No, You Don’t Have To Forgive Mark Driscoll

Mark-DriscollI first encountered Mark Driscoll in November of 2010 when he took a trip to preach in Belfast in Northern Ireland. Back then, he was just another American Evangelical hipster preacher who sported faux-hawks and muscle tees while preaching about how Jesus is totally a bro’s bro. I was vaguely amused by his Facebook pictures celebrating his ‘Irish heritage’ along with pictures of Oliver Cromwell quotes about crushing the Catholic Church. He left, Ireland went on, and so did I.

But once I became aware of Driscoll’s existence, I began noticing his name popping up everywhere. Driscoll is the ‘controversial’ head pastor of Mars Hill Church, a megachurch franchise based in Seattle WA. Known for his hyper-masculine, misogynistic homophobic diatribes, Driscoll is either the modern  salvation of American Christianity, or the physical embodiment of all that is wrong with the modern Christian Church, depending on whom you ask. Driscoll has created waves through his mocking of ‘effeminate pastors,‘ claiming Ted Haggard had a gay affair because his wife let herself get too fat and ugly, constantly mocking and diminishing femininity and women, and attacking everything from Episcopalians to yoga.

I really haven’t ever had the desire to do a post criticising Mark Driscoll. I have no stake in this fight besides enjoying how his efforts drag Christianity’s name through the mud and occasionally expressing my disgust on Twitter. I prefer to let his Christian brothers and sisters hold him accountable for his words, and many of them do. Most prominently is the blog “We Love Mars Hill,” which chronicles stories from people who were spiritually abused by Driscoll and his fellow clergyman.

Recently, Driscoll has been at the center of the long, slow collapse of the Mars Hill Empire. He was caught plagiarising portions of his best selling books. In addition, it was revealed that he used church funds to self-boost his books to the top of the bestseller lists. Driscoll has responded with apologies and withdrawn from social media. He has also issued apologies for the tone he took in his ‘young, angry prophet days,’ although he has never issued apologies for the actual homophobic, misogynistic content.

Most recently, Matthew Paul Turner has publicised a series of internet forum diatribes that Driscoll wrote under the pseudonym ‘William Wallace II’ at the age of 31. In more than 140 pages he calls America a ‘pussified nation,’ calls gay people ‘damn freaks,’ tells women that he won’t listen or respond to them because they are women, and goes on to tell them to leave their husbands if they’re not masculine enough.

Driscoll has again issued an apology for the tone of his diatribes, if not the content. Once again, this does not affect me as I have no stake in this fight beyond sympathy for those who have suffered abuse at Driscoll’s hands.

But now, with the background information about Driscoll out of the way, I want to focus and comment on the response to Driscoll’s apology from various Christian writers who would identify themselves as ‘progressive.’ The responses have been varied, but you’ll see a common theme running through out.

Jonathan Merritt says that Christians should accept Driscoll’s apology and forgive him, noting that Jesus’ command to forgive one’s enemy isn’t optional. He says, “This means that there must be grace for the abused and the abuser, for the oppressed and the oppressor, for Mark Driscoll and for all those he has hurt. If we Christians have now arrived at a point where grace has run dry or is only available to some, let us abandon this whole Jesus way and join those who have no hope.”

Rachel Held Evans emphasises that forgiveness is crucial, but writes that forgiveness does not mean allowing an abuser to continue his abuse or negate the consequences of his actions. She says, “Christians are indeed called to forgive, even when it is costly and undeserved, and Christians are indeed called to work toward healing and reconciliation even when it is hard,” but also, “These teachings should never be invoked to protect abusers, shame survivors, or coerce reconciliation.”

Ben Corey calls for Driscoll’s resignation, while Elizabeth Esther cautions against doing just that, saying it may not help people who are trapped in an abusive environment that is not the product solely of one man’s efforts.

Through many the responses, but most prominently Merritt’s, the theme of forgiveness is emphasised. Christians are called to forgive one another as Christ forgave them. And even if Driscoll’s apology isn’t sincere, the forgiveness of Christians must be, because Jesus commanded it.

So, for any Christians who are reading this, especially those who have been abused themselves, I’m going to tell you something completely different.

This. Is. Wrong.

I have nothing against forgiveness. I have everything against teaching that forgiveness is something that should or must be done.

If Christian forgiveness is something that is mandated, something that is not optional rather than being a free and open gift, then it is not something worth giving or having.

