Forgiving the Unforgivable

sun with raysForgive an executioner for the Islamic State? Are you kidding me? Forgive a death squad commander? What about a registered sex offender? It might seem implausible, but these three forgiveness stories recently crossed my desk. 

Islamic State – James Foley, an American journalist, was kidnapped by the Islamic State in 2012 and murdered last August. His parents recently announced their intention to forgive “Jihadi John,” the man believed to have killed their son. His mother, Diane Foley, explained: It saddens me, his [Jihadi John’s] continued hatred. He felt wronged, now we hate him – now that just prolongs the hatred …. As a mum I forgive him…. We need to end the hatred.

South Africa – Eugene de Kock was a death squad commander during the apartheid era. He confessed to more than 100 brutal acts of murder and torture and was originally sentenced to 212 years. After spending 20 years in jail, De Kock was recently granted parole.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called the decision to release him represented a milestone on South Africa’s road to reconciliation and healing: I pray that those whom he hurt, those from whom he took loved ones, will find the power within them to forgive him. Forgiving is empowering for the forgiver and the forgiven – and for all the people around them. But we can’t be glib about it; it’s not easy.

Utah – Matt Duhamel, a former TV personality and registered sex offender, recently released an independent film entitled, “The Forgiveness Journey.” Duhamel has been making transformative films since 2012, shortly after his release from prison for. “The Forgiveness Journey” is a documentary on the difficult process of forgiveness, featuring Duhamel and his personal story.  Duhamel and his wife spent over a year and a half interviewing authors, psychologists, religious leaders, and everyday people who have struggled through the process of forgiving.

These stories took place in very different settings, but there are common threads: tremendously painful events, courageous acts of forgiveness, and an overriding desire for healing. They remind us that one of the keys to forgiveness is having the courage to open our hearts to the person who hurt us, despite the pain.  

As Tutu says, we can never be glib about this; forgivenesss is not always easy. But it is always possible.


About Eileen Barker

EILEEN BARKER has been writing and speaking on forgiveness, and guiding people who need to either forgive themselves or someone else, for many years. A practicing litigation lawyer who rejected the traditional adversarial role, Eileen has focused her practice on mediation, helping thousands of people resolve disputes outside of court. This work led her into a deep exploration of forgiveness as it relates to resolving conflict and making peace, both with others and oneself.

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