we pledge to forgive those who trespass - or sin - against us. We can't have one without the other. That's a tough bargain to strike, but based on the words alone, some might say forgiveness in the context of the Lord's Prayer has a limited meaning. Maybe we only have to forgive those who transgress against us individually, for example, someone who cheats us, someone who steals from us or someone who lies about us creating negative ramifications for our own person. Maybe we really don't have to forgive anyone who transgresses against others on a larger stage, someone with whom we have no personal contact - unless the word "us" in that verse really means all God's children, wherever and whoever they are, be they "good" or "bad."
Forgiveness in a larger context seems a more difficult task with complicated ways in which to define what exactly "trespasses against us" are. Harder yet is to define what forgiveness really means. Is it to forgive a person truly or just forget that some act in the public arena ever happened? Is it to absolve completely the transgressor of culpability for his/her actions? Is it to ascribe motives for the act that needs forgiving to bad upbringing or bad decisions and let the transgressor off? Are we being asked to forgive the offender for actions that hurt someone far removed from us for actions that can be ascribed to greed, arrogance, lust or misplaced pride? Is it to feel pity and sorrow for that person's wayward, dangerous or criminal decision-making? Forgiveness, rightly applied, requires the offering of spiritual love in some form.
Damon Evans didn't "sin" against you or me personally. He did "sin" against his family, his employer, students and athletes at the University of Georgia, the innumerous citizens of Bulldog Nation, the law and the life given to him with all its potential. He didn't sin against me personally, and he didn't sin against the biggest Bulldog fan in Newton County. Are we called on to forgive - or just to forget him, denying him an aspect of humanity?
Back in 1997, Georgia's popular and well-regarded attorney general Mike Bowers resigned his office to change parties and run for governor in the Republican primary. He seemed to have everything going for him: a hard-scrabble upbringing, a straight-arrow record in pursuit of justice, a lovely wife and family, and, for what it's worth, the trust and respect of the Capitol press corps. His leading opponent was wealthy Atlanta businessman Guy Milner. Come 1998, it all unraveled on Bowers when his decade long affair with his attractive secretary came to light. Milner went on to win his party's nomination, but his Democratic opponent Roy Barnes took home the prize.
Bowers was a broken man, but so was the trust that so many people had placed in him. It was more a time of great sorrow and sadness than anger, at least among those who had not invested in his campaign. He moved his family far north of Atlanta but affiliated with a small Atlanta law firm and grew it into a merger with a larger and successful firm. He has now redeemed himself in the halls of justice and takes on many high profile cases. What of forgiveness? Has he forgiven himself? Did his devoted wife forgive him in full? And did those who looked up to him forgive? I was one of them, and I believe so. There was more to admire in him than to condemn. We all sin and fall short. And there are no degrees of sin.
Remember the case of Eliot Spitzer, New York's high profile governor who resigned in March 2008 when his penchant for high-priced call girls was revealed. Before that, he was the state attorney general, a fearless and successful warrior against corruption and corporate malfeasance. Remember the pain etched into the face of his dutiful wife standing next to him? (That would not have been me!) That specter only served to disgust us with him, while we questioned why his aggrieved and ashen-faced wife would have agreed to stand with him. (Jenny Sanford did it right.)
Are we required ultimately to forgive Spitzer - in the context of humankind? That's a hard one. He didn't do what he did to "us" but he affronted his family, his state and its citizens, his backers and certainly those who believe in marriage. Apparently, CNN has found forgiveness in its heart by offering Spitzer a job in prime time. Now really... It's up to me to decide if I'm going to forgive Spitzer for his wrongs - and CNN for seeming to reward Spitzer's deplorable behavior. I don't think it was a good decision, but if I want to be in good stead with the Universe and the Hand behind it, I have to forgive all - at some point.
Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears on Fridays.