Politicians who change their mind on certain topics are accused of “flip-flopping.” I think that changing one’s mind based on rational discourse and informed discussions with people and based on a degree of maturity that reflects reasoned thinking is totally acceptable. Mindless adherence to certain ideas can be just as unreasonable as constantly changing one’s opinion given the “winds” of change. But when someone does change their mind, they are often labeled as being a “flip-flopper” and opportunistic. Some people might indeed be trying to take advantage of certain situations. Others might be making logical changes in opinion that occur during the journey of life. I find myself making the latter such change about capital punishment, and I am proud of it!
When I was a young idealistic child of the 60s, it was obvious to me that the death penalty for capital offenses was not a deterrent to crime and it did not make sense to take a life in exchange for another’s life. Well, that all changed when I became a parent. I soon felt the bond of parenting that is so protective and at times perhaps vengeful if bad things happen to our children. I often wondered what I would do if something seriously harmful happened to my sons at the hands of others. I thought the answer would be that I would want to see that person or persons suffer an equal or worse fate—and that fate would be, of course, the death penalty. After all, they did not deserve anything more than that since they were obviously evil and “subhuman.” They could not be children of God and should be snuffed out as quickly as possible.
Then more life experiences occurred. Since the Columbine shootings in 1999, I have been on a personal introspective journey about ways that each of us can improve our lives, the lives of others and the life of our community—and learning about forgiveness has been a big part of that journey. Over this now 16-year period, serious questions have been asked and multiple answers have been contemplated, reviewed and re-reviewed. The skeptic or cynical reader of this piece would ask—Can’t he make up his mind? That is a reasonable question but I would argue that answers to tough questions are not easily formulated and require thorough, often lengthy, contemplation while seeking the advice of many others. The advice of others includes the wise counsel of esteemed authors, especially for forgiveness.
Desmond Tutu’s THE BOOK OF FORGIVING: THE FOURFOLD PATH FOR HEALING OURSELVES AND OUR WORLD and JUST MERCY: A STORY OF JUSTICE AND REDEMPTION by Bryan Stevenson remind us that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, that there is no one undeserving of forgiveness, and that each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done. THE FORGIVENESS PROJECT by Marina Cantacuzino has multiple gut-wrenching vignettes by individuals who have suffered untold harm or perpetrated such harm and how these folks extended forgiveness or sought forgiveness. She feels quite strongly that forgiveness is “gray” (not black-and-white) and is a direction (not a destination) in her accompanying essay to the book.
At this time, I am of the firm belief that capital punishment is wrong. It is wrong to falsely execute people (it has happened) and it is wrong to execute people at all. We perpetuate the evil when we kill people. The response in Charleston to the killing at the Emmanuel AME Church by the victim’s families (the acceptance of grace and extending forgiveness) should remind us of this. I proudly accept the fact that I have changed my opinion and have flip-flopped. Thank goodness!