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Presidential handshake makes global headlines

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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President Barack Obama shakes hands with South Korean musician Psy next to host Conan O'Brien, and performer Scotty McCreery during the

Should President Obama have shaken hands with a rapper who called for the killing of “Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives” in 2004?  Here’s the story.

South Korean Internet rapper Psy has the most-watched YouTube video of all time.  “Gangnam Style” has captured more than 926 million views since appearing on July 15.
Since the explosion of “Gangnam Style,” he has performed with Madonna and MC Hammer.  Last Sunday evening Psy was onstage for “Christmas in Washington,” an annual televised charity concert that will air on December 21.

However, just two days earlier it was revealed that he sang a graphic, anti-American song at a 2004 protest concert.  His lyrics called for killing U.S. soldiers and their families “slowly and painfully.”  Two years earlier, he smashed a model of an American tank on stage, responding to an accident in which a U.S. military vehicle killed two teenage girls outside of Seoul.

Since that time, Psy has become a husband and father of twin girls, and served in the South Korean military.  He now apologizes for these songs and actions: “I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world.”  He adds, “If it’s gonna hurt my career or not, that’s not important.  The most important thing is that as a human being, I really, fully regret the using of [those] kinds of words.”

When the president spoke to the audience at Sunday night’s concert, he acknowledged several of the artists who performed but did not mention Psy.  Nor did the White House choose the entertainment of the evening.  However, Mr. Obama did shake hands publicly with the rapper.  Was this the right way to respond to him?  What does biblical forgiveness look like?

It is not excusing behavior, or pretending it did not occur, or trying to forget that it happened.  God’s word defines forgiveness as pardon—deciding not to punish, as when a governor chooses not to punish a criminal.  Consistent with this definition, the president did not prosecute Psy for his earlier actions or bar him from performing in America.  However, I believe it was wrong for our nation’s leader to shake his hand publicly, as such a gesture conveys a sense of acceptance or even endorsement.

Do you agree or disagree?  On a more practical level, is forgiveness a relevant subject for your family this Christmas?  Does someone need your pardon (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15)?  Do you need theirs?