Former first lady Michelle Obama wrote in her new book that she will never forgive Donald Trump for questioning Obama’s birth certificate:
Obama says she would ‘never forgive’ Trump for the rumors he spread questioning the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s American birth certificate, which she said threatened her family’s safety.
‘What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls?,’ she wrote, according to the Post, which obtained an early copy of the book. It will be released next Tuesday. ‘Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this I’d never forgive him.’
When told about Obama’s comments, Donald Trump hit back by saying that he’d never forgive President Obama for his handling of the U.S. military:
REPORTER: What do you say to Michelle Obama, who says she will never forgive you for your birther comments in the past?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, Michelle Obama said that? I haven’t seen it. I guess she wrote a book. She got paid a lot of money to write a book. And they always insist that you come up with controversial.
Well, I’ll give you a little controversy back: I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly. It was depleted. Everything was old and tired. And I came in, and I had to fix it. And I’m in the process of spending tremendous amounts of money. So I’ll never forgive him for what he did to our military. I’ll never forgive him for what he did in many other ways, which I’ll talk to you about in the future.
But what he did — because she talked about safety — what he did to our military made this country very unsafe for you and you and you.
No one would begrudge Michelle Obama for being upset Trump for spreading the smear that Barack Obama was lying about his place of birth. No one would begrudge Obama for being upset at efforts to delegitimize her husband’s presidency.
Trump’s anger at Obama’s policies and how they affected the country is also legitimate. There is something even honorable in the loyalty they each show, one to her family and the other to the military. Still, both would be well advised to avoid saying they will “never forgive.”
For all of his strong rhetoric, Trump seemed to understand why such language is of another kind when he took on Hillary Clinton for her claim that Trump supporters were “deplorable” and “irredeemable.” Many people focused on the “basket of deplorables” comment, but in the second presidential debate of 2016 Trump said he thought the “irredeemable” language was worse:
We have a divided nation, because people like her — and believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart. And when she said deplorables, she meant it. And when she said irredeemable, they’re irredeemable, you didn’t mention that, but when she said they’re irredeemable, to me that might have been even worse.
To say someone is irredeemable is to offer no hope. It is to say he is forever banished and unforgiven. This language is, sadly, all around us. And it infects our lives.
The Republican Senate Leadership Fund ran an attack ad against Tennessee Senate candidate Phil Bredesen that highlighted his poor handling of investigations into sexual assault when he was governor. The ad, based on a quote saying the same, was titled “Unforgivable.”
Former Republican representative David Jolly said that it was “unforgivable” for Melania Trump to wear a jacket that said, “I don’t care. Do you?”
The excitable Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said, after some forgotten issue that supposedly portended the end of the Trump presidency, that Republican leaders’ reaction was “unforgivable“:
What President Trump and his cadre have done is very bad.
What Republican leaders are doing is unforgivable.
A few months earlier, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson ended another one of his columns that routinely put the worst construction on the Trump presidency with the hyperbolic claim that “the cowardice of elected Republicans is indefensible and near to unforgivable.”
At least he said “near to.” For some who are in it, The NeverTrump movement is itself the undistilled expression of an inability to forgive anything done by the president and those who elected him. But this inability to forgive plagues each and every one of us — Team Red, Team NeverRed, Team Blue, and Team Otherwise.
Many of the people using the language against forgiveness are baptized Christians. It was particularly sad to see the scene in Pittsburgh, when President Trump went to pay respects to the 12 victims of the synagogue shooting there on behalf of a mourning nation. A woman identified as a Presbyterian minister screamed “You are not welcome here!” and “You do not belong here!” and somewhat oddly, “We welcome everyone here … you are not welcome here.”
None of this is healthy. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift for all, and is central to the teachings of Christ. Christians are taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer reads:
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
In the Lutheran Catechism we use in our home, we’re taught that this means:
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
We ask God to graciously forgive our sins. This requires acknowledging our sins and sinfulness, something many Americans struggle with. We should note with the Psalmist, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Or as Jesus teaches us to pray in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
As we are forgiven our sins, we get to forgive those who sin against us. Peter asked Jesus how many times we are to forgive those who sin against us, suggesting seven as a good number. Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” In other words, you don’t stop forgiving your erring brother.
In Ephesians, St. Paul tells us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
When we forgive one another — including for their grievous sins against us — it shows us that we truly believe God has forgiven us. The Catechism says, “Inasmuch as we sin greatly against God every day and yet He forgives it all through grace, we must always forgive our neighbor who does us harm, violence, and injustice [and] bears malice toward us…. If you do not forgive, do not think that God forgives you.”
It’s best that we not think of the sins we forgive in others as somehow extraordinary. Consider the story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and unjustly imprisoned before he rose to be the second most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. His brothers are terrified that he will not forgive them and will exact revenge, but he tells them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…”
Immediately after teaching his followers how to pray what we call The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
“Saturday Night Live” apologized to Lt. Com. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican newly elected to the House of Representatives from Texas. Many Americans were upset by a failed joke on the previous week’s program that mocked him for his war injuries. Crenshaw said:
“There’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the Left and Right can still agree on some things. But also this: Americans can forgive one another. We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.”
It’s legitimate to strenuously fight political battles and also to be upset at how those battles are fought and the depths people sink to. At all times, however, let’s remember the gift of forgiveness that we’ve been given and that we get to share with others.