Forgiveness is an intimate part of yourself. It is not something that is given lightly, only freely. Your abuser does not have a right to your forgiveness. No one has the right to demand that you give up part of yourself and give it to your abuser. It does not matter whether the abuser is going to be held accountable anyway, whether you see him or her again or not. Nothing matters except that forgiveness is your choice, and yours alone.

And you don’t have to give it if you don’t want to.

I get that Merritt and RHE and the rest emphasise forgiveness in order to help victims heal, because for many people it genuinely does. I understand that the motives behind this sort of talking are nothing but good, and do not suggest that Driscoll and people like him should not be held accountable for their actions. I get it. I want to get behind it, I really do. But I can’t because for so many people it’s not helpful. It’s damaging.

Christians often say that they are ‘called to forgive others.’ It does not matter if an individual has the desire or ability to forgive their abuser, they remain ‘called’ to try anyway. Well, I could call every Christian to train as an elite gymnast. And guess what? Some of them are going to make it. And then they’re going to tell everyone how liberating and amazing their success was. But for all those who succeed, there are going to be those who fail. Those for whom their ‘calling’ was nothing but a waste of energy and the source of a lot of pain. Those who wonder what’s wrong with them, that others could do it and not them, oblivious to the truth that not everyone is capable of training to be an elite gymanst.

And in the same way, not everyone is capable of forgiveness. And compelling or calling these people to do so, to try, to give it the best effort, isn’t going to help them release their pain or find peace. Its only going to continue the spiritual abuse, and hurt them even more.

Throughout my life, I have been the survivor of spiritual, physical, sexual, and religious abuse. I do not forgive my abusers. I never will. They don’t deserve to have that part of me. I refuse to entertain them by making an effort towards ‘forgiveness.’ This does not mean that I am controlled by my anger or resentment. This does not mean that my anger and resentment are somehow ‘sins.’ It does not mean I don’t have peace.

When my anger surfaces, I can choose whether to use it or release it. I can find peace and meaning and hope, but more importantly I can maintain my dignity by refusing to give more to the people who took so much from me.

Some people have the ability to forgive their abusers. And some people have the ability to become elite gymnasts. I have nothing but admiration for these people.

But Christians and everyone else, you do not need to feel ‘called’ to give a part of yourself you cannot or do not desire to give. No one has the right to demand it. Not Jonathan Merritt. Not your pastor. Not your saviour, and not your god.

It is your choice.

Embrace the choice, even if you do not embrace forgiveness.

And be free.

70 thoughts on “No, You Don’t Have To Forgive Mark Driscoll

  1. Christianity doesn’t say that you have no choice about forgiving, it merely says that you don’t get to apply a different standard to forgiving others than the one that you ask God to use towards you. If you don’t want to forgive others, that’s entirely up to you; just don’t go asking God for forgiveness that you’re not prepared to give. The Christian obligation to forgive is predicated on the assumption that, as Christians, we have asked God for forgiveness and are infinitely thankful that we can receive it; in return, we show that same forgiveness to those who have harmed us. It goes without saying that, if you don’t believe in God, you won’t believe it’s possible to have caused comparable harm to God for him to demand that you forgive others before you can ask him to forgive you. However, for those who do believe in the God of the Bible, and who believe that they have lived their lives in rebellion against him, the one who created the entire universe and thus the one on whom they depend for their very existence, it seems only right that we should forgive others before we even think about asking God to forgive us for our rebellion.

    • I understand your argument; however, forgiveness in general is not a “I’m accepting your behavior there’s nothing wrong with it”, it’s a “You messed up but I’m willing to give you another try”.

      Remember, without forgiveness there is no future.

      • So a girl who has been horrifically sexually abused and raped by her father has no future unless she tells him ‘I’m willing to give you another try?”

        Bull. Fucking. Shit. That is vile, and dangerous, and I will have no part of that sort of spiritual abuse.

      • Excuse me, but as somebody who has actually been molested, I know first hand what it’s like. You don’t have to come up with some radical hypothetical narrow viewed scenario to frame your obviously biased argument around. It’s unnecessary and immature. All I am saying is forgiveness is moving on in hope that things will change for the better. Nothing more. I was unaware that my paraphrasing could be so horribly misunderstood.

      • Excuse me, but as someone who has actually been molested I know what it’s like. So there is no need to make a hypothetical scenario that you can frame to fit you obviously biased opinion. It is unnecessary and immature. All I’m saying is forgiveness is hope that things will change. Not excusing radical behavior. Only an idiot would think that. I did not know that a comment could be so horribly misunderstood.

