Forgiveness After Charleston: The Ethics of an Unlikely Act

The Good Society 26 (2-3):338-353 (2017)
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Abstract

In the wake of the Dylann Roof church shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, forgiveness became a focus of the discussion. Within 48 hours of the shooting, several family members of the victims made personal offers of forgiveness to Dylann Roof. The flood of editorials and opinion pieces commenting on this offer of forgiveness revealed a deep division in public attitudes toward forgiveness, particularly in the context of racially motivated crimes. In this article, I explore the ethics of forgiveness, raising questions about the limits and possibilities of forgiveness in the broader context of social injustice. I defend the view that forgiveness can function as act of social resistance. Against some who think that forgiveness functions primarily as an interpersonal act, I will offer reasons to think that forgiveness can play a socially constructive role. And so I will argue for the value and practice of a social forgiveness, over and above whatever occurs at the interpersonal level.

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Larry M. Jorgensen
Skidmore College

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