Erica Hamence opens our series of 16 days of prayer against Domestic & Family Violence - Foundations for Christian Action by reminding us that we pray because our God has promised to transform the world.
Forgiveness in the way of Jesus boldly states that what has happened matters.
'Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.'
- Ephesians 4:31-32
Forgiveness is central to Christian teaching. In a very real sense, there is no experience of Christian faith without it.
Unfortunately, churches and individual Christians have often been guilty of speaking about and modelling forgiveness in unhelpful — even harmful — ways.
This has been evident particularly around Domestic & Family Violence. In a desire to be helpful (to be ‘Christian’), we may have encouraged women and children to remain in or return to harm, we may have promoted the shallow (and non-biblical) notion of ‘forgive and forget’ or the cheap (and unbiblical) idea of forgiveness as letting someone ‘off the hook’. The consequences have, at times, been disastrous.
One very serious error is the confusion of forgiveness with reconciliation. As theologian Miroslav Volf has noted, forgiveness is one of the first steps in a deep and complex process that can only reach the possibility of full reconciliation once there has been truth and justice, and once the threat of harm no longer exists. Forgiveness can begin to empower a victim-survivor to release themselves from the prison — from the hell — that the perpetrator has sought to create for them. But it’s one part; it’s not the whole process.
In our churches, we need to be careful and thoughtful in how we speak about these things. We must learn to prioritise safety and wellbeing over cheap and shallow notions of forgiveness.
Forgiveness in the way of Jesus boldly states that what has happened matters, that it was wrong. Forgiveness in the way of Jesus is beautiful, is extraordinarily powerful, and is always founded on truth. Most importantly, forgiveness in the way of Jesus leads to freedom.
- How are we speaking about forgiveness in our churches? What might people in our congregations be hearing in the way we talk about it?
- How seriously are we treating issues of safety and wellbeing? Is our desire to see reconciliation potentially encouraging people to remain in or return to harm?
- In what ways might God be calling us to repent of harm to which we may have unintentionally contributed? What might this repentance look like in practical terms?
- How might we begin to challenge the ‘cheap forgiveness’ that has so often been preached and modelled in our churches?
God, we give you thanks for your costly, loving, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that offered forgiveness to us. God we ask for your forgiveness over our complicity in domestic and family violence. Help us to see clearly where we have gone wrong, and how it might be made right. Help us to value safety and wellbeing, and to pursue justice.
Today, we lift to you all those who want to change. May your Spirit work within them to bring repentance and healing and a deep and genuine change in the way they treat others. May they yield to your justice, placing themselves in positions of accountability and limited power as a means of practically working out repentance and change.
For those of us who have been wronged, where the repentance of our abuser is genuine, and in your own good and gentle timing, give us grace to forgive. Give us wisdom, and protect us from unwise counsel, about what reconciliation - if any - is appropriate. Relieve us from the burden of offering cheap forgiveness - of papering over an unacknowledged wrong. You are the God of truth and justice and mercy. We trust in you.
At Northside, we know that we’re only beginning to understand how important dealing with domestic and family violence is. Like so many churches we were shocked and deeply saddened to read of the extent of domestic and family violence in the Church, in the work of Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson. Though the natural desire is to turn away from hard realities like this, we made a decision to learn more and to work towards what it looks like to be a ‘safe’ church. It was this commitment that led to the Time to Listen (2017) and Time to Act (2018) events, which were the beginning of our long journey towards becoming a safer church and acting well in our local community, and helping other churches to do the same.
What can your church do to become a safer church?
Check out https://www.saferresource.org.au/ to find out more.
See especially https://www.saferresource.org.au/the_bible_on_domestic_family_violence for more on Christian forgiveness.