      • That is not how you defined forgiveness in your original statement. You specifically said that there is no future without forgiveness and that to forgive you must be willing to give your offender another try. And I stand by my condemnation of such a dangerous sentiment. Claiming that you meant something totally different from what you said does not work when your original comment stands.

        Also, further name calling will not be tolerated here.

      • I am not “changing” my definition of the word, I’m trying to help clarify it’s meaning because you didn’t understand it when it was generalized.

        Likewise, I understand. If only I called you a name.

      • When you say ‘Only an idiot would think such and such,’ that is an ad hominem attack and like I said it will not be tolerated. This is my blog, and you are a guest here.

        All I have done is quote your words verbatim, and since this post is about abuse, I applied your argument to an actual scenario which I have encountered in my life. There is nothing ‘immature’ or ‘biased’ about it. Instead of trying to change your words, you should consider owning up to them.

      • Not only was I not calling you an idiot, but I also was not trying to attack you. I said “only an idiot would think that”, never did I say “You’re an idiot”. Two different statements. But you are right I am a guest, on this public forum.

        Apparently you still think I’m attempting to change my words which I am not. I am trying to add to my previous statement. Much like we both have done so far in this discussion. Fortunately, for the both of us we can relate similarly but from opposite ends of the scenario.

      • The answer is in the question. Without forgiveness THERE IS NO FUTURE. It’s not “why should a victim be forced” it’s a cause and effect! I have family members who still have not forgiven their abusers, and to this day they carry it with them and it DESTROYS them daily. It’s not easy at all…not one bit. But the moment you forgive, is the moment you move on.

      • That is anecdotal evidence. Your personal experience does not apply to all of us, nor does your religion compel all of us to bow to its demands. I have not and will never forgive my abusers, and I have a happy present and bright future, as do many people I know, Christian and otherwise. You cannot apply your standards to the rest of us, much as you may like to.

        I am not arguing against forgiveness. I’m arguing against mandated or required forgiveness, or the idea that without it you can’t have a future. That is spiritual abuse, and I will repeat that as often as I need to.

      • You just said “Your personal experience does not apply to all of us”, yet in the very next sentence stated “I have not and will never forgive my abusers, and I have a happy present…”. As satisfied as you may feel in your present, your experience is also not everyone’s which, if that’s how you are gonna call it, makes your return invalid because it’s yours…not everyone’s.

        Furthermore, I’m not here to “force” anything. Obviously, forgiveness is a choice…and for someone who is atheist you seem to know a lot about “spiritual abuse”.

      • The difference, as should have been able to discern is that I cited my experience to refute your claim that your experiences are the absolute standard. I never claimed mine were. You find healing in forgiveness? Fine. You don’t get to demand or shame or scold me for taking another path and being satisfied in it.

        You want to know how I know about spiritual abuse? First and foremost, I’ve been spiritually abused, as well as verbally, sexually, and physically abused. Secondly, I’ve taken the time to learn about abuse and connect with other victims. My refusal to bow to your idol does not influence my experience or knowledge of how your religion harmed me or others.

      • Justify your double standard how ever you want to. Whatever makes you convince yourself. In no way am I trying to scold you into anything. I’m sorry if that is the way you see it.

      • I’ve explained the purpose of my citing personal anecdote. It was to refute your absolute claims.

        If you cannot accept that, you need to learn how adults debate before you return here.

      • Again, you need to learn how to refute arguments and claims, not claim double standard when contrary evidence is presented to you.

        You came here, to my blog, posted on my article, and made a statement that essentially shamed abuse victims and told them they had no future if they didn’t give their abusers a second chance to abuse them. You have owned up to none of it, instead using as hominem attacks when someone refused to tolerate your abuse-apology. I will not let that go unchallenged. That does not make me a child. It makes me a decent human being.

      • And you need to learn to not be so close minded. No matter what I said, you immediately use literal vernacular to attempt to improve your argument rather than trying to understand what they ACTUALLY mean. That kind of lack of perspective shows. Again, I did not shame abuse victims. Why would I target them let alone myself in a sensitive area like the topic you brought up. You are so fixed on your opinion that you don’t care what anyone says. I’ve told you probably four times now that I am not attacking you but you’d rather believe what you are comfortable with rather then acknowledge truth…and that is childish.

      • You want to convince me that you’re not attacking me? Stop using ad hominem arguments. It’s that simple.

        I don’t care what anyone says? Funny, I’ve allowed a large number of comments here that disagree with what I said. Some of them I’ve even engaged. Of course, they’re mature enough to say ‘I disagree,’ instead of ‘you’re biased and childish and immature for disagreeing with me.’

