Libby Anne talks about the way evangelical concern with “forgiveness” makes things harder for victims and a lot easier for perps.
Evangelical teachings on repentance and forgiveness create a tremendous problem when it comes to rape or other forms of abuse. If you commit a sin and repent of it, God forgives you. I remember hearing Psalm 103:12 quoted constantly: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Of course, this was always said in a positive way—isn’t it awesome that God forgives us no matter what? But it doesn’t must mean God forgives us. It also means God forgives rapists, child molesters, and so on—fully and completely.
I was taught that bringing up sins that someone had already repented for was wrong. If the transgressor had repented, after all, God had forgiven him, and had had removed those transgressions “as far as the east is from the west.” Those sins were gone, totally and completely, and should not be mentioned again. The slate was clean. Now this may make sense when applied to more petty offenses—it’s never fun to have your mistakes constantly brought up, even when you’ve tried to make good—it also applies to rapists, child molesters, and so on.
That’s a form of morality that’s very useful to rapists.
This is also in line with a piece I quoted from earlier this week. In that piece, blogger Maureen writes about what it was like to learn, suddenly and unexpectedly, that her husband was a child molester—and what it was like to deal with the aftermath:
Through this whole process, I learned that much is required of those victimized, while little is asked of sex offenders. When my husband began to spin his story, it was received with affirmations of how courageous he was. He was even placed on the worship team within a few months of his confessions.
In contrast, I was expected to never be angry, bitter, or wrestle with forgiveness. I needed to heal quickly and quietly. And, of course, I couldn’t ever question his “recovery.” His was a wondrous redemption story, and to question his trustworthiness was to question God’s work in his life.
This is, quite simply, the natural result of evangelical teachings about repentance and forgiveness—or at least, with the evangelical teachings I was taught growing up. (If there are evangelicals who find different ways to understand these passages, I’d be interested in hearing more, because these passages are in sorry need of reinterpretation!)
The offender need only repent. That’s it. If he repents, his slate is wiped clean. The victim must forgive, and that means never being angry, never being bitter, and getting over what happened post haste.
It’s a disturbing idea. It seems more unforgiving toward victims than toward their victimizers. I wonder if it helps for the victims to just say “Sorry” every now and then – does that make it ok for them to keep on feeling angry?