The nature of forgiveness

Two stories in the nation bring up the question of the nature of forgiveness. One is the reaction of the wife of the pastor, who was gunned down last week as he delivered a sermon. The other is the return to Minnesota of Kathleen Soliah, who hid out in St. Paul as Sara Jane Olson.

On the CBS Early Show this morning, Cindy Winters granted forgiveness to Terry Sedlacek, who shot her husband, Pastor Fred Winters, to death in the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill.

“I do not have any hatred, or even hard feelings towards him,” she said. “We have been praying for him. One of the first things that my daughter said to me after this happened was, ‘You know, I hope that he comes to learn to love Jesus through all of this.’ We are not angry at all, and we really firmly believe that he can find hope and forgiveness and peace through this, by coming to know Jesus. And we hope that that happens for him.”

It was impossible for many to watch the interview without thinking, “could I forgive the person who just killed my spouse?” How long would it take to reach that point?

The same question is being asked in St. Paul with the pending release of Olson, who was a 1970s radical with the Symbionese Liberation Army, attempted the pipe-bombings of Los Angeles police officers, and took part in a bank robbery near Sacramento in which a woman died.

She’s served seven years in prison, and wants to return to Minnesota — where her family still lives — to serve her parole.

Today, the Minnesota Senate debated bringing a resolution to the floor — as an emergency measure — that would ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reconsider sending Olson back to Minnesota.

“What do we stand for as people? Law and order, certainly. The notion that we would easily forgive someone who … yes, 25 years ago… decided it might be a good idea to blow up some police officers and maybe in the process, perhaps, involve kids. That is something terribly troubling,” Sen. Dave Senjem, the Senate Minority Leader, said.

The attempt to bring the resolution to the Senate floor failed.

Former Los Angeles police officer John Hall, a target of Olson’s, recalled a young girl waving at him from a restaurant as he drove away. A pipe bomb under his cruiser did not go off.

“That little girl was waving at us as we drove off. If that bomb would have gone off, she would have been killed along with her family,” said Hall, who served 31 years with the department. “I haven’t forgiven her (Olson) in the least for what she’s done and what she could have done to many more innocent people.”

  • Bonnie

    So the police officer didn’t believe the little girl would have been united with Jesus, I guess? Forgiveness is a difficult concept, I don’t think most people understand it at all. Justice is a completely different concept. Revenge, now that we understand all too well. Maybe the minister’s wife was miserable and glad to be “rid” of him, who knows? People mistakenly think that “forgiving” someone means forgetting which it does not. It also does not mean you are endorsing the the actions they took. It is moving on. Sara Jane Olson has served her time, supposedly justice has been served. time to move on.

  • Al

    I wonder what Rep. Marty Seifert would say about this issue. He made a comment on Midday last week that was something to the effect that we need to figure out which criminals we are afraid of and which criminals we are just angry with. He was talking about the budget and cutting the amount we spend on incarceration, but it is an interesting question for this case as well. Sara Jane Olson isn’t exactly someone I would still be afraid of.

  • jt

    Where’s our forgiveness? This woman, by all accounts, was a model citizen before her arrest and served her time with quiet dignity. Let her come home to her family and friends.

  • bsimon

    Sen Senjem said

    “What do we stand for as people? Law and order, certainly.”

    In that case, it seems that the law says Ms Soliah/Olson has served her time. Surely the good Senator isn’t just playing politics?

  • Bob

    Let’s see — SJO has already served her time; we can argue about whether it was enough, but the justice system has spoken. Let’s try to be satisfied with that.

    If there was concern that she was unrepentant and was still a threat to society, I could understand the apoplexy on the part of the cops and politicians; such ain’t the case. So trying to prevent her from returning to her family is just mean-spirited, and if such attempts succeeded, would be tantamount to further punishment.

  • Andy

    Not sure why I’m taking the time to comment on this particular story, but somehow I feel compelled. As far as SJ Olson is concerned, this is obviously all politics. She seems harmless enough. As far as we know she didn’t commit any crimes while living in Minnesota, and I would suspect that she wouldn’t while serving her parole here. But, I guess I’m confused who is playing politics with whom? And, of all times to worry about such a thing. Just seems like a diversion. But, maybe Mr. Senjem is feeling a bit like a child and simply needs to have a little control in his life.

  • Linda Reed

    Sarah Jane Olson and her family have suffered enough, It is time for the St Paul Police Federation AND our Governor to recognize that she has done her time and deserves the right to move on with her life. Call that forgiveness or call that justice. Either way, enough is enough, I hardly think a man would suffer as much as she has.

  • Drake33

    The “little girl waving from a window” story sounds too good to be true.

    There may have been one, but I’m guessing the story has been exaggerated beyond reasonable belief over 30 years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great quote and provides a vivid picture of what could have happened… I’m guessing it’s also wrong.

  • Jane

    I think that there are probably much more dangerous parolees serving parole in the state than SJO…..and cannot help but wonder how much of the push to not let her home is based on her political affiliation while here.

  • Minnesota Central

    Great post … combining the two stories really shows the dramatic difference … I can understand the feelings of the victims involved, yet I have a problem with grandstanding politicians who feel they must inject themselves in at the last minute.

    Case-in-point – Governor Pawlenty, Senator Ingebrigtsen, et al in the past week have decided that a formal declaration (SF 1585) be made that California retain jurisdiction over Kathleen Ann Soliah (aka Sara Jane Olson) during her probation.

    Her potential parole was hardly an unexpected event as one year ago she was released on probation only to discover that California miscalculated her eligibility.

    To me, this smacks of Pawlenty’s Terri Schiavo moment … instead of exercising common sense and a reasoned assessment of the risks involved, Pawlenty is embracing a hardnosed law and order persona.

    It’s silly.

    The fact that there is an established practice that the parolee must pay a fee to Minnesota for the supervision indicates that this must occur more often than the average citizen is aware. Second, what would happen in three years if she wanted to move to Minnesota after completing her parole in California ?

  • beryl k gullsgate

    I have no opinion on Soliah and any “forgiveness” issue, yet I do have a hard time finding forgiveness for the Cheney/Bush crimes…and they have not even been indicted yet, and probably won’t ever be…

    However, this is a woman who will receive celeb status all over again for whatever foul deeds she has already been found guilty of and served some time for…and in her revived nortoriety; her position as a public figure will certainly give her credibility to sit down and write (or ghost write) a book which will receive enormous sales appeal; book tours etc…while greater writers; others struggle to find a receptive publisher? No justice there, indeed.

    I suppose the question then is, how to forgive the reading public’s bad taste…so it goes.

  • GregS

    The stories above are about two entirely different aspects of forgiveness.

    In the first story, victims use forgivenes to free themselves of tragedy. In the second story, the community is being asked to forgive an arrogant woman who refuses to feel or express contrition.

    In the first case, forgiveness is liberating, in the second it is pathological.

    Yes, according to law Ms Olson must be allowed to live among us, but neither law nor ethics require us to accept her as a full member of the community until she has expressed sorrow for trying to murder a cop and for the murder of a woman who happened to walk into a bank at the same time as Ms. Soliah and her merry band of sociopaths.

  • beryl k gullsgate

    Isn’t it time to close the door on the Soliah image big and too bold now on this website …at least on St Joseph’s Day…and let the face of love, Mama D give the viewing public something positive to remember on this day?

    I taste her salad now as I remember it and could not duplicate ever in my kitchen. Now I know that missing ingredient…it was Amore. That’s a hard one to duplicate…and often missing from my spice shelf…God bless you Mama D still around in spirit to remind us…