Forgiveness

A few months ago, someone shared with me that my blog was missing a section. He shared that some people might find it helpful to see how I’d recovered from this group. What spiritual journey had I taken? he asked. How had I dealt with depression? How had I forgiven? He said you guys would want to know.

I didn’t want to push any of my personal beliefs onto anyone or “preach,” so I haven’t written about this until now. I realize that sharing my own journey doesn’t mean I’m pushing my beliefs onto you, nor does it mean I want you to agree with me. In fact, sharing my journey is perhaps the most vulnerable thing I could do. I don’t trust all my readers. Some, inevitably, are out to get me. Others of you are deeply wounded, like I am and have been for years. We need to stand together and know that we can get through this together. I need this to be a safe place, and so do you.

I’d like to share with you some valuable lessons I’ve learned, from my heart, and some resources that have helped me. Perhaps they’ll offer you some guidance, like they have to me. Perhaps it will just be nice to see that we’re all getting “there,” wherever that may be.

I share a bit of my journey that began in a Religious Studies class here: http://www.mycultlife.com/?p=332. What I learned over the next few years from my professor, Dr. Campagna-Pinto, was to become invaluable to me.

In Dr. CP’s classes, there were such meaningful convicting lessons, such as: “To create change you can’t have hatred in your heart. You have to re-humanize the people who torture you.”

We read A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. I studied the chapter, I Have No Hatred in My Heart, and learned such truths as “When the perpetrator begins to show remorse, to seek some way to ask forgiveness, the victim becomes the gatekeeper to what the outcast desires—readmission into the human community.” (Gobodo-Madikizela, 117)

What I’d become was an outcast to Master’s Commission and to Our Savior’s Church. They no longer accepted me, as most cults no longer accept outsiders, because I chose to leave their “authority” and “promised land.”

My perpetrator never showed remorse. I had to live with that.

It was a difficult thing for me to face. My perpetrator never showed remorse. Nor did he ever plan to. In fact, his own son said that he looked at people like me as less than nothing.

Although he had never shown remorse, my perpetrator had committed crimes against humanity. Crimes of abuse. Crimes of manipulation for power and reputation. Several years of anger and grieving took me to the place where I’m beginning to feel sorry for my perpetrator. And I’m very thankful I’m not him.

At the same time I studied the South African Apartheid, I learned that there are different ways to think about forgiveness. I read The Sunflower: On the Possiblities and Limits of Forgiveness by Simon Wiesenthal. Simon tells the story of a dying Nazi soldier asking him forgiveness for his crimes against Jews. The dying soldier even told the horrific story of shoving Jews into a building and setting it on fire. His orders were to shoot anyone who tried to jump from the building. He shot.

After studying the Holocaust, and the amount of death and atrocity that Jewish people went through, I learned that forgiveness is a complex thing. Like Simon discusses in his book, there’s much more to forgiveness than a simplistic, “You’re forgiven.”

Through my studies, and through the years, I have come to believe that there’s a striking flaw in Christianity when it comes to forgiveness. Forgiveness in Christianity is simple: Jesus died on the cross to forgive you and I of our sins. Therefore, when you and I sin, we can “wash away our sins by the blood of Jesus.”

Right?

No. People need to be held accountable. They need to be responsible for their actions.

Thus the flaw in the Christian belief of forgiveness. When something devastating happens to a person, or a group of people, can you expect them to just “wash it away?” No. There are stages of grief that are normal and natural. I learned that Judaism takes seriously the act of forgiveness. During Yom Kippur they pray and fast, asking for forgiveness.

I began to respect Judaism for what I interpreted as a more realistic answer to the “forgiveness problem.” I knew that I had been wronged deeply. Not as deeply or as terribly as the Jews in Germany during the Holocaust, but I’d been wronged nonetheless.

I began to realize that I also felt forgiveness was a complex, serious matter and it was okay if I didn’t instantly grant forgiveness to someone.

In fact, it was more than okay.

It was perhaps responsible.

12 thoughts on “Forgiveness”

  1. Great things to consider here Lisa, thank you.

    I’m pretty sure the Lord said to not bother bringing your gift to the temple if your brother legitimately has something against you. Because of that and other little things I think the true necessity of offenders seeking forgiveness has been overlooked by much of Christianity but not all.

    I like it when I see other groups that do better with specific things, it reminds me that we are not always “all that”.

    But abusive organizations ALWAYS teach people to forgive them like their salvation depended on it, but hold themselves as ones worthy of abusing anyone within their power. Unfortunately IMO they can be pretty good at selling folks this line of bull.

  2. I simply must address the pink elephant in the room. 🙂

    What have you seen, specifically, in the Jewish traditions you like Lisa?

    1. I like the idea of forgiveness that the Jewish tradition has. Like I said, if you contrast it to Christianity’s “instantaneous forgiveness” it’s really refreshing.

      I also LOVE their jelly doughnuts (Chanukah food).

