How Reconciliation Works: Video Interview with Patrick Doyle

This video interview about reconciliation and forgiveness was posted on the “A Cry for Justice” web site. Here are some of the main points:

Forgiveness is between the victim and God. Reconciliation is between the victim and the abuser, and is not a requirement. It depends on four actions by the abuser:

  1. He/She must be convicted by God. (Not by the offender, or the police, but by God)
  2. He/She must have a Godly repentance.
  3. He/She must offer a true confession. The victim will know if the confession is true.
  4. He/She must ask for forgiveness. (By the way, the Director of a mission asking a blanket forgiveness for all offenders is not the same as an offender himself asking for forgiveness.)

True contrition for an offender equals “I have no rights.” It results in changed behaviour, and this is how the victim knows there has been a change.

The victim might be slow to believe a confession, if they have a long history of being harmed many times. This is part of the price the offender must pay.

God must be the one to convict an offender, and as we let God do this, we set boundaries, putting the offender out of our lives if necessary. If you are at an impasse with an offender, find your safe boundaries.

Christians are often under incredible pressure and guilt to reconcile with an offender. This is wrong. It is harmful to a victim to reconcile before the offender has met the four steps above, and note that the process begins with a true conviction by God.

This video is targeted more toward relationships, especially marriage, than sexual abuse against children. However, the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation is the same, and many who suffered abuse as a child have ongoing problems with abusive relationships throughout their lives.

 

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Releasing the Chains: Timeless Wisdom on How To Forgive Anyone for Anything by Lisa Gibson

Lisa Gibson knows a bit about tragedy and loss. Her brother Ken was one of the passengers on Pan Am flight 103 which was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. In her brand new book, Releasing the Chains, she talks about the courageous way that she dealt with this experience and her own perspective on forgiveness. She also includes the stories of fourteen others who have walked the path of abuse or heartache and wrestled with forgiveness. Lisa graciously offered me a chance to read this book early so that I could share it with you.

Ms. Gibson writes that the heart of forgiveness is relationship, and forgiveness is meant to be a catalyst for reconciliation. Our whole Christian walk is built around relationship. Forgiveness should not be treated as a unilateral action, where I can forgive a person in my heart and then expect to feel better. Viewing forgiveness in this way means it is important for a victim and offender to have interaction, even confrontation.

What is a victim to do when they can’t reconcile with their offender? Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Ms. Gibson says we must transfer our hurts to God’s court, where He is the Judge, Jury and Advocate. This is the way to find release from bitterness, to move on in freedom and peace, and to conquer evil by doing good.

Ms. Gibson talks about the distinction between justice and vengeance. God says “Vengeance is Mine.” However justice is a different matter. We can leave vengeance up to God and still pursue justice here on earth.

The Stages of Forgiveness

Ms. Gibson outlines six steps along the path of forgiveness. First there must be identification of the true offense.  Sometimes it is not what appears to be wrong on the surface. Second there must be validation of the victim’s feelings. Often people are pushed to forgive too early, before they have had a chance to feel the fullness of their pain.

The grieving process comes next, with five well-known stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Then, it is time for a confrontation with the abuser. Luke 17:3 requires us to confront the abuser. This gives the abuser an opportunity to fully realize the damage they have caused, and to confess. Of course there are cases where it would not be safe or wise for a victim to confront his or her abuser, or where the abuser might have already died. The abuser also might not take responsibility for his or her actions.

The next step in the process is forgiveness, which is the most difficult step and requires the forgiver to die to a selfish desire to get even. Ms. Gibson writes that if the offender asks for forgiveness, you must forgive. To this I would add but not until you are ready. It would be wrong to rush along the process when you have not fully completed the first four steps. Finally, the last step is to transfer the case to God’s courtroom. This is the action that can free you up and allow you to move ahead, no longer litigating your own case over and over in your head, but leaving it for God to deal with in His own time.

Ms. Gibson talks about the cost of unforgiveness. It is a familiar list: denial, abuse of food, drugs, alcohol or sex, lashing out at yourself or others, mental disorders, detachment and anti-social behaviour. Yet I have to ask the question, are these things consequences of unforgiveness, or are they directly related to the abuse that happened in the first place? If a child suffers abuse that diminishes self esteem, distorts self image, takes away a sense of safety and trust in man and God, isn’t this enough to trigger any of those symptoms and more? By saying these are caused by an unforgiving spirit, it is essentially saying the victim is responsible for the hurt and must fix it himself, when truly the root cause of the hurt is the abuse.

