Is it time to forgive Mel Gibson?

In the court of public approval, there is no such thing as “innocent until proven guilty.”  The veritable “we” as the public eye pronounce our judgment on public figures without knowing the entire story (often without even knowing the real story as we do not often personally know the persons we are casting our judgment on).  Reputation is a double-edged sword–it can wield both construction and destruction.  Knowing how easily public opinion can sway to support a person or to destroy a person, Thomas Paine wrote, “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” 

Many celebrities and public figures work very hard to maintain their integrity.  They are the ones we do NOT read about online or see on ET (because the media knows that the court of public approval loves a scandal), for they quietly and carefully go about their life and work, taking seriously their role as a role model.  Some celebrities and public figures simply do not care–they make their living based on how much the court of public approval wants to see more of them.  A third category would include those who might spend a lifetime doing everything “right,” and then allow one mistake to send them into a downward spiral, thus tarnishing their character and reputation.

With this being the 10th anniversary of Mel Gibson’s famously well-done, brutally honest movie “The Passion of the Christ” coming out into theaters (and thus almost 10 years since his cray-cray downward spiral and everyone turning their back on him), many people are asking the question, “Is it time for us to forgive Mel Gibson?”

Many people put their stock in our friend Mel.  He had famously been married to the same woman for over 20 years when the movie came out, and he was a shy, family man in the public eye.  Christians were excited about The Passion movie coming out–churches rented out theaters, had sermon series, and encouraged all their members to support the movie.  Even over the past few years when I’ve been privileged to attend various churches in my travels, I’ve seen stills from the movie accompanying music and sermons.  It clearly made an impact and God used the film to work mightily in our culture.  And then Mel had his cray-cray downward spiral that included divorcing his wife, lots of drunk driving and public anti-Semitic remarks, and other weird things that made the public eye go, “What the heck, Mel?”  His behavior was wrong (hear me–I will say it again: his behavior was wrong).  Then everyone consequently turned their backs on him (we’ve seen it before with other Christian celebrities–Sandi Patty, etc), and he laid low for a while.

But the question remains, is it time for us to forgive Mel Gibson?

I believe that if we individually search our hearts, the question is deeper than merely forgiving Mel Gibson, and the perimeters extend beyond the boundaries of our religion to where the true answer lies with only One: Jesus. 

You see, religion says that we only love those who agree with what we have to say–those who follow the rules, those who do not make the “huge” mistakes, those who live neat, tidy lives.  Religion says that we only serve those who love us back.  Religion says that we are better than the world.

True faith recognizes that were it not for the grace of God and His interceding in our lives, we would be just like Mel Gibson (or worse!).  True faith does not just preach “tolerance” like religion does.  True faith in Christ means that we freely extend the same grace that we ourselves have received from God.  It is undeserved on our part, but freely given by Him.  True faith in Christ recognizes that it is the duty of a moral society to mete out consequences for actions, but that each of us will have to stand before the Lord one day and give account of our actions to Him.  I won’t have to account for Mel Gibson.  You won’t have to account for me.  We will each have to account for ourselves.  That is a terrifying and freeing principle to take to heart.

Our answer to the question “is it time to forgive Mel Gibson?” speaks to the status of our own hearts.  Are we truly willing to forgive?  Are we truly willing to extend grace?  Do we really practice what we preach?  Do we elevate people to celebrity status and place them on a pedestal where only God should be, and then turn our backs on them when they inevitably act human and crumble and fall?

Do we want to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made?  True faith in Christ recognizes that without the grace of God we would be just like those we speak against.  The Bible says that the hearts of men are naturally inclined to evil (Romans 3:23, Mark 7:21, Jeremiah 17:9, Genesis 6:5), but thanks be to God who justifies us freely by his grace and the redemption that came through Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).

Forgiveness is not about the other person.  Would Mel Gibson know the moment someone chose to forgive him?  Would he even care?  Just like our own enemies might not know or care whether we decide to forgive them, forgiveness is about you and your heart and me and my heart.  Is your heart right before the Lord?  Only you can know that and only HE can be the judge of it.  Just some food for thought…

Our Enemies

Have you ever been betrayed, plotted against, or sabotaged by another person?  I think it’s safe to write that the great majority of us have.  Whether it is at our job, with a family member or someone we called friend, or even with a complete stranger (thanks to the magic of the internet), many of us have had others do or say or write bad things to us in an attempt to bring us down.

While most of us do not hold grudges against the little things in life (unless we have severe anger management issues), many of us have a challenging time letting go and forgiving the big things.  And it’s true–some wounds DO take a long time to heal.  I have my battle scars and wounds just like everyone else, and I struggle with this just like everyone else.  People have tried to come between my marriage, bring down the studio, and have said many hateful things to me–unjustified–that I have carried for months…even years!

But Jesus didn’t distinguish between the large or small bad things that we have had done to us.  In fact, He commands us to forgive others very seriously.

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.” -Matthew 6:14 (HCSB)

And then He asks us to take it a step farther…

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighborand hate your enemy.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may besons of your Father in heaven….For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have?” -Matthew 5:43-45, 46a (HCSB)

I think of the great example we have in Corrie ten Boom.  Along with her father and sister, Corrie was arrested by the Nazis in 1944 for hiding and aiding Jewish people during the Holocaust.  Her father died from illness just 10 days after he had been placed in the camp, and eventually Corrie’s sister Betsie was killed by the guards at the camp.  And still, Corrie’s faith and commitment to sharing the Gospel did not waiver.  She was released from Ravensbruck due to a clerical error and went on to be a missionary around the world.  She would be tested in 1947 when she came face to face with one of the cruelest guards at the camp–one who played a key role in the death of her sister.

And then he asked her to forgive him.

She wrote, “For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ …

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.  …  “I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

You and I can do no less.  Let’s take a few moments to silently bow our heads in prayer and ask God if there is someone we need to forgive!  And then, with a strength that only He can offer, let’s do so.