The subject of forgiveness must be on the minds these days of most American citizens who seek to walk in ways that can be reconciled with the dictates of the Old and New Testaments.

After all, two and a half weeks ago, gangs of unruly assailants aimed their violent worst at the temple of democracy, desecrating the Capitol and the tools for expression of the will of the American people.

In so doing, the assailants, and those who dispatched and aided abetted them, broke one law after another — federal, local, civil, and religious — ultimately committing degrees of homicide and manifestly disrespecting one after another of the wise restraints that make us, “We the People,” free.

I believe that the consensus of the legislators who were present is that no cause justifies what transpired and that our democratic form of government cannot long endure in the face of the extremes of behavior evidenced on Jan. 6, 2021, and the only just consequence must be to deal harshly with it.

From the cross, Jesus spoke of forgiveness Luke 23:34, but that passage bears on circumstances different from those that unfurled earlier this month. Jesus in Luke 23 is arguing the case for one person who is ignorant of both the facts (including the fact of Jesus’ sovereignty and Godliness) and of the consequences.

Offending one man alone in the circumstances of a common law civil action, cannot be compared with gross offenses against norms of behavior expected of and needed to sustain even a modicum of tranquility in the governance of the citizenry. Biblical guidance in situations like those on Jan. 6, which are more like criminal offenses, are always brought in the name of the relevant body politic as a whole.

We find forgiveness dealt with rather decisively in Paul’s Letter to the Church in Ephesus, where, in chapter 4, verse 32, we are urged to “be kind and tender-hearted to one another and forgive one another as God has forgiven (us) through Christ.”

Similarly, don’t we regularly pray to the Divine to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”?

Our highest duty, consistent with the practical obligation, to ourselves and everyone else, is to extend the grace of unconditional love but stay consistent with the obligation to prevent broad-based offense against the very nation that shelters, advances, and sustains us.

— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., J.D., LL.D., D. Min., K.St.J, is Washington National Cathedral Priest Scholar and Chaplain, and he previously served churches in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.