Mississippi made national news this last week in a way that many bemoaned as just another story that has besmirched the state to the rest of the country. Governor Haley Barbour decided upon leaving office to pardon over two hundred persons who had committed an array of crimes, but the ones who garnered the most national attention are those who were sentenced for murder. The pardons have enabled these people to now have their records wiped clean.
The state constitution of Mississippi empowers the governor to decide upon granting pardons. This practice has been exercised by many governors of the state and usually causes some angst each time pardons do occur. Many, if not all, of the victims and/or victims’ families feel victimized again. Governor Barbour did not grant very many pardons until leaving office and did so at a time when it would not be politically to his disadvantage, nor would possibly hurt any other candidates in the recent state elections.
Barbour stated after the firestorm of criticism began that his decision to grant the pardons was based upon his Christian faith. His statement has made many people take a second look at their initial thoughts about the pardons and certainly has blunted the criticism that came his way. Many of us know the Lord’s Prayer of Matthew 6: 9-13. In this prayer, verse 12 reads, “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” It’s certainly much easier for anyone to want forgiveness, but harder to grant forgiveness, especially when no wrong at all was committed by the person needing to forgive someone who is completely at fault. God knows this, but He still requires it of those who call themselves His children. To continue to read in Matthew 6, verses 14-15: “”For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In Mark 11:23-26 (NKJV), it is recorded that Jesus told His disciples, “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive [them], and you will have [them]. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
It is certainly not anyone’s place to tell the victimized how they should feel unless there has been a similar walk taken in the same kind of shoes. Each person’s pain of loss is different and victims’ rights must be respected. When a great loss occurs, it takes time for those affected to work through the great pain that is there and patience and understanding is required. We all must have a society of justice, but also of mercy.
Everyone wants to receive a pardon (grace), but it becomes a problem many times when there is a need to give grace. Our society has become more litigious and with that, there is less forgiveness today. It can be seen through the amount of outrage over the recent pardons. There are many today who have an expectation of perfection on the part of others, but not of themselves in an equal manner. Unfortunately, many of those same folks also claim to be Christians. In the church, it can be seen through an examination of the great rate of turnover of pastors nowadays who feel more demoralized than ever. In a state with such a great number of churches, shouldn’t it have been expected that the amount of backlash over these pardons would have been blunted more than it was?
In Matthew 18:21-35, is a parable that Jesus told: “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.’” This parable speaks for itself.
Those who are always looking to make political points at any perceived weakness of their opponents have seemingly enjoyed criticizing the Republican governor. However, Barbour’s explanations of his actions will serve to soften the public’s view of Republicans being too hard on criminals and not having as much compassion as Democrats claim to have. Before the public continues to increase its criticism of Barbour, there should be some remembrance of each of our own need for grace and have some compassion enough to consider the deeper issues at hand here. Our society is certainly better off if criminals who are truly different can become productive and law-abiding citizens again. The self-righteous were present during Jesus’ day as well and did not like Christ’s behavior toward the woman who came to Jesus as is recorded in Luke 7; He tried to help them understand more about this woman’s mindset when He told them, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, [the same] loveth little” (verse 47). These people who have received grace this last week through being granted a pardon will have an opportunity to love much more than those who have never received such a gift. We should pray for these who were pardoned and for those victims and families to be able to move forward with their lives in a way where God is glorified. Our state and nation can benefit from this instead of becoming more and more unforgiving.