  3. Given Jewish history, plus my MAJOR peeve that historical Christianity has had a part in their suffering it is easy to imagine how they have to deal with forgiveness realistically as much as anyone Lisa.

    Could you specify the specific traditions you appreciate as you have the Chanukah food? Haaa

    1. Jeff,
      It’s interesting you mention that, as I studied the Holocaust and one of the things that was mentioned was that Christianity has a long history of anti-semitism. This anti-semitism laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, in some scholars opinions. It’s incredibly tragic, but there’s a lot of evidence that shows such.

      As to Chanukah food, I was eating the most amazing jelly doughnuts this week at work. Someone brought them in for the holiday. I haven’t had latkes or anything else, but I’m hoping to do so with some friends soon. I have a lot of friends who come from different religious backgrounds and I love hearing about their religious traditions. My friend is Muslim, and they have the most gorgeous food spread for one of their holy days. His family is filled with great cooks!

  4. Yup, historical Christianity had a hand in the holocaust, but the there were people like Corrie Ten Boom and her family too. And before the holocaust going back centuries historical Christianity has at times had a direst hand in Jewish bloodshed, let alone being complicit as in the holocaust for some groups.

    I have taken heat for being openly decent and respectful to Muslims. Reproved a local pastor for being disrespectful to his face, only to have him talk about me behind my back, thhhppp! I take it that MC didn’t exactly foster an attitude of decency and respect towards other religions for you, huh?

    Frankly, historically speaking to the best of my knowledge the best example of Christians, Jews, and Muslims living together in peace were in Spain before Spain became a Christian country while it was under Muslim rule. And it seems that the same type of hatred that won then is making it’s move now. I hope what peace there is in the U.S. doesn’t get completely consumed by the winds of hatred!

    For me, there is only one good way to go about it as a Christian. Wise as serpents and harmless as doves. And as long as someone doesn’t try to force me to worship their God I desire NOT TO OFFEND.

    For me, “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” means knowing when not to fight bad fights and also means DO NOT HURT PEOPLE, duh!

    I think if William Jennings Bryan had believed Paul’s counsel to AVOID fights over science and had believed the Lord’s counsel to be harmless (in this case, don’t try to throw the school teacher in jail, duh!)

    But IMO the same man was a giant before this when he was fighting to correct certain social inequities.

    And IMO, if fundamentalist Christianity had learned the correct lesson from the Scopes trial; science and good hearted scientist wouldn’t keep pointing out that behind their constant culture wars this sect of Christianity was often wrong and too closed minded; as Galileo did in his day. At the very least they would get more respect from the scientific community.

  5. EDIT FOR THE SIXTH PARAGRAPH ABOVE…..

    I think if William Jennings Bryan had believed Paul’s counsel to AVOID fights over science and had believed the Lord’s counsel to be harmless (in this case, don’t try to throw the school teacher in jail, duh!) this “culture war” would be far less nasty than it is now.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I have asked many and most want to ignore the part of Luke 17:3 “if he repents”. (also in Matt. 18) From this passage Jewish tradition/law had specific instructions for handling sin and forgiveness… It seems from a simple reading that forgiveness is not always immediate and automatic….

    1. Leonard,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s clear that these words “if he repents” is in the Bible for a reason.

      In my experience in Master’s Commission and Our Savior’s Church, we were taught explicitly that if we were wronged or offended (specifically by a leader or any leadership) that it was our job to seek them out, start the dialogue, and ask them for forgiveness if we were offended or did anything wrong. This was practiced by many of us, and if we followed their prescription, it was an easy way for us to get rebuked or lectured on why the leader was right and we were wrong. Inevitably, the leadership wasn’t always right. They’re human. They’re also teaching unbiblical doctrines.

      This is another example of how authoritarian leadership (a sign of cults and destructive groups) was set up and reinforced. It was the “my way or the highway” mentality, and it’s still present.

      Why do you think “if he repents” is so often left out of the discourse? And what do you think the psychological repercussions are if a person is deeply wronged and the guilty party never repents or shows remorse?

      Another question, what about churches and pastors who’ve been made aware of the destructive teachings they’ve allowed within their body in relationship to amount of people who’ve walked away with shattered lives from someone they hired and kept on staff? Should the wounded keep seeking out pastors and letting them know that they’re wounded, even if they’re given the response to “forgive” and be mature? I’ve sought out pastors and churches with whom I’ve been associated with from Master’s Commission and the general response hasn’t been what I would have expected from my readings of the Bible. When you’re walking away from this type of situation, you have a lot of pain and it feels like it increases the pain when people don’t respond to it in an ethical or responsible manner.

  7. i love this that it’s responsible to not forgive instantly and that it’s a process. people do need to be held accountable. amen amen amen.

  8. may i just say that this is one of the most beautiful & coolest blogs that i’ve ever seen! you’ve got amazing skillz and congratulations to you!!! i’m so glad to have met and am getting to know you! 🙂

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