What should be the consequence of decades-old misbehavior?

Virginia governor Ralph Northam had a photo on his yearbook page depicting a man in blackface next to another man in Ku Klux Klan robes. After the photo was revealed, many people called for him to resign as governor. But should he resign? If the photo is the only issue, the answer is no.

Note: I am specifically addressing a principle here. I am intentionally not addressing Northam’s hypocrisy on race issues or his deranged position on late-term abortions. I am not addressing Northam’s dishonesty in talking about the photo. I am only addressing the issue of the photo, in a vacuum.

The yearbook came out 35 years ago. Northam has had a long career since then, as a pediatric neurologist and later as a state senator and governor. Foolish behavior in 1984 should not be enough to undo the results of an election that Northam won and invalidate the votes of 1.4 million people. If voters were to decide in 2021 that Northam deserves to go, then so be it, but it is not appropriate for him to resign now over the photo.

(Again, there are other factors in addition to the photo.)

The two things most obvious are lack of forgiveness and lack of self-awareness. People in their teens and twenties do and say stupid things. Everyone condemning the photo has done or said something stupid, offensive or insensitive. Maybe our transgression was decades ago, or maybe it was three months ago, but we all have things that cause us shame.

Is this really the kind of society we want to live in? Do we really want to live in a society where bad behavior – offensive but not illegal or criminal – can derail our careers today? Our inability to forgive someone for a decades-old transgression reflects more on us than it does on the guilty party. It indicates a refusal to believe someone can change, while allowing us to pridefully virtue signal our own righteousness.

There is a reason why God commands us to forgive those who have wronged us. The debt we owe God for our sins against Him is infinitely larger than the debt anyone can owe to someone on earth. We would all be wise to read the parable of the unforgiving servant and take those lessons to heart.

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