Edwards’ road to forgiveness marked with contrasting opinions

dstrange@newsobserver.comJune 4, 2012 

When John Edwards was found not guilty of one count of illegal campaign contributions and the jury could not reach a decision on the other five counts, the jury’s uncertainty of Edwards’ guilt paralleled the public’s uncertainty of the politician’s future in the spotlight.

Yet the lack of convictions begins the road Edwards indicated he hopes to travel next: the return to public life.

Doing so requires going down a side road, one of public forgiveness. That road has sharp twists and turns, pocked with contrasting opinions.

Some people, like Baltimore activist Rocky Twyman, have high hopes for Edwards’ future. Twyman was scheduled to hold a vigil Monday outside the White House, gathering those who wish for Edwards’ public renewal – and 2016 presidential candidacy.

Raleigh resident Leamon Tapp, 42, said that while he was too loyal to ever put himself in Edwards’ situation, he felt Edwards’ actions were simply human errors.

“The whole spotlight was on him because of his extracurricular activities,” Tapp said. “I can’t judge him. I’m a person, just like he is.”

Andrew Taylor, chair of the political science department at N.C. State University, said those errors are more likely to lead public opinion to public forgiveness.

“I think the scandal was seen more about sex than corruption,” he said. “If you are deemed corrupt, it’s very difficult for people to get past.”

Gail Eluwa, of Cary, said she appreciates that Edwards has admitted to his mistakes, but his past service is what gives her confidence that Edwards can return to political office.

“I think North Carolinians are very forgiving people,” she said. “I think the general public still likes John Edwards because of the work that he’s done.”

But Amy Laura Hall, professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School, said Edwards’ mistakes were more disappointing because of his past campaigns with populist ideals that asked Southerners of different backgrounds to come together.

“For someone who called on our best selves in the South to come together, and to have it so publically displayed that a man was calling on our best selves who hasn’t been his best self – I think he realizes he has grieved an entire region.”

Hall said the process of a community forgiving a sinner is a complex and argued topic in Christian discussions, with factors including the sinner’s request for forgiveness, the victim’s readiness to forgive, and societal pressure on all parties.

But some think impersonal connections make communal forgiveness too difficult.

In her novel “Silver Sparrow,” author Tayari Jones tells the story of a man with two families and the toll taken on his children. While Edwards’ setting was different, the novel explored themes similar to Edwards’ adulterous relationship. Jones said forgiving requires a conscious, aggressive act of love, something she’s unsure can be given to Edwards from the public.

“Forgiving a stranger, that’s a whole other animal than forgiving a family member,” she said on the phone during her recent visit to North Carolina. “I don’t even know how the public can forgive a stranger.”

But Jones said forgiveness is the only way to maintain a child’s innocence, and she said hopes Frances Quinn, Edwards’ daughter with Rielle Hunter, will witness forgiveness in the Edwards family.

Jones said she has noticed people referring only to the children Edwards had with his late wife Elizabeth as his children, depriving Frances Quinn of that label.

“You can’t throw one set of kids under the bus for the sake of another,” she said.

Whether Edwards can restart his professional career is just as complicated a question as seeking redemption. For instance, both Hall and Eluwa said they believe Edwards has the potential to regain a public presence in politics.

Taylor disagrees. “He might want to go into practice again,” he said. “He would be more interested in having clients trust him.”

“Any career in public life is gone,” he said.

Strange: 919-829-4568.

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