Mind Matters

by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker

Number 415
September 10, 2001


Redemption Fatigue


Maureen Dowd coined the phrase 'Redemption Fatigue' in commenting on Gary Condit's TV interview. She writes she is "too tired to forgive any more gray-haired-blow-dried-elected scoundrels trying to sin 'n' spin. I can't bear one more non-admission admission--all confession, no consequences."

Her anger matches my own; her words penetratingly expose the dis-ease I feel. I have learned, though, never to make absolute judgments about individuals.

One person I thoroughly disliked was George Wallace. Wallace's inaugural address as the Governor of Alabama in 1963 now makes the history books: "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 young black men from registering, only backing down before a federal force.

While running for president, George Wallace was shot-an injury that severed his spinal cord. Wheelchair-bound and in constant pain, he began saying that he had "done wrong," that his racial policy was wrong. Repentance? Political expediency is what I saw.

I had to change my mind as I watched Governor Wallace's funeral. One of the two blacks almost barred from 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'."

Charles Coulson, on President Nixon's staff, said he would walk on his grandmother's grave to support his president. Convicted of a crime, he came out of prison a born-again Christian. Repentance? Fox-hole religion is what I saw.

Three decades later, Coulson continues as head of Prison Fellowship, a group that works for the rehabilitation (and conversion) of those prisoners who volunteer to be part of his program, graduates of which have a much lower recidivism rate. He often testifies before Congress and state legislatures for the humane treatment of prisoners.

Of course, my skepticism is well founded. Public 'repentances' are often used, as Maureen Dowd points out, to manipulate others instead of changing oneself. Yet, Wallace and Coulson, both of whom I did not like--one for racial reasons and the other for political reasons--did change. They found personal freedom from their past--while I had cruely locked them into their past.

How are we to tell true confessions and genuine changes from the false? Moses, when asked that question about the truth of what a prophet said, advised a wait-and-see attitude. On repentances, a relax-and-wait approach is not bad advice.

I will keep my skepticism until I see the on-going fruits of repentance. Then, I have decided to dismiss my skepticism and become an enthusiastic cheerleader.

--Robert H. Tucker
10 September 2001
© Robert H. Tucker, 2001.

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