        But touting your ill-informed and badly worded arguments as ‘truth’ and calling me childish for not accepting that I and others have no future if we don’t give abusers a second chance is one of the more hilarious things I’ve heard all day. It’s like you type words and Driscoll comes out.

      • I’m sorry, as if our discussion doesn’t show that I don’t agree. Ok fine I’ll say it so you’ll know for sure. I disagree.

        Secondly, your paraphrasing is inaccurate by saying I said “Your biased, childish, and immature for disagreeing with me”. Not once did I say that. Go back and read it I have not said anything directly about you.

        Think with me for a second. What if every time someone “abused” someone else physically, verbally, or whatever, there was no second chance. Have your parents hurt you? No second chances so there out. Friends? No second chances so forget them too. Have you hurt yourself by something you’ve done? I know I have! Where does that leave you? You lose all trust in people. People who effect you just as much as you effect them.

        What is more hilarious is how you laugh at logic, while you put on a comedy show.

  2. I appreciate your commentary and perspective very much. Thank you for sharing about your own life lessons and experiences. Great reporting and consolidation of sources, as well!

    I guess I should share that I am a Christian, and an American one at that 🙂 I would love to share my perspective on forgiveness and individual agency with it.

    In chapter 9 of New Testament book “Matthew,” Jesus says, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” to one of the groups of people that had gathered around him. This was in regards to a paralyzed man he was about to heal. Verse 2: “And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.””

    From my understanding, people in those days gathered around Jesus for signs and wonders and to hear what He had to say. But what was Jesus about? Here, we can see that Jesus was about forgiveness.

    He knew the man needed physical healing (being paralyzed and all). His friends literally tore the roof open to get him to Jesus! And then Jesus doesn’t just oblige and heal externally. He encourages the man and forgives him for his sins. Totally internal stuff.

    Jesus’ identity is not only mighty God but includes Savior, atonement, freedom, and peace. As a Christian, I think it’s not so much that we SHOULD forgive as we CAN forgive. Forgiveness is at the center of our “new lives” as Christians. We believe in forgiveness.

    This doesn’t mean that we have the skill within us already. There are things such as murder, abuse, and deep emotional scarring that seriously if I weren’t Christian would believe should never be forgiven. The ability to forgive comes from our relationship with our living God who is constantly restoring, moving, loving, and changing us every MOMENT. It’s a continuous act of faith and love and trust for our God.

    One of the most fundamental rights humans have is CHOICE and AGENCY. You can choose to be an atheist. People can bag on you for it but it’s really up to you. It’s YOURS. Similarly, I have chosen to believe in Jesus. That includes trusting in Him and obeying His world of right and wrong.

    In Ephesians 1, Paul writes: 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
    4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
    5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
    6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
    7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
    8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
    9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
    10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    If you believe that, the natural response is a change in attitude, a change in logic, paradigm, and sense of up down right left, whatever it may be. Christ’s logic is forgiveness, and His strength is live. Thanks for reading, and God bless.

  3. This is great. As pointed out by ‘tsaebxiii’ Christians feel compelled to forgive others of the great harms they’ve caused because in the Christian worldview, they themselves have caused great harm to God. Having been raised in a Christian home and having remained in the faith until 26 years of age, I am quite familiar with this mindset.

    It is very hard to break free from this belief that is hammered into you from a very young age: “You have made God very sad/distressed/angry and you need his forgiveness.” It takes a great deal of self confidence to realize that it’s all a bunch of bullshit. That’s not to say you have to be a proud a-hole who thinks he/she can do no wrong whatsoever. After all, I realize that I can be a real prick sometimes and I work to change that and when I am a prick I apologize and try to make it right.

    But this belief that by wronging another person, you have somehow wronged this being whom you have never seen or heard from and thus are deserving of punishment from him is complete horseshit.

    If I had 2 kids and one of them stole the other’s stuff or hit them or something, it would be immoral for me to demand that my child ask me for forgiveness. You have wronged your sibling, so ask he or she for forgiveness. If they don’t feel comfortable or ready to forgive, that’s up to them. I will say forgiveness is rather pragmatic most of the time, but for the big offenses I would have no business demanding that my child forgive his or her sibling simply because I have ‘forgiven’ them for what they did to their sibling.

  4. Well written!

    It does seem awfully abusive to hold a human being to the same standards that a god is said to hold himself to. One of modern Christianity’s very worst offenses has to be its bizarre relationship with forgiveness. If it’s required under duress or else not doing it (or not doing it in time) will get someone physical torture as a punishment, then it’s not freely-given and is therefore utterly worthless as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Nice post. A high five from a fellow atheist.

