I had a conversation relayed to me recently (third hand, so don’t worry, nobody would know who it is), where a church leader met with a victim of abuse, and, as they recounted how they truly felt, the church leader said, “You sound bitter.”
Now, there are a number of ways you can play that three-word sentence, but anyone who’s survived abuse and who is ‘bitter’ about what happened to them knows immediately they’re targets right there of victim-blaming.
Yet, it seems a great number of people who have never been harmed by abuse simply don’t get it, and they read survivors who sound ‘bitter’ as core to the problem — “Mmm, don’t worry about that person you’re angry about, we need to fix that attitude of YOURS first.”
When a survivor of abuse and trauma hears this kind of sentiment, they immediately know they’re not believed, and the perpetrator has been acquitted. That’s NOT pastoring. It’s actually another example of abuse.
Besides Rebecca Davis’ fine work on ‘grieving bitterness’, it might help our purpose here to discuss the issue of reactive attitudes and WHY they occur.
A LITTLE DISCUSSION ON ‘REACTIVE’ ATTITUDES
Sharon Lamb, quotes philosopher P. F. Strawson in her book, The Trouble with Blame: Victims, Perpetrators, and Responsibility, “if we do not react with resentment when our rights are violated then we do not take our rights very seriously.”
Stanford University say, “In particular, Strawson argues that our reactive attitudes towards others and ourselves are natural and irrevocable. They are a central part of what it is to be human. The truth of determinism cannot, then, force us to give up the participant standpoint, because the reactive attitudes are too deeply embedded in our humanity.”
What’s most profound about the philosophy is it describes