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.

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.

Never Be Silent; Don’t Forget

And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.

Someone asked me today why I was writing this blog. I’ve been asked over the years why I want to write about my experiences. As I read the Epilogue to Elie Wiesel’s book, Night, I can only share with you his words. If they resonate with you, then you understand why I write this blog.

…If we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

And then I explain to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remained silent.

And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.

Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must–at that moment–become the center of the universe.

What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

Taken from The Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech Delivered by Elie Wiesel in Oslo on December 10, 1986. For the entire speech, please click here: http://www.eliewieselfoundation.org/nobelprizespeech.aspx