Should the Covington Catholic Students in MAGA Hats Be Required to Beg for Forgiveness?

If we’ve learned anything over the last few days, it’s to be careful about jumping on social media outrage wagons. First, we were told by the esteemed *cough* news outlet BuzzFeed that President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.

“Not so fast,” to loosely paraphrase Mueller’s office. “Trump didn’t do the thing that everyone is up in arms over.”

Then, a bunch of spoiled, rich white kids ridiculed and oppressed an elderly Native American. Or, did they? Different videos and more angles provide a contradictory narrative than the one that was burning up social media when I pitched this article earlier today.

It’s hard to keep up and to know whom or what to trust. On a personal level, all this creates a conundrum for me because there is a risk that the back-and-forth is going to swamp and sink what I want to say in this article. I pitched an article about the responses to the Covington Catholic High School students; I wasn’t interested in opining on the actions of the high school kids. I mean, if cell phones with cameras had existed when I was a teenager, I would be unemployable by McDonald’s in today’s climate of new-McCarthyism.

However, because of some new information, I would be remiss, I think, if I didn’t point out that the original witch hunt may have been based on false assumptions to begin with. Writing for The American Conservative, Rod Dreher gives some of the details he discovered after confessing that his initial response was disgust at the boys’ actions:

But then I watched more clips, showing the greater context of the incident. It is not as simple as it has been portrayed. … In it, one of the Catholic boys is overheard asking, “Does anybody know what he’s doing? Does anybody know what’s going on here.”

And, in it, one of the Indians with Phillips shouts: “White people, go back to Europe. This is not your land.” He curses the students with f-bombs (video is NSFW). He goes on: “You’re being a white man about it. That’s all you know how to do.”

You didn’t see that in the news reporting, did you?

Then, at the 4:40 mark, members of an insane black radical cult called the Black Hebrews (I remember them from my DC days) starts ranting at the boys about whites and sodomy, and says that “your president is a homosexual.” He makes fun of Christian civilization, saying: “You give faggots rights!”

Not exactly as cut and dried as the mainstream media was making it out to be. In fact, one could argue that the boy being faced down by Nathan Phillips demonstrated remarkable poise and restraint in a very uncomfortable situation that he didn’t ask to participate in. Shamefully, regardless of what happened, these kids now have to worry about being the target of leftist violence. And that’s what I really wanted to write about, and what I’m going to turn to now.

During the height of the “destroy their lives” fury dominating social media yesterday and earlier today (and still continuing in certain circles), I was deeply troubled by a tweet from a prominent African-American evangelical (I’m leaving him unnamed, because, to his credit, he’s removed the tweet and is now providing the alternate narrative that exonerates the Covington Catholic High students). The tweet, after condemning the boys, ended with the statement that they might be able to one day be forgiven if they “beg for forgiveness.”

If they beg for forgiveness.

That mentality is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s a mentality that increasingly dominates public discourse — on both sides. And it’s a mentality that allows for the creation of second-class citizens unworthy of protection, jobs, and lives devoid of harassment.

In the Lord’s Prayer, one of the well-known lines is, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” After sharing the prayer with his disciples, Jesus adds the comment, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, our heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Those who are forgiven by God forgive others. How could we do otherwise? We are all awful sinners, guilty before the throne of God. Yet, in His mercy, God forgives those who repent and place their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To refuse to forgive others is tantamount to elevating yourself to a position above God and claiming that you have the right to withhold forgiveness. Insisting that begging for forgiveness is a required condition before forgiveness will even be considered is an example of arrogant ungratefulness for how much God has forgiven you. This is why Jesus told his disciples to forgive “seventy times seven” when asked how many times a follower of Jesus should forgive someone.

The notion that some crimes are so heinous as to be outside of forgiveness is a sickness that is eating away at our culture and our churches. For many, racism is an unpardonable sin, or close to it. Except, churches are to serve and minister to all repentant sinners. Forcing repentant racists to jump through hoops before being forgiven is a form of legalism that demands things that the gospel doesn’t.

Yes, people who commit crimes and who wrong others should repent and ask for forgiveness. Yes, racists should be confronted with their evil and implored to repent. When they do repent, though, we are commanded by Jesus to offer forgiveness with no strings attached. No begging required. Making racism an unpardonable sin is going beyond what Scripture allows. Demanding that the Covington Catholic students beg for forgiveness reveals how much self-righteous legalism perverts our nation’s understanding of the gospel.