The Stories of Forgiveness

A large portion of this book is made up of the stories that are shared by Ms. Gibson and fourteen others about how they were able to forgive. Ms. Gibson begins with her own story of her brother’s death on the Pan Am flight that was bombed by terrorists. She eventually wrote to the convicted bomber in prison to offer her forgiveness, worked to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Libya and even met with Muammar Gaddafi. Other stories include that of a grandmother who has to come to grips with animosity towards her daughter-in-law after her children’s divorce, a woman who must forgive herself for abusing her own children when they were young, and a man injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver. A woman is held at gunpoint and raped, another woman must decide whether to stand by her husband as he serves time in prison, a whole family is attacked by an unknown gunman who kills and injures several family members, a woman is abandoned by her father, and so on. The stories range from interpersonal and family strife to severe physical violence, and I believe everyone will be able to relate to the situation of at least one of these storytellers.

Encouraging Confrontation and Reconciliation

What if SIM heard an allegation of sexual abuse from the past, and instead of ignoring the victim and advising the accused person not to respond, they tried to facilitate confrontation and reconciliation for these two people? Instead they, and many other churches and missions, stifle interaction between victim and abuser, ignore the problem and hope it will go away, or encourage victims to forgive quietly in their hearts and then not mention it any more. I believe Ms. Gibson’s model of forgiveness with an emphasis on relationship, confrontation and reconciliation is healthier for both victim and offender, even though it might induce a confession by the abuser and bring things out into the open which the mission prefers to keep secret.

One thing I take away from this book is the difficulty of forgiving. Ms. Gibson does not diminish this or tell us we should forgive quickly. The very title of the book, Releasing the Chains, implies a task that is going to require a lot of effort. The strength required to truly forgive can only come from God. Matthew 19:26 says “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I pray that He will send us both healing and justice.

Releasing the Chains will be available in bookstores and on Amazon in November. You can read more about the book or order online at the publishers web site. 

An Interview with David Augsburger About Forgiveness

David Augsburger, a Professor of Pastoral Care at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, discusses forgiveness in this interesting interview at the National Association for Christian Recovery blog.  This post is several years old, but I just stumbled across it, and maybe you haven’t seen it either.  It gives a great new perspective on forgiveness.  Here are some highlights from the interview that spoke to me.

An abuser should not ask the victim for forgiveness. “If I have injured someone, it is not appropriate for me to ask them to give me something.” The focus should be on demonstrating repentance and making amends, not on getting forgiven. The immediate asking for and the giving of forgiveness skips some critical steps that make authentic resolution of the injury almost impossible.

Mr. Augsburger talks about whether we should offer unconditional forgiveness to people who are unrepentant, and whether Christ did this.  He acknowledges that this concept causes much disagreement among Christians. He says  “My own view is that forgiveness in the absence of repentance is almost meaningless. It may sound gracious and loving but usually the person who forgives prematurely, preemptively or unconditionally is trying to avoid the hard work of the forgiveness process. It’s saying “I don’t want to struggle. I can’t carry this any longer. I can’t face the burden.””

Forgiveness never returns a relationship to its former state.  If it does, it is just a denial that the injury happened. Boundaries have to be set, and the new relationship depends on the level of trust that can now be created between the abuser and the victim.

Mr. Augsburger talks about the nature of a true apology.  Many apologies are an appeasement, where the abuser grovels and says how terrible they are, until the victim feels bad enough for them to say they will forgive them. Some apologies are an account, where the abuser is just offering reasons and excuses for what he or she did, but is not truly repentant.

When an abuser is unrepentant, unavailable, perhaps even deceased, it may not be possible to forgive, but only to go through a grieving process which Mr. Augsburger calls for-grieving instead of for-giving.

Mr. Augsburger finished up his interview by talking about something very relevant to this blog. What if you need to forgive a whole institution, such as a church or mission? He points out that institutions live to protect themselves. Survival is one of their main motivations. He calls them the “principalities and powers”. This is SO true. It is possible for institutions to give a genuine apology, but rare, since they mostly only do it when they realize that an apology will help their survival.

There is much more in this interview, which you can read in its entirety at the National Association for Christian Recovery blog.

