Forgiveness as a Political Necessity—Jordan Ballor & Eric J. Hutchinson on forgiveness and vengeance
Updated: Feb 25
A few days ago I heard someone describe our current American moment as a struggle between Hamilton and the 1619 Project. For the latter, America is a nation so stained by the legacy of the slave trade as to be irredeemable without an antiracist revolution. For Hamilton, “the American project inevitably had to lead to emancipation of slaves” (as Chloé Valdary recently put it) and still holds much promise.
There is an honest questioning of the revolutionary spirit in Hamilton. As Lin-Manuel Miranda’s titular character asks in the play’s opening, “If we win our independence, is that a guarantee of freedom for our descendants? Or will the blood we shed begin an endless cycle of vengeance and death with no defendants?”
How do we escape this reactionary cycle? Both Hamilton and the Christian tradition answer with forgiveness. This article explores the idea, with the help of Hannah Arendt and Niels Hemmingsen.
Nothing is more purely reactionary than vengeance. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the only reaction that is also a new action; it makes an end so that it can make a beginning. If vengeance lives only in the past, replaying the original offense on an endless and obsessive loop in the manner of Groundhog Day, forgiveness has the uncanny ability of effecting a genuine and surprising scene-change. The director’s “Cut!” is not a call for violence, but rather an opportunity for a second act. So, too, is forgiveness.
Read "Forgiveness as a Political Necessity" by Jordan Ballor and Eric Hutchinson over at Law & Liberty.