    I agree about forgiveness. There’s too much of the “your behavior is alright with me” in it. Instead, I embrace forgetfulness. Nothing pisses off your enemies more than forgetting all about them and getting on with a good life.

  6. Thanks for your post. I do want to add to the conversation that forgiveness is not giving anything away. I believe it’s accepting freedom for ourselves. That’s the way I’ve always understood it, and I’ll tell you why. My dad walked out on my family when I was 11. He built a new family and stuck around with those kids, but not with the three ones he had first (not even fulfilling his child support duty, so my mom had to work three jobs to make ends meet). It wasn’t until I forgave him that I was able to feel genuine freedom from that gotta-measure-up standard I felt was imposed by a question that haunted my every move “Why them and not me?” Forgiveness let me stretch and bloom and become who I was created to be. I had a grandmother whose husband left her after 20 years of marriage. She never forgave him. She died a bitter, angry woman. Her unforgiveness shriveled vital pieces of who she was. I feel deeply sad about that. My grandfather lives today (pushing 80) and is a free and happy man. I wish my grandmother could have found that freedom for herself.

    Maybe we have different understandings of forgiveness, but I believe it’s more for us than it is for the “other.” That doesn’t mean we can’t take our time with forgiveness. But I don’t believe we’ll be living to our full potential until we do forgive. Forgiving is, to me, overcoming. Breaking free. Flying. Robert D. Enright has a beautiful book called Forgiveness is a Choice. I highly recommend it if you’re truly interested in learning about a (non-Christian) view of forgiveness.

    • I understand your meaning, but I must remind you that both the examples you provide concerning yourself and your grandmother are anecdotal and cannot be applied to everyone. People must find what path is best for them. Keep in mind that I am not arguing against forgiveness, I am arguing against coerced or mandated forgiveness, which is just another form of spiritual abuse.

      • I agree that nothing should ever be forced (I am an American Christian, and I see that as part of the problem with American Christianity, not just on the issue of forgiveness, but the issues of repentance and measuring up…but that’s a post for another day). Forgiveness extended just because someone requires it is not genuine forgiveness. But I do think that, regardless of my “anecdotal” examples, there is a myriad of scientific evidence confirming the amazing benefits of one walking his way into forgiveness, not because someone told him that he should but because he chose to do so. I do believe that forgiveness, when chosen for oneself, is always a healing process for everyone, and science backs that up. Check out Richard Enright. He’s a clinical psychologist and really has some great things to say!

      • See, I get that, and I don’t doubt that a psychological study would show that many people benefit from forgiveness. I can only state once again that I’m not arguing against people choosing forgiveness at all, merely the coercion part of the Christian religion that states that adherents are ‘called’ to forgive.That seems to go directly against the idea that forgiveness is a free gift

      • I agree. I think if we are mandated to forgive, all we’re doing is forgiving for the outward show of it and not the inward work of it. The inward work is what matters. I believe we forgive quietly, not publicly.

      • Also, I want to be clear that I am, in no way, trying to invalidate your position or convince you that I’m right (I know Americans are pretty good at that). I just want to engage in respectful conversation, because I also believe that we can shape one another across cultures and faith lines. Thank you, again, for your honest post.

  7. As a Roman Catholic (now non-practising) I have never understood the whole “Christian” movement. I say this with all seriousness…what exactly IS a Christian these days?
    I’ve recently moved to Florida from Massachusetts and–call me crazy–but there are half baked “Christian” churches on every corner here. It seems anyone can open a storefront and call it “Christian.” If a church revolves around a leader instead of a theology it’s a business…not a religion.
    Please excuse the rant, but why hasn’t everyone totally ostracized this jerk? Forgiveness??? Egads!!! totally misplaced!!!!

  8. I have to agree, that forgiveness is earned … it’s not a ticket for a free ride. Earn it, then get it. Otherwise, you have moral chaos. I was taken aback by thé Irish atheist, who seems to have personalized thé argument. Forgiveness is something for which we strive, not something we sole out like poker cards. In my view (I’m Episcopalian) I can be forgiven sometimes … and other times not. Those are thé times to seek healing.

  9. Bill Hicks, one of the best comedians there was, sums up the idea of forgiveness nicely. (‘Relentless’ album.)
    ‘Two guys came up to me after the show and said, “Hey, buddy. We saw your show. We’re Christians and we don’t like what you said.”

    ‘Then I said forgive me.’

    Excellent piece. Well done.