Forgiving the Unforgivable by David Stoop

Forgiveness is no sweet, platonic ideal to be dispensed to the world like perfume sprayed from a fragrance bottle. It is achingly difficult. ~ Philip Yancey

A good friend told me about this book and I thought I would share it with you. In Forgiving the Unforgivable Dr. Stoop acknowledges how difficult it is to forgive certain people. We may consider an offense to be unforgivable when it is so out of the ordinary that it shakes our moral foundations, or when it is committed by a person we trusted and loved. What if the person who committed the offense has died or refuses to acknowledge what they have done? Dr. Stoop’s premise is that forgiveness is possible in all these situations. There is nothing that is beyond forgiveness.

Defining Forgiveness

It’s always good to define what you are talking about right up front, especially when the topic is forgiveness, which seems to have a different meaning for everyone. Dr. Stoop defines forgiveness using some standard dictionary and Biblical definitions.  Then he fleshes out this definition through a list of ten statements that he identifies as myths or truths about forgiveness. Here are a few that stand out for me.

  • Instead of forgive and forget, we should forgive and remember.This is to protect ourselves and not get hurt by the same person over again.
  • Getting angry as you work through the process of forgiving is not only good but it is essential. This is because through being hurt we have experienced a loss, and we are grieving that loss.We must experience anger to process our grief.
  • When we forgive we must give up feelings of ill will toward the person.This doesn’t mean we need to trust them again or even like them, simply that we don’t wish them harm.
  • Forgiveness is a process that might take a very long time. Quick forgiveness isn’t really forgiveness, it is just excusing the behavior.
  • Forgiveness does not require the participation or repentance of the offending party. It is not the same thing as reconciliation. Dr. Stoop says “Forgiveness is required of us believers, but reconciliation is optional and depends on the attitude of the offender.”

I can already appreciate Dr. Stoop’s perspective, because it is so different from the advice and counseling I have heard for years from Christian organizations about how to forgive.

Should we wait for repentance before we forgive?

Chapter Four, A Radical Forgiveness, talks about the difference between Old Testament forgiveness and the radical teachings of the New Testament on this subject. Jewish law teaches that when an abuser repents, then we must forgive. Many Christians also believe in conditional forgiveness, forgiveness only when the sinner has repented. Yet Jesus’ example is of unconditional forgiveness, because he died for us while we were yet sinners. This concept is hotly debated. When you dole out forgiveness even to unrepentant people, is that not cheap grace which lets people off the hook for their crimes? Does unconditional forgiveness mean that there will not be any accountability?  Is unconditional forgiveness even possible for us in our imperfect human condition? What do you think?

Three Paths

Dr. Stoop outlines three paths we can take after we have been harmed by another person.  The Path of Denial eventually leads to emotional shutdown or depression. The Path of Bitterness begins not by denying the hurt but by telling and retelling the story. Some of the steps that follow are accusing the other person, obsessing over the event, and seeking payment or revenge.

The third path is the Path of Forgiveness. On this path we begin by placing the blame appropriately. Sometimes it is obvious where to place the blame, but sometimes not so much. For example when a child is abused they often grow up feeling they are responsible for what happened, sometimes even being told that by their abuser. Or, if your abuser was another child, which is a common occurrence in Kent Academy stories, do you assign the blame to that child, or to the boarding school staff, or do you look back through years and years of child-on-child abuse to find the adult perpetrator at the beginning of the chain?

The Path of Forgiveness leads through the process of grieving, to forgiveness, possibly to reconciliation, and eventually we learn to trust others again.

Binding and Loosening

Something that really struck me in this book is the concept of binding and loosening. Matthew 18:18 says “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” By refusing to forgive, we bind the sin of the offender onto that person. When we forgive and take it one step further by asking God to also forgive that person, we loosen the sin from that person and allow the Holy Spirit to begin working in their life. Jesus modeled this forgiveness from the cross when he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the prayer we can pray to begin the supernatural process where the Spirit can actually begin to change the offender.

This is the prayer that Stephen prayed as he was about to be stoned, and of course Saul was in the crowd acting as an observer. It wasn’t long before the Spirit was working on Saul to bring about the changed man we know as Paul. What an amazing and powerful thing if we hold the keys to releasing our offenders so that their lives can be changed.

Much More about Forgiveness

There is a chapter in this book devoted to forgiving ourselves. If you grew up in a legalistic boarding school environment and you suffer from guilt, you can appreciate the need for self forgiveness. Forgiving yourself entails going through the stages of grief, just as when you forgive someone else.

