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.

Updated: Are Pastors Our Advocates?

It’s come up dozens of times while I’ve been blogging: Lisa, why didn’t you just tell your pastor that you were hurt?

Well, I did.

Over and over. I called and got no answers. I wrote letters and ensured they got them. I got no responses.

I’ve come across this issue time and time again with so many readers out there who want to do the “Christian thing” or the “right thing” as they see it–if someone has offended them, they feel (and I felt) that it makes sense to go talk to your pastor.

What happens when that pastor does nothing, or just gives you lip service? What happens when that pastor just accuses you of being immature, unforgiving or offended?

Sometimes, we’re perfectly reasonable, mature, and able to forgive when we approach someone we think might be an intermediary between ourselves and another party. I was. Yet, my pain was denied and worse yet, the things that the pastor did to me were denied too.

Yet again, for months, I’ve contacted pastors that are related to matters on this blog. When I let them know that dozens and dozens of people have been hurt by Nathan Davies’ ministry, they simply say, “Give the person my contact info and we’ll talk.”

So, I do.

Later, I usually ask the person how it went and they’re honestly, truly disappointed.

Instead of receiving some advice and an apology for the deeply hurtful events that happened under this pastor’s roof, they’re told they should overlook it, forgive and be more mature.

What bullshit.

What’s so important about the hierarchy of pastorship that a senior pastor can’t be open and honest about hiring and keeping on a cult leader (or, call him an abusive pastor)? Why are pastors so seemingly power driven and money hungry that they can’t admit openly that harmful (or even criminal, at times) events are transpiring under their church’s roof? This particular church I’m referencing, Glad Tidings Assembly of God, also known as Church of Glad Tidings, has had youth leaders sexually molest kids and has housed Davies’ cult-like ministry (or House of Pain, can we say?). Yet, no public disclosure has taken place. No letter was sent to the parents of youth group members, saying, “We’ve had leaders convicted of molestation. Please report any misconduct your child reports to the proper authorities.”   I’ve recently been informed that the Church of Glad Tidings did, in fact, prepare letters to the parents and a press release following the sexual molestation case. After that, an Advisory Board was set up to oversee Master’s Commission (since the youth leaders were actually Master’s Commission students). The Advisory Board interviewed staff members independent of Nathan; however, after a few years, this Advisory Board eventually disolved into a financial oversight board.

It also must be noted that Master’s Commission students rarely interacted with the pastors and church staff at great lengths of time. I often wonder how much the church staff knew about our situation as students. I have a feeling they probably didn’t know what we were going through as students at the time.

Is it a liability issue? I’ve wondered this for years. Are churches like this afraid of a lawsuit? Losing all their money? Their reputation?

Is it a pride issue? They don’t want to seem weak and vulnerable?

Do they want to protect their ministers reputations, if they’re under fire? Innocent until proven guilty, perhaps, but when hundreds of kids come forth saying they underwent severe mental trauma, I think that’s cause to look into the guilt factor and take it serious.

How can a person with any conscience really excuse, deny and cover up all this abuse? Worse yet, how can one stand before God with a clear conscience knowing they covered up acts to protect someone on their staff, while damage has been done to hundreds of kids?

Shame on any “man of God” or “woman of God” who can not publicly offer an apology and consolation to a hurting young person. You’ve only made the wound worse.

A note here: After receiving new information on Glad Tidings on the sexual abuse cases, I’ve given this a post a lot of thought. I think Glad Tidings handled that situation responsibly and if informed, would have probably taken action to stop Nathan’s abuses. Unfortunately, it seems they were unaware of the abuse until after the Davies’ left. Upon them leaving, students came forth one-by-one over the years. The pastors have chosen to deal with each person directly, instead of issue a mass statement. When I’ve talked to them, they were very helpful, though out of touch with much of what occurred during my time there. I just simply think they didn’t know.

Why I Don’t Believe in Sin

If you read here often, you know Anne Rice is one of my favorite women. She recently posted this question to her Facebook fans:

What do you think about the word, sin? I think it’s a bad word, a confusing word. It doesn’t help us to meet the challenges we face. What do you think? Do you believe in “sin?” What is it? Can you define it for me and others?

My reply was quite simple: “I don’t believe in sin. I think what people really mean when they talk about sin is becoming a better person. Growing and working on yourself is something we should all aspire to do, but to call our shortcomings “sin” is damaging. Some of the “sin” I used to think I had in the past was actually my personality and some of it was depression.”

Quite simply, the idea of sin is made up by preachers and people who want to perpetuate religion. Is the idea of sin really necessary as a driving force to be a better person? Is guilt necessary to cause us to “confess” our shortcomings? I don’t think so. Before you disagree and point out the Boston bombers or some other example, of course, I agree with you: there are people who do bad things, who hurt other people, etc. But the complexity surrounding these people is much greater than just “He’s a monster,” or “She’s evil.” Rarely is there a moment where things are so simple.

All dark deeds aside, many of us have had religious-induced guilt pounded into our psyche for far too long. So much that we find it easy to “admit we’re a sinner” and ask for forgiveness. Look, I’m fine asking someone for forgiveness that I’ve hurt, but I don’t believe that I should admit I’m a sinner. I’m not a sinner. I’m a good person, but I have emotions. I get angry, sad, glad, upset, depressed, and on occasion  I have a moment of rage. I think that makes me human, not a sinner.

If you want to sell the “sinner” path, great. I hope someone buys your bullshit. As for me, I’ll be over here in “enjoying life” land.

Interested in hearing more of why I left Christianity? Read this piece of work (I say that sarcastically) by John Piper talking about sin: http://www.worldmag.com/2013/04/we_re_all_broken_what_then What complete and total bullshit. I can’t be a part of a religion that teaches this nonsense.

[Thanks to my friend Suzi for the John Piper article link.]

Forgiveness

Considering the foundation of Christianity lies on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, for the atonement of sins of believers in the faith, forgiveness is a spontaneous deed of a Christian, and one that is needed from God the Father, on behalf of Jesus Christ, for a Christian believer to enter in eternity with God. If a Christian does not seek out forgiveness for their sins on Earth, a Christian would perhaps spend an eternity in Hell, separated from God. The Christian New Testament states in Colossians Chapter 3, Verses 12-14:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

In this Christian view of forgiveness, the writer emphasizes the Christian as “God’s chosen people” which subverts the Jew to being under the Christian, or attempts to nullify their beliefs.

Additionally, the emphasis on bearing and forgiving the grievances you have toward another human being belittles and forgets the sufferings of the victim. The emphasis of forgiveness in many New Testament texts is usually placed on the perpetrator, and the atonement of his soul, rather than on justice or vengeance for the brutalized; thus, even the act of forgiveness can ultimately belittle the victim or perpetuate the dehumanization and torture of the victims.

In the case of Simon and his fellow concentration camp victims, he was at risk for death at any moment, and when he wasn’t fighting for his life from an SS guard, he was fighting starvation, being worked to death, and otherwise being treated as subhuman and viewed as animalistic. Horrifically, Simon’s victimization had not just been an event of the Holocaust, but an ongoing violence that had followed him to high school, and even began thousands of years before he was born. Christianity had begun the brunt of the hatred that Jews like Simon endured, and it was one of the precursors for the Holocaust to happen.