    • I had to read Eva’s line “Then I said forgive me” twice. My brain read it as: “Then I said ‘I forgive you’.” Excellent piece indeed. One day, excellent peace will come, too. It will be thanks to science, of course.

  10. I’m sorry to hear of all the horrendous things that have happened to you. Forgiveness, indeed, would not be easy. It would cost you. It always does. But I don’t think that’s your primary issue. The apostle Paul writes that while we were still at war with God, Christ Jesus died to forgive our offenses. Without coming to grips with that, all the rest seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse.

  11. If Yehovah actually existed I would certainly NOT forgive him for playing the See What You Made Me Do game, dishing out many human lifetimes’ worth of suffering because his progeny sought to grow up and be able to do right without being told.

    Since he does NOT exist, and since uncountable atrocities have been committed in his name, I do not forgive the men (very few ladies involved) who made him in their own male-chauvinist, monster-raving-loony evil image, and then served their own fantastic, fictional, despicable creation up for breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper.

    I do not forgive them for dressing up in silly togs either.

    Science has added specific details to human knowledge of cause and effect, and also of good and evil. I say unto thee: serve science, not insanity. Cast away religion from thee into the city dump. The worm dies not and the fire is quenched these green recycling days. Lang may your lum reek. Genhenna thee from me, oh ye of loony faith.

    Time to do the hokey kokey to the tune of the Happy New Year Chorus. Thought I would just throw in some mumble jumble at the end of my humble wise words. Why should preachers spout all the tripe? Forgive me not, for I have not sinned. (Much.) John Lennon used to do headstands on Sandbanks beach here. Later, it stood in for Santa Monica in A Life Of Morris.

  12. What’s at issue here is really what forgiveness means. The author is making a really good and often overlooked point in saying that forgiveness has to be optional. God respects our free will so much that he allows us to reject him. We must give our fellows the same respect. Forgiveness which is coerced is surely not forgiveness at all.
    To forgive truly and sincerely is so very costly to the forgiver. It is nothing less than taking the hurt for the offense yourself and truly not wanting the one who hurt you to bear the pain for what HE did to you. So difficult.
    I am in awe of people who can do that. Might I suggest that it may usually not be possible without power and grace from God?
    Forgiving does not mean whitewashing the offenses. Forgiving something that ain’t that bad, or is understandable, doesn’t take much effort.

  13. Such a beautiful, well articulated post! I too think forgiveness is not something to be given on demand. I remember Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (who was part of the SA TRC) writing that refusal to forgive is sometimes the only power the survivor has in his/her life.

    It is an inner journey .

  14. Life would be pretty pointless without forgiveness. Across all cultures, faiths and races of men, it’s a word that symbolises so much more than the Oxford definition. There is a power in it. I won’t give anecdotal evidence since you have dismissed it from others, but I will say looking beyond labels tells much more about what this word represents for the human psyche than any religious connotation. I enjoyed your blog, but the comments really surprised me.

  15. Really liked this article. As a Christian child in Ireland I was told many times that ‘every quarrel has two sides’ and that it was better to ‘forgive and move on’. Then you grow up and realise there is genuine evil in the world, that many predators masquerade as Christians, and that to forgive the unrepentant is merely an inducement for them to continue. I admire those victims who are able to forgive, but far too often churches use forgiveness as a ‘reset button’ to try and bury the past and carry on as if nothing has happened.

    The idea that you must forgive others, regardless of their offence, in order to earn the forgiveness of God is repellent to me. One of my friends was once taken to the local police station (for a minor act of vandalism) and told by the sergeant on duty that he was just as bad as the multiple murderer whose capture had been in the papers that day. My friend laughed in the sergeants face and was right to do so.

    As was said forgiveness is one way to deal with anger, and if you don’t (or cant) forgive you have to find something else. I recommend trying to ensure that the offence never occurs again…

  16. Since when does forgiveness require a continued relationship with the offender? I do my best to forgive when I am slighted, but I don’t have to maintain a relationship that is detrimental. It’s sensible to have boundaries.

    Justice is fine, but I thank God that He extended grace.

    • Historically a continued relationship with the offender was inevitable. If you take the example of abuse in Ireland the offender was almost always older than you, in a position of authority over you (and possibly your whole family), attended the same church, worked the same fields etc… etc…

      The ability to move church, switch to a new circle of friends, get a job in a new town etc… is probably available to everyone reading this blog. But 100 (or even 50) years ago it was available only to a small section of individuals who were of a certain age, social class and (in most cases) gender. The big fear in a small agricultural community (where humans have lived for most of our history) was ostracism, because that meant you lived in poverty or even starved to death. This is why there was such pressure to forgive and hit the ‘reset button’ and why abuse can flourish in such communities.

