Forgive and Forget: Preventing Healing and Protecting Abusers

The following is an excerpt of an article published in 2001 in The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland Newspaper.   This article is about abuse at Ivory Coast Academy (now called International Christian Academy) and the failure of Gospel Missionary Union, whose MKs were required to attend the academy, to address the abuse.

Instead of addressing the problem, there was a tendency to accept the suffering caused by the abuse as part of the sacrifices missionaries made for their faith.
“You spiritualize the problem, and then you bury it,” said A. Scott Moreau, professor of missions at Wheaton College.
What psychiatrists, abuse counselors and victims have learned is that such problems cannot be buried. Left untouched, the anger, the rage, the loss of self-worth from the abuse will surface in self-destructive ways throughout the rest of their lives.

You can read the full article online.

One of the ways that Missions, including SIM, attempt to “spiritualize” abuse memories and then stifle them is by telling victims that they should forgive and forget.  Throughout the past 20-30 years SIM has primarily communicated with MKs through the Simroots newsletter.  There are some exceptions, but I feel the overwhelming slant of articles published in Simroots is to chide MKs who “complain” about their experiences at boarding school.  Surprisingly, a lot of this chiding comes from the MKs themselves, which makes it even harder for a victim to speak out, going against peer pressure.

Here are a few examples from Simroots:

In November of 1988, an MK writes “Enough of this wimpy, ‘my past ruined my future’ attitude…put the past behind you and through the power of the King become the person you want to be.”
In Spring of 2001, from another MK, “It’s critical that we assess areas where the Mission boards need to adjust their policies…It is wrong, however, to spend limitless time on self-analysis and self-flagellation.  This is not productive.  It ends in self-pity and feeds into a small, self-centered world.
In Fall of 2001, from a parent of MKs.  This one is titled Personal Advice to the MK!  “Once you become an adult, it’s time to stop blaming the past and start taking responsibility for your own life and depend on God to bring healing, growth and maturity…Like any trauma, you need to forgive and move on.  Unforgiveness is not an option.  Face self-pity, anger, and bitterness as sin.”
From an MK in the current issue from 2010, “Remember that the past cannot be changed.” “Forgiving breaks the emotional bond to past events and helps release frustrations that build up within us.”  “For Christians, forgiving allows God to forgive us our sins.”

The message here is plain and clear.  You must forgive, because it is a sin to be angry, talking about past abuse is little more than self-pity, and if you do not forgive your abusers, your own sins will not be forgiven!  There is little wonder that SIM MKs are so reluctant to talk about past abuse, when this is the message we have been receiving for so long.

Lately a lot of the conversation about abuse and forgiveness has taken place on Facebook, where a victim who speaks out about justice will have several people respond with the importance of forgiveness.  I have been guilty myself in the past of telling others that they need to learn to forgive.

My message to my fellow MKs and SIM “aunts and uncles” is that there is another side to this story of forgiveness.  You cannot tell a victim of abuse that if they simply forgive, they will release their frustrations.  Telling an abuse victim to “forget” is essentially saying that they must remain silent and allow their perpetrator to go free.  Telling them that God will not forgive their sins if they do not forgive is simply more of the spiritual abuse we were subjected to for years at KA.  Whether these messages are given out intentionally or because it is just the doctrine we were taught for years, the result is the same.  It prevents the victim from healing, and protects the perpetrators from being discovered.

Missionary Kids Safety Net website has a great article on this topic titled “Forgive and Forget” Can Hinder Healing, Truth.  This article calls it short-circuit healing, where you don’t have to deal with the truth.  You don’t have to deal with the system.  You don’t have to deal with confession and repentance, restitution and other issues of justice-making.  I urge you to read the full article and also take a look at one of the pages on this blog, called Thoughts on Forgiveness.

SIM has said they don’t know how to reach out to abused MKs.   Perhaps a good place to start would be taking the responsibility to forgive the perpetrator off the shoulders of the victim, and placing that responsibility where it belongs.

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7 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget: Preventing Healing and Protecting Abusers

  1. When someone tells you to forgive and forget, it is usually because they are uncomfortable with the situation and with the feelings that it brings up for them. They aren’t interested in helping the survivor to heal. Being told to forgive and forget can bring up feelings of shame in the survivor if they can’t forgive and forget on demand.

