Bad Theology Kills- Victims
All of Christianity is based on a big narrative of divine forgiveness rooted in unconditional love. When questioned by his disciples about how many times we should forgive our brother,"Up to seven times?" Jesus's response was "Seventy times seven!" Basically saying to have eternal forgiveness. In one of Jesus's most iconic speeches he commanded us to forgive our debtors. In another speech he tells us to love even our enemies.
Its a brilliant message that has freed people, given second chances and fresh starts.
I believe in this message.
Its been abused.
Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of church clergy have been told that the right thing to do is to forgive their abuser, which of course would conveniently mean not pressing charges or going public to the embarrassment of the church. #churchtoo
People in abusive marriages have been told to forgive and remain, putting them in further danger and sometimes leading to their death.
People who have been stolen from by their family members have been told to forgive and let it go and continue to invite that member over into their home, allowing that person to continue to steal.
People who have put up boundaries between themselves and a toxic person in their life have been told they will go to hell for it.
THIS IS NOT JUSTICE.
And the thing is....Jesus's message about Forgiveness is actually all about Justice.
Back in the day the law was that if someone couldn't pay back their debt to you, you could make them work for you until they paid off their debt. *
Let that sink in.
It was the classic situation of someone forgetting their wallet when out for dinner, and so having to go to the back and wash dishes for 4 hours until their dinner was paid off.
So if someone steals from you, or doesn't pay back a loan, or is indebted to you for whatever reason, you could get justice by making them work for you until the debt is paid.
Here's the thing...the system was abused.
It was common that once someone made their debtor their worker, they would keep them forever. Keep their children. Keep their spouse. Now we don't just have debt-repayment, we have full fledged salvery. That's not justice.
That's the opposite of justice.
God knew this would happen so in His mercy made a rule in the fine print that you could only hold someone's debt against them for 7 years max, and then they could go free no matter what.** There was also the year of jubilee where slaves would go free and land would change hands and go back to their hereditary owners, it was a big deal. A huge wiping the slate clean so that everyone would have equal footing. Justice. Equality. No more poverty.
God's heart has always been for justice.
When Jesus said to forgive people their debts he meant to not make people your slave forever.
When Jesus said to forgive people it was about justice and poverty.
He did not mean for you to stay in abusive relationships.
He did not mean for you to continue to be taken advantage of by toxic people.
He did not mean you can't put up healthy boundaries.
I. Can't. Stress. This. Enough.
You don't turn the other cheek to domestic abuse.
You don't turn the other cheek to child abuse.
(I can't believe I have to say this.)
Forgiving someone doesn't mean you permit them to continue to do harm. It means you don't own them and force them to be your slave. You don't have to have them over for dinner. You don't have to invite them into your safe places. You don't have to continue to be harmed.
That was never the heart of God.
Forgiveness: Don't make people slaves for life.
Justice: Pay back what you owe.
Toxic Forgiveness: Forgiving someone over and over again while continuing to allow them to harm you.
Toxic Justice: Enslaving people for life for loan repayment. (See Money Tree and other payday loan establishments.)
Forgiveness & Justice: If someone owes you, let them go free, but for the love of justice don't go back into business with them!!!
I've wrestled for so long about the relationship between Mercy and Justice. It wasn't until recently that I realized that Mercy was always actually about Justice. They are not opposing forces, they walk hand in hand to bring peace to society.
I can't write about the toxic misuse of forgiveness theology without making note of the true power of forgiveness to heal. I recommend reading this article from The Forgiveness Project. Its a powerful story of the power of forgiveness to help a wounded person heal by forgiving the one that hurt them. Its a story of shared humanity, victims of serious crime, healing and non-prescriptive forgiveness.
I am deeply committed to forgiveness.
I am convinced its the only way to peace.
I practice forgiveness in my own life.
I encourage those around me to embrace forgiveness as a path to healing.
I am ALL ABOUT forgiveness.
I am just not about using coercive spiritual authority to force victims to remain in abusive situations.
* See Leviticus 25
** See Deuteronomy 15
*** See Leviticus 25