Missouri Rep. Todd Akin has vowed to stay in his race for the Senate despite calls from leaders in every wing of his party that he abandon the campaign, and despite comments from presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who found Akin’s ideas about “legitimate rape” and the “fact” that “forcibly raped” women are biologically protected from getting pregnant, to be indefensible.
The basis for Akin’s claim that he should remain in the race? Forgiveness. According to a series of television spots and subsequent statements in the media, Akin has asked for people to forgive his having used “the wrong words in the wrong way”. Is that really a persuasive argument?
Personally, I am a big fan of forgiveness. I believe that there is no such thing as a transgression so great that it cannot be forgiven. In fact, it’s Elul, the month in the Hebrew calendar not only known to lovers of crossword puzzles, but the month leading up to both Rosh Hashanah -- the Jewish New Year -- and Yom Kippur -- a day which promises that whatever we have done, forgiveness and atonement are always possible.
That same tradition, however, also teaches that while anything can be forgiven, we don’t always equate forgiveness with forgetfulness, recognizing that forgiveness is not always the same as atonement. The former reflects a letting go of the hurt and anger caused by a bad act, while the latter implies a reunified or reconciled relationship as seen in the word: at-one-ment.
The desire to be forgiven is only the beginning of the lengthy process of atonement, and it takes much more than an ad campaign, however sincere it may be, to get there.
I am all for forgiving those who genuinely seek forgiveness, but part of that search must include a clear understanding by the wrongdoer of the nature of the misdeed. On that score, Akin falls short. In fact, his stubborn desire to stay in the race, despite the best expert advice he is getting from inside his own party, smacks of the same stubborn intellectual ignorance which lead him to subscribe to the junk science and ugly theories that informed his thinking about rape and human conception.
I don’t believe that anybody should be judged by their worst deeds or dumbest words alone. Who among us could pass that test? And I do believe in second chances, even hundreds of them, so I can even imagine a political future for Akin, whether I would ever support him or not.
Confusing forgiveness with forgetfulness and trying to short circuit the process of genuine atonement demeans a sacred concept. So by all means, people should open themselves to forgiving Todd Akin, but that has little or nothing to do with supporting his candidacy for the Senate.