Barbados can be a particularly harsh and unforgiving society when it comes to extending forgiveness to persons who have run afoul of the law, especially those who ended up having to serve time for serious crimes.
In deciding on the suitable punishment to fit the crime, the courts would have determined that was how convicts would fully pay their debt to society. However, despite this, it is generally difficult for such persons upon their release to achieve a smooth reintegration into the society.
It is as if society has determined that ex-cons should spend the remainder of their lives paying for their crimes. Over the years, many an ex-con has told the story of their struggle to make ends meet, especially in relation to finding suitable employment to cater to their basic needs.
Scorned by society, some inevitably return to crime and end up in prison again. Every person, however, is deserving of a second chance. It was against this backdrop that Dean of St Michael’s Cathedral, The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey Gibson, delivered a thought-provoking sermon on forgiveness yesterday.
At a service to mark the start of the new law year, he drew attention to the Christian duty to forgive as an important step to bringing about healing and reconciliation. In the congregation were members of the judiciary and legal fraternity whose roles relate to the administration of justice on the island.
With one of the highest concentration of churches per capita to be found anywhere in the world, Barbados traditionally has taken pride in describing itself as a Christian country. Christianity, however, involves more than attending church but living a life based on the practice of certain principles, one of which is forgiveness.
Isn’t it strikingly significant that Jesus, whose teachings form the basis of Christianity, found time to ask his Father’s forgiveness for those who had nailed him to the cross as he stood there dying? This example of forgiveness sets a standard for Christians to follow.
Indeed, Christianity teaches that if man expects to be forgiven by God, then he must extend forgiveness to fellow human beings. Interestingly, the subject of forgiveness has been raised at a time of growing public concern about violent gun-related crime and its sometimes deadly consequences. How can we forgive in these circumstances, some Barbadians may understandably ask?
Dr Gibson did not condone crime or suggest in any way that the perpetrators should get off lightly. Indeed, while highlighting the Biblical basis for forgiveness, he acknowledged that the victims of crime and their families experienced a deep sense of loss, anger and grief.
He cited the need for “a process whereby the society can participate in [a] healing process; where victims can be relieved of their pain and offenders brought to the point where there is acknowledgement of guilt and expression of sorrow and a commitment to rehabilitation.”
Such a victim/offender reconciliation programme would be beneficial “even if only for young and first offenders”, Dean Gibson said. He underscored the importance of forgiveness between God and man, as well as one-on-one forgiveness and societal forgiveness.
Citing the case of Zacchaeus who had made a fortune by defrauding others, he pointed out that it was “Jesus’ acceptance of him which enabled him to deal with his past, make restitution and change his behaviour”. This is the type of outcome society desires.
“When an individual offends society by committing a crime”, Dr Gibson said there was a need for forgiveness and healing “after the appropriate sorrow for the offence has been established”. For many victims of crime and those appalled by the impact of crime, especially the violent type, this naturally is easier said than done.
Yet it is what is required of a Christian community. In the context of the current observance of the Golden Jubilee of Barbados’ Independence, the subject of forgiveness has particular relevance. According to Dr Gibson, it forms part of “the jubilee principle”.