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02 February 2018

Justice and the sins of our youth

Kay Morgan-Gurr is part of Churches for All and a member of the Evangelical Alliance's council.

The England women's football team has been in the news after the appointment of their new manager, Phil Neville. There has been more than a little controversy over Neville's appointment, some concerning tweets he posted in 2011 and 2012.

Despite his apologies, a statement from his wife and comments from friends, many on social media are saying those tweets should prevent him from having any job at this level, now and in the future. I don't want to comment on the rights and wrongs of his appointment, but it has made me think about the question of forgiveness.

David in Psalm 25:7 says, "Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good".

For things that happened a lifetime ago in the foolishness of youth – or, in Neville's case, not that long ago and in his mid-30s – is there and should there be a case for forgiveness when a mistake was made? Where do we draw the line?

I keep thinking of a friend of mine. He knows my position on women's issues, and as such tries to goad me in friendly fashion with sexist jokes, similar to Neville's post about women being in the kitchen. My friend is not sexist, he supports me in ministry and sees me as his equal. His comments are just banter. But, if he had said these things to me on twitter in 2007, would someone now find them and then ban him from being in church leadership?

Let me say that I do not want to diminish the suffering of many woman at the hands of abusive partners in any way; it is wrong - end of story. If a person or someone they love has experienced any kind of abuse or harrasment, any clumsy attempt at humour around the subject is like a knife turning in a painful wound. It feels as though forgiving someone else for their crass comments is condoning the original abuse.

David says in Psalm 103: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities….as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."

I know from experience that when it comes to serious cases of abuse and harassment, we need to take effective action to protect and safeguard. Not only does the Bible cry out for the forgiveness of sins, but it also calls us to care when there is injustice. David, in that same Psalm where he speaks of God's forgiveness, also says, "The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed". There are times when forgiveness needs to be partnered with some form of punishment. 

Seeing David talk about both justice and forgiveness in the same Psalm speaks loudly to me of balance, something sadly lacking in some of the social media responses to many subjects. Yes, there needs to be justice, but at the same time there needs to be measured forgiveness – forgiveness where appropriate that allows the person in the wrong to ask forgiveness, and then to move on and do good. 

Maybe we need to be setting an example in this both face to face and online -  applying David's balanced words about forgiveness and justice in Psalm 103? How can we learn and speak of forgiveness, while we also seek justice?

Image: Sabine van Straaten