      So in short boundaries require space and space has only been available recently, and even then only to the privileged.

      • Thanks for clarifying that. I can’t say I’ve been in a position like that being in an age where I am able to easily insulate myself from toxic people.

        Still, I think forgiveness is ideal, but you can just as easily make a biblical case to withhold forgiveness for the unrepentant. “So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)

    • It is a hard balance to get right. Some well-meaning people seem to teach that forgiveness means not feeling hurt or angry, then pretending that our attacker is our bosom buddy! Not at all. But it’s about not wanting revenge. Instead we want improvement – for them, for us, for restoration. And we show that good-will if we can – if we’re given a chance.
      I ‘d just blogged about those “boundaries” you mention.

      • It’s definitely hard. I have a person in my lifegroup (for the more traditional, think Sunday school) that has wronged me. I needed to forgive this person (for my benefit as well) but I certainly have boundaries so there is not a repeat performance.

        Forgiveness is possible, but healing takes time. Further, forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. If I had to be ‘best buds’ with someone who seriously wronged me, I couldn’t do it. At least without the help of the Holy Spirit.

  17. Excellent post. I’m an atheist and have a very good friend who is Christian (oh it’s like the odd couple sometimes). I do think anyone who is honestly trying to use Jesus as a role model is on the right track, but I think often the Christian political machine takes precedence over that. My friend said to me a couple days of days ago I’m trying to forgive someone but I’m finding it hard, but I’ll keep trying. Whereas in the same situation I would say I’m trying to let it go. The more horrific and personal a situation is, the less it’s about forgiving and the more its about healing and moving on…that might be forgiveness in some shape down the road, but surely the only person that it should be mandated by is the person themselves.

  18. He sounds insane with his own power, twisting the Bible’s words to help him with his own agenda. His place is to forgive not judge.

  19. Dear Irish atheist, good article and you show great patience and restraint with your antagonist. Interesting parallels, men who won’t or can’t take responsibility for their words or actions or the effect they have on others but insist that they are being misunderstood or taken the wrong way. It’s a typical defence for abusers to minimise both the abuse and harm done and say the victim “misunderstood” and the abuse was horseplay, affection, reassurance, discipline etc. They both create and then exploit shame and self hatred inthe victim.

    The Church needs to shut up about forgiveness of abusers, given its disgusting history of protecting and enabling them at the expense of their victims. I agree with the comments about the way the Church wants to turn the page and start from scratch. Don’t all criminals? Truth is required: it’s hard to forgive someone who lies about the damage they did and doesn’t care and afaic that goes for the Church too.

    It’s easy to quote forgiveness when nothing unforgiveable has happened to you. Imo that shows a lack of empathy towards people and whole communities who have been victims of horrific crimes. Perhaps those who are so rigid about foregiveness identify more readily with the perpetrators?

    Shaming someone for not forgiving like a good little Christian is an attempt to call the victim’s behaviour into question and take the attention off the crime committed, who committed it and who allowed them to. It does its best to erase the crime. Forgiveness is not necessary to give the victim the moral high ground: she or he has that by not having committed the offence.

    Also I don’t hear so many cries for forgiveness when the offender is not, supposedly, a “Christian” or isn’t a white male in a position of power. Then somehow the “Christian” demand is Lwol or death penalty!

    Both forgiveness and revenge can be damaging, real freedom is to live well and love deeply. I wish that for all of us.

  20. Great post. One point that jumped out at me is that coerced forgiveness is not true forgiveness anyway – any more than a coerced apology is a true apology. But christianity loves to create little automatons that say all the right things when you pull the string. Where is the concern for the victims in all this forgiveness talk – forgiveness may lay at the end of a process of healing, so how about focusing on that rather than trying to shame people into a false forgiveness.

    And what of the responsibility of the abuser to repent, make amends, humble themselves? What about Moral Hazard? If christianity comes with a ‘free forgiveness without any consequence’ card, what stops jackasses like this from just abusing again in the future when he goes off on another testosterone fueled rant? My personal view is if you have abused someone and you realize it, you make amends and beg forgiveness with the knowledge that they have no compulsion to grant it. If they do, you consider yourself blessed, because you did not deserve it. If they do not, you accept it as the consequence of your action and spend the rest of your life with that, reminding you of the damage you have wrought, the pain you have caused. That is your penance for the pain you caused which they have to life with for the rest of their life. If they find healing and freedom from their pain, perhaps they will be kind enough to relieve you of your burden. But you have no right to demand it. And for those who think this is just rhetoric, I live with this every day. I hurt someone deeply, maybe irreparably. I have done everything I thought possible to make amends, to right the wrong. I begged forgiveness. She could not give it. She has since broken contact and so it may never come. That is the burden I live with. That is price I pay. And it is right that I do so.

