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several protestors hold a sign that says justice is truth in actionProtesters demonstrate outside of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia Feb. 10, 2023, following the Feb. 7 discovery of a racially charged social media video made by three students at the school and a fourth student at a nearby charter high school. School administrators and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were investigating the incident, which Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez said in a Feb. 10 statement "ripped open deep wounds" in the school and the wider community. (OSV News/Gina Christian)

What is a Christian understanding of forgiveness? And does it necessarily involve reconciliation or the abatement of anger?

On the final episode of this season of “The Gloria Purvis Podcast,” Gloria welcomes Rev. Matthew Ichihashi Potts to discuss the subject of forgiveness.

Matthew is an Episcopalian minister and professor of Christian morals at Harvard University. He is also the author of the new book,Forgiveness: An Alternative Account, a probing study that draws upon theology, philosophy, social ethics and even literature to reexamine and rediscover forgiveness.

Their conversation centers primarily on whether forgiveness is possible, especially with regards to grave violations of human dignity like slavery, genocide and mass shootings. Too often, Matthew says, we hurry to dress the wounds of trauma with the bandage of cheap forgiveness. We mistakenly believe that anger must fully subside in order for forgiveness to become possible. But is that what Jesus means when he urges us to forgive seven times 70 times?

Matthew offers an alternative definition of forgiveness, which is, simply put, non-retaliation. He believes choosing to forgive someone who has caused immense harm does not mean that the victims of violence must sweep feelings of anger under the rug or rush to reconciliation.

“If your question is, ‘Where does our discomfort around anger come from?,’” Matthew says, “it comes from things like structural violence, like white supremacy. I think that if you are a person in power, it’s really good if your victim is not angry anymore. Because if they’re not angry anymore, then there’s no wrong to fix. And so I think we should be suspicious of a white, European Christian theological tradition that has come to associate the abatement of anger with forgiveness because who does that bear out on? It bears out on people who have traditionally been marginalized—women and people of color.”

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