His inaugural address as the governor of Alabama in 1963 is now an enduring part of our history: "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny. And I say, Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" That same year, he stood at the door of the University of Alabama barring two blacks from registering, only backing down before a federal force.
While running for president, George Wallace was shot-an injury which severed his spinal cord. Wheelchairbound and in constant pain, he began saying that he'd "done wrong," that his racial policy was wrong. Repentance? Political expediency is what I saw.
I was wrong.
One of the two blacks almost barred that day by Wallace at the university spoke at his funeral: "Governor Wallace's true pain was that some people could not forgive him. I believe he made his peace with God. He once told me in an anguished moment, 'Whom the gods destroy they first make mad with power'." By word and action Wallace worked diligently at undoing his segregationist past.
Charles Coulson, of Watergate fame, came out of prison a bornagain Christian. Skepticism reigned. Lo and behold, two decades later, Coulson continues as head of Prison Fellowship which works for the rehabilitation (and conversion) of prisoners. He often testifies before Congress and state legislatures for humane treatment of prisoners.
Of course, my skepticism is well founded.. Public 'repentances' are often used to manipulate others instead of changing oneself. (Also, it is far more difficult to accept the repentance of someone who is an opponent of one's own political and religious views.)
Wallace and Coulson, both of whom I personally did not like, showed great personal courage to change. They have found freedom from their past, while I had locked myself to their past.
Moses, David and Paul were freed from their murderous past. Isaac and Peter were able to move beyond their betrayal of others. I wonder how many people around them made their lives more difficult by being unwilling to look away from the past into a different present and future?
The risk of looking foolish by accepting a person's manipulative repentance keeps me from easy acceptance. The cost of skepticism, though, is unnecessarily burdening others' lives with their past. That cost is far too high. I need to repent.
In this, I am right.
--Robert H. Tucker
28 September 1998