I have to admit, their request confused me. Had I not already offered grace by privately explaining the offense and suggesting it was an accident that even I have been guilty of? How much more grace can I offer? And then it occurred to me what they really meant by grace: I shouldn’t have said anything. They were trying to tell me that to really offer grace as a Christian should, I should ignore offensive language and other micro-aggressions. I should offer the offender “grace” by keeping quiet and not forcing them to recognize that what they have done is offensive or harmful. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how often marginalized communities are told this. People of color are told to give grace to racists. LGBTQ people are told to give grace to those who believe they are going to hell. Trans people are told to give grace to those who misgender them or chase them out of bathrooms. Women are told to give grace to misogynists. Oppressed people are told to give grace to their oppressors when they are discriminated against or insulted.
And I rarely hear of grace going the opposite way. If a person of color, after hearing 19 people den that racism exists, snaps at the 20th person who says the same, do they receive grace? If a trans person has been misgendered by 19 people that day, and finally snaps at the 20th person, do they receive grace? If a woman has been catcalled and talked down to and mansplained 19 times in a day, and finally snaps at the 20th person, does she receive grace? Do marginalized people, tired of constantly dealing with slurs, micro-aggressions and more receive grace when they can’t take one more person degrading and devaluing their existence? If it does happen, it’s rare. Minorities are expected to keep calm and explain the twentieth, or one hundredth, or one thousandth offense with as much “grace” as the first time. And even when they do they are often dismissed, told they shouldn’t be offended, and reprimanded for saying anything. They are told to give “grace.”
Except that’s not grace.
Grace is not a weapon. It’s not a silencer. You might say, but aren’t Christians supposed to give grace? But there’s a big difference between claiming “I don’t see anything wrong with what I’ve done, I don’t need to apologize, give me grace so I can keep hurting you,” and “I realize I’ve done wrong, and I’ll try to do better, but I’m human, so if I mess up again, I ask for grace.” Which of these statements would you pray to God? If you wouldn’t say the first statement to God, why would it be ok to say it to another person?
One of my professors says that only God can offer grace; humans can only reflect the grace that we receive from God. But grace is not something we deserve or demand, from God or others. It can only be offered, freely and undeserved. Jesus taught us that when someone in the community sins, we must first go to them privately and offer them a chance to repent. If they refuse we go in a small group. If they still refuse, we address the sin publicly. If they still refuse, only then do we cast them out from the community. And that is a way we can reflect grace. Just as God offers the chance to repent, even though we have done nothing to deserve that chance, we confront others in their sins and offer them the chance to repent. Grace does not mean allowing people to continue as they are, but to show them how they have sinned, and accept their repentance if and when it comes, as God does for each of us.
Grace is not a weapon. It is not something we use to guilt people, saying “You’re not a real Christian if you don’t give me grace.” Grace is not something we demand from those we have wronged. Grace is a gift, undeserved, freely given by God and God alone. It is time we stopped demanding grace from marginalized people so that we can keep treating them the same without it weighing on our consciences. It is time we start repenting and humbling begging God, and the oppressed, for grace and forgiveness for the way we have oppressed them.