Lection Connection

August 16, 2020: Subversive Forgiveness

From Sandra Rooney


Civil Rights leader, John Lewis, who died July 17, came to be known as the “Conscience of the Congress,” for his dedication to the highest ethical standards and moral principles throughout his life. From his first arrest at a lunch counter sit-in, through many subsequent arrests and beatings by state and federal officials and angry white mobs, he held fast to a belief in non-violence and reconciliation. And he never shrank from speaking out against injustice.

After serving on the Atlanta City Council, in 1986 Lewis was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he represented Georgia’s 5th District for 17 terms. Monday, July 27, Lewis’ coffin was carried into the U.S. Capitol, to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. That evening his coffin was moved outside to the Capitol steps, where the public lined up to pay their respects. 

Lewis dedicated his life to ensuring that with freedom came equality. More than that, he was firmly committed to the way of non-violence, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Never becoming bitter or vindictive, he said, “We were taught not to hate, not to become bitter, but to believe in the philosophy and discipline of non-violence, in the way of peace, in the way of love, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.” 

While in prison, Lewis built relationships with his guards, treating them as fellow human beings, even when they abused him. In his memoir Walking with the Wind, he wrote that the essence of the non- violent life, “is the capacity to forgive and to understand that your attacker is as much a victim as you are.” Lewis says there were many occasions when people who had wronged him would come to him to apologize and ask forgiveness. He not only forgave them but invited them to create a new set of relationships. He firmly believed in the power of forgiveness, for the one who forgives and the one forgiven. 

Congressman Lewis had many encounters with people who had wronged him. One example dates back to 2009. The son of a man who had attacked Lewis at the bus station in Atlanta in 1961 had been encouraging his father to seek out the people he had wronged during that period. Father and son came to Lewis’ office after all those years to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Lewis recalled that the father looked to be a little older than he was, which meant he was about 24 in 1961; Lewis only 21. On that day in 1961, Lewis and his seatmate had been badly beaten and left lying in a pool of blood at the Greyhound bus station. Lewis said to the man, “Yes I forgive you; I accept your apology.” At this point, he recalled that the man’s son started crying, then man himself started to cry, as did Lewis. Then they hugged one another. Lewis recalled that they started calling one another “brother.” That man and his son were to visit Lewis several times after that.

Such was the man to whom Democrats and Republicans alike paid tribute and bid farewell at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Thursday, July 30. In an essay written just before he died, Lewis wrote, “In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”


Explore…Genesis 45:1–15

  • What parallels do you see between this passage of scripture and events in our world today?
  • When have you witnessed the way of forgiveness leading to change?
  • Where do you see a need for forgiveness today?


Merciful and forgiving God, we know what is required of us, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with you. You challenge us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Walk with us as we seek to so live. Amen. 


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