Nowadays forgiveness is becoming quite popular in secular settings. Researchers are even measuring attitudes and emotions and finding that they are linked to health issues such as cancer and heart disease. Dr. Stoop cautions not to remove forgiveness from its spiritual context. Forgiveness is best understood in relation to our being forgiven by God. I would go one step further and say sometimes that is the ONLY reason to forgive an offender.

I liked the message of this book that forgiveness does not mean wiping our memories of the offense, and does not require reconciliation with the offender. I would be putting myself right back into the path of danger if I did that. It does mean that you stop ill-wishing the offender, and that you pray for the offender. I find it is very difficult to be angry at a person when I pray for them on a regular basis.

If you are discouraged with the message that you should “forgive and forget,” if you feel guilty because you are not able to forgive an offense quickly (and are being told your attitude is sinful!), if you are feeling pressure to reconcile with your offender and keep quiet about the offense, I recommend this book for a fresh perspective on forgiveness.

Redefining Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a topic discussed to pieces among believers, and especially abuse survivors. So much pain and hurt, both physical and emotional, is wrapped up in our decision to forgive or not to forgive. Some people claim to be set free from bitterness after they forgive an abuser, and others swear that they will never extend forgiveness to an abuser who can’t or won’t repent. In a strange twist, a victim is sometimes branded as sinful himself if he fails to forgive his abuser. The call to forgive is undoubtedly used as a means of control by the church and mission organizations, to keep the peace and keep undesirable things hidden away. Once you realize this, it is difficult to trust anyone who counsels forgiveness. You wonder what their motives are.

What exactly is forgiveness?  I think this word can have many different meanings, and that includes what it means to each of us on a personal level.

Just like there are several Greek words that refer to different kinds of love, there are also several Greek words in the New Testament, and several Hebrew words in the Old Testament, that are all translated as forgiveness. One word means to send away, another means to extend a favor or show kindness. Still another word means redemption, or buying back. With many different shades of meaning all being translated as forgive, it is no wonder there is a lot of confusion over forgiveness.

By forgiveness, some  people mean reconciliation. This would require both the victim and the abuser to come together and agree to put the past behind them, an unlikely scenario in many cases.

Some people believe forgiveness is a change of our own mind, where we release an offender of their debt to us even if they are not asking for pardon, or even acknowledging wrongdoing. I am sure this is a good and healthy attitude to take, but it seems too one-sided to really count as forgiveness. I would define it as acceptance.

The forgiveness that God offers is actually a redemption, a buying back of our lives, and only given to those that repent and believe. We are not capable of this level of forgiveness.  We don’t have the currency to redeem another human being.

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiving so we should look there for guidance. However I believe you could find a chapter and verse to justify every position on this subject.

Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Mark 11:25 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

These are just a few of the many  passages urging us to forgive.  However consider the following.

John 20:23 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”   Notice that there is a choice to forgive or not forgive.

Jeremiah 5: 28-31  “Their evil deeds have no limit; they do not seek justice. They do not promote the case of the fatherless; they do not defend the just cause of the poor. Should I not punish them for this? declares the Lord. Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this? “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority…”  This passage is talking about the Israelites, but it rings true for me today when I hear of the shocking abuse that happens on mission fields, to “fatherless” MKs, and I wonder what authority mission leaders are acting under.

And later in Jeremiah 18,  “But you, Lord, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.” 

Luke 17: 1-3 “Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” This passage is a frequent flyer in discussions of child abuse, because of the powerful image of the abuser being cast into the sea with a millstone round their neck.  It’s important to note that you are first told to rebuke your offender, then IF they repent, forgive them.

Acts 8: 20-23  “Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord IN THE HOPE that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” This was Peter’s answer to Simon when he tried to buy the ability to lay hands on people. Again, a rebuke, and no guarantee of forgiveness.

A common theme in all of these scriptures is that forgiveness doesn’t come automatically, it requires a change of heart and repentance on the part of the offender. In the Old Testament we read about a jealous and angry God who loses patience with the Israelites continually. Frequently men have to beg God for compassion and even argue and debate why he should not destroy entire towns and nations. In the New Testament Jesus shows righteous anger against unrepentant people, such as the moneylenders in the temple, and the scheming Pharisees. He advises the disciples that if a town does not welcome them they are to leave it and “shake the dust off their feet.”

If we are to use the model “forgive as the Lord forgave you,” then an abuser should be held to accountability before we extend forgiveness. God doesn’t blanket all of mankind with forgiveness, we have to ask for it and accept it. Shouldn’t we hold our abusers to the same standard?

What does forgiveness mean to you?

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.