    • I agree. Well said. Case in point. There is no worse feeling than in contemplation, looking back and seeing the face, in that particular moment, of someone you offended and hurt. I think it takes a lot of courage to face the reality of when we genuinely have done something that takes our choice to ask for forgiveness and as you say, live with the consequences. If we take being unforgiven more seriously, this directly effects us, being more accountable and responsible to ourselves and how we treat one another.

  21. Perhaps, it is important to remember that forgiveness only has value if it truly comes from the heart. People, Christians included, who exhibit love which is heartfelt, are those who make a CHOICE to ACCEPT their current circumstance which he or she feels and yes, thinks, requires being motivated to be forgiving. That CHOICE and ACCEPTANCE is exactly what makes GRACE that God gives us freely so worthy to accept and share. And yes, we should have boundaries in the process. What I find interesting is that this pastor has countless times, ask for forgiveness. One can question if his intentions to ask are truly heartfelt. Whether you agree with me or not, truly heartfelt begins when we first process the circumstances as experiences which we know requires us the courage to forgive ourselves first before we ask others to be forgiving. His mouth might be a clear projection that he is not doing just that. Kind of like a bully who truly has a soft heart. People do all kinds of great things in the name of the Lord. Like the rest of us, they get lost in trying to lead as a fixer instead of leading by helping empower others to be the persons they were meant to be.

  22. all i will say is that forgiveness is about freeing yourself, not freeing of the other person of their actions. God has forgiven humanity for their sins through Jesus, but until our faith is put on the Son of God, we have no freedom. Even after we receive God’s forgiveness, this has not abstained us from responsibility of our own actions. forgiveness however opens our own heart to love and trust again. just my thoughts

  23. “Forgiveness is an intimate part of yourself. It is not something that is given lightly, only freely. Your abuser does not have a right to your forgiveness. No one has the right to demand that you give up part of yourself and give it to your abuser. It does not matter whether the abuser is going to be held accountable anyway, whether you see him or her again or not. Nothing matters except that forgiveness is your choice, and yours alone. And you don’t have to give it if you don’t want to.”

    I felt this odd sensation of freedom after reading this post. Thank you!! 🙂 I so admire you and I am so grateful for your blog!

    I wish Christians could understand this. It’s discouraging how much the Church brainwashes people into false guilt. 😦

  24. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves not for our abusers. Forgiving someone in that way is releasing our hands from their throat and releasing them to God and the universe. You say it’s no longer giving a #### about them and that’s not so far from it. It’s refusing to allow their abuse of us in the past to control our present.

    Forgiving a molester in a way that frees them to molest again is not what forgiveness is about.
    I’m a Christian and a survivor of abuse. Sadly what many Christians call love is just spiritual codependence. I don’t want anything of that either.

  25. Pingback: From Emerging From Broken: Forgive the Abusers? A bit of a Rant - Nyssa's Hobbit Hole
  26. First, I want to thank you for what you’ve said, it inspires me, angers me, and confuses me. Secondly, as a Christian, I have to say that you’ve hit on a very hard component of the Christians faith – Forgiveness. Its not easy. Its down right hard! But it must be done because each one of us are bothers and sister, we are mankind, humanity, living together. So, without boring you with the technical parts of Christianity and faith I’ll leave it at that. [ Personal jab: I don’t believe in ghost, but you’ll rarely hear me say that. Have a great day. And again, thanks.]

  27. I don’t have to forgive Driscoll b’c I don’t know him personally and have no interest in his church nor business. So the mandate by other Christians to forgive him is a general call. I suppose if someone who doesn’t know Driscoll is struggling with hate filled thoughts and it’s messing him/her up all the time – then they may need to consider forgiving him. Peter asked Jesus – if my brother comes to me and asks for forgiveness seven times a day – do I have to forgive him? And Jesus said not seven times – but 70 times 7. So he hyperbolized it so that Peter would get the message of when it’s a PERSONAL relationship then you HAVE to forgive. There is a basic tenet of the Christian church on forgiveness – but there is also the three steps to reconciliation spoken of in Matthew 18. So it really depends on the circumstances. I’m reblogging this.

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