Sadly, I too am Governor Northam

Sadly, I too am Governor Northam February 3, 2019

Forgiveness Sunday brings one of my favourite liturgical acts as a Byzantine Christian. Called the Rite of Forgiveness, it takes place during vespers on the last Sunday before Great Lent. The rite involves the priest and each member of the congregation asking and receiving each other’s forgiveness for any sins committed through the past year.

There are different variations among the various Byzantine Churches to the practice of this rite. Here is how our parish practices it:

Our pastor approaches each member of the congregation and says: “Please forgive me, a sinner.”

To which each member of the congregations responds: “God forgives, and so do I. Please forgive me, a sinner.”

Our pastor then responds: “I forgive you.”

Members of the congregation then ask each other’s forgiveness following the same rite.

I am reminded of Forgiveness Sunday as friends ask me what I make of the spiralling controversy over Governor Northam and racism. Especially given that the Governor of Virginia is Democrat.

To be clear, I find his actions that caused this controversy inexcusable.

Yet I state this with a sad heart. I know that in stating this I also convict myself.

Thinking back to my own words and actions as an immature highschool and college student, and throughout the my early days as a Catholic writer and apologist, I realize that I am unworthy to cast the first stone. For I too am guilty at different times of mocking, negatively stereotyping, or making uncharitable comments about the following groups of people:

  • Indigenous Canadians
  • Asians (I was especially harsh towards Filippinoes)
  • Muslims
  • African-Canadians
  • Gays/ Lesbians/ Bisexuals/ Transgendered
  • Protestants (particularly Anglicans and Fundamentalists)
  • Americans–particularly of the Irish and German variety
  • Mormons & Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo
  • Jews
  • Hindus
  • Newfies
  • Service industry workers
  • Convicted criminals
  • Single mothers
  • Social assistance recipients
  • People with special needs
  • Lower socio-economic classes
  • Women
  • Latin Americans
  • Vegans and vegetarians

And these are only the groups I remember off the top of my head. It troubles me that there are others whom I forget at the moment.

Usually my comments were in the form “off colour jokes” retold in ignorance and poor taste. Occasionally, however, the prejudice I felt at the moment was real. Yet for the most part I would have denied being prejudiced or racist if pushed.

Only in hindsight do I realize the power of words to hurt and dehumanize, even when such is not one’s intention. Thus like with Governor Northam, I must also condemn as inexcusable and hurtful my own words and actions in these instances.

If you are from any of the aforementioned groups (and that would be at least 90 percent of my friends in real life and social media), I very much apologize. Same if you are part of any other identifiable group towards whom I was uncharitable in the past but cannot recall being so today.

I am sorry.

I am sorry for the hurt I caused you. Both personally and more broadly in perpetuating hurtful stereotypes.

Please forgive me a poor sinner.

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  • Daniel G. Johnson

    Thank you for your honesty.

    The thing I have an open ongoing question about is the relation between one in your present position and those on the other end who have very little resources in the world…who are in that position because of hatred. In that equation, it seems to me there should be a concrete policy aspect to forgiveness…including the empowerment of those on the losing end. Should the last be first?

  • MurphsLaw

    “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he or she has something to forgive.”
    The very smart man once wrote…..
    And while the once a year may not be enough for us, it’s all right there, in the Lord’s Prayer that the ONLY way we can ask God to forgive us, is in fact “we forgive those…..” So it is obligatory…..
    But you’re being too hard on yourself- unless you actually did cast a stone in Northam’s direction, which in any event is in the public arena – which now only looks for correctness…… Not contrition……. Of course the mea culpa’s usually accompany the corrective action…..
    ( you’ll learn more of Mr. Northam’s past in the coming days that will give more opportunity for more forgiveness too)

  • Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said something that has resonated with me throughout my life. “Just because we cannot help everyone in need, does not mean we ought not help anyone in need.”

    As Our Lord states in the Gospels, “The poor will always be with us.”

    I am just one person. I will never be able to empower or help all those on the losing end. But God gifts each of us with the resources and the capacity to help some in need. This is where we must focus.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    I question the “I” and the “We” speaking from a status quo position. Surely, you understood me to mean a political movement which transfers power to those who have been historically abused. The Gospel is about that.

  • The older I grow, the less interested I become in political movements. The Gospel is much more than mere politics.

  • Daniel G. Johnson

    We would disagree about the Gospel. But, the Northam situation is a political one. He should resign. The fact that he is sorry does not erase the political reality that he proposes to stay and subject Black people to yet another reinforcement of moral and political disparity wherein Black people are daily threatened by the state for just whatever, and white people in power get to make “mistakes” which do not affect the power. In this particular instance, if Northam resigns, the people get a Black governor. You and I may not have the power to effect a needed political correction, but Northam does. In my opinion, he should exercise the power to give up power.

    Another way I think about this is that the prejudices committed as alluded to in this article are injuries of a socialist magnitude. A socialist remedy…that is, thinking about how a rightful corrective exercise of political power aimed at reordering social power seems good and right to me.

  • Time2018

    Sadly, I have stumbled onto this article too late to make any impact, but I would like to address the topic, if only in hope that the writer will read it. We are all sinners, we do need to forgive to earn forgiveness, but does that mean we suspend any engagement in calling out public figures who act in hypocritical ways? When people use the cudgel of judge not to stop political discourse, I like to throw out one name “Hitler”. There are others in the 20th century just as bad, but he has had the best press. When we stop judging and discussing the actions of those who would lead our country, we enable psychopaths to usurp our society. And that list you’ve managed to amass is awfully long, might explain why you seem to have failed to develop critical thinking skills.