    As an incest survivor, forgiveness was something that, for many years, I handed over to God. I asked Him to take care of the forgiveness until I could. Then I let go of forgiveness and got on with the work of healing which was long and hard and I am worth the end results. Forgiveness was an end result of my healing work, not the beginning of it. I tell other survivors if they can forgive that is ok. If they can’t that is ok too. Healing isn’t based upon whether or not you forgive. Forgiveness came only after I was able to let go of my own rage and hurt and I had grieved the many losses caused by the incest.

    • Thanks, Patricia, for your perspective on forgiveness and telling us about your experience. It makes a huge difference in the way you look at forgiveness if you put it at the end of the healing process, instead of making it a criteria for beginning the healing process. Keeping in mind that healing can take a lifetime. This is unacceptable for the abusers and people who are trying to protect the abusers – they would much rather have everything resolved and put to rest quickly.

      Patricia talks more about forgiveness on a blog post “Patricia Singleton on Forgiving”. An important point she makes is that forgiveness is for the victim, not for the abuser. Also she talks about extending forgiveness to herself. Many victims carry huge guilt because they blame themselves. A common tactic of abusers is to make victims believe the abuse is their fault. I think this has to be especially common in religious institutions. Patricia also has her own blog, Spiritual Journey of a Lightworker.

  2. Pingback: Delayed Disclosure of Abuse on the Mission Field | SIM Missionary Kid Survivors

  3. Thank you Vivian, what a wonderful comment, it is so healing to me to know that there are persons like you that seem to know the same Jesus I do. He asked the children to, ‘Come unto me.’ Since I started reading this blog I have cried several times and it feels wonderful again to start on new and frontier ground in the grieving and healing process. 23 years ago I was a few months sober in Alcoholics Anonymous and my AA sponsor was also involved in ACA, Adult Children of Alcoholics. He took me to a meeting and I balled my head off through the whole meeting, I was home. Now I did not attend on a regular basis then because I was too busy saying good bye at the time to my best friend, Alcohol, which was taking daily attendance at AA meetings. As the old saying goes, ‘It takes a village!’ It was perplexing to me intellectually that I felt at home at ACA because there was no alcohol in my childhood home. Later I found out that both my experience at Kent Academy and at home on the mission field predisposed me to feeling at home in ACA.

    Fast forward to 2008, I was at a yearly retreat that my wife and I attend, ‘Joy in the Journey’. A friend I see only at that retreat came walking up to me and he had a big red book in his hand. It was called, ‘Adult Children Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Families. It was just published in 2006.

    When I look at my experience in the 80’s I think of John the Baptist. When I saw the book it was like the coming of Christ in this dark world for me. After all aren’t we all dysfunctional? There is really joy in this journey of recovery and there are places for us to heal. The closest meeting of ACA is 150 miles away; I continue regular attendance at AA. My wife and I added weekly attendance at Alanon to our joyful journey. The only requirement there is that you have a friend or family member who is an alcoholic or drug addict; but after all, there aren’t a lot of us that don’t qualify for that.

    We have 17 meetings a week in our town. In some of your cities there are 100’s or 1000’s of meetings a week. This journey especially the journey out of the darkness of molestation must not be taken alone. As I said, I still weep after 23 plus years and I’m so grateful I don’t have to do it alone.

    This blog is awesome and I love the anonymity here; so, if a person does not put their last name do not assume to know who they are until they reveal themselves to you. No gossip in Gods world! I love you bloggers, keep it going.

    For me sobriety is the first priority for healing.

  4. @ Vivian

    Thank you for words…………you have clarified what I am feeling without “attacking”……..something which I am not yet able to do.

  5. Well, denial reigns. It is clear that these individuals have not yet come face to face with their own processes.
    Recall that the System is at work to cover its tracks and hide the in-house SIN and criminal activity against the children of missionary families. This is what Systems do.
    What happened to the children is both sin and criminal. It is not up to the individuals who suffered to ease the consciences of their abusers or those in leadership who, by their inaction despite knowledge, are as guilty as the actual perpetrator.
    Forgiveness is a journey that will/might require a life long journey. We each walk our own path.
    Those demanding forgiveness are clearly counter attacking for the sake of their own protection, and for the survival of the System…there is nothing of God-Love in this demand..nothing of, “Do unto others as you would have others do to you,” But instead.. “Do unto others and forget the consequences.”

  6. Thank you so much for posting this article. There is so much truth in it and while I have alot to say on so many of the issues, I am still struggling with the condemning words of those that see MK’s that have been abused as “out for revenge” that I cannot post my thoughts clearly. Hopefully, the anger and frustration I feel about the condemnation will clear and eventually give clarity so that I might put my thoughts in writing.

    To the author of the blog, thank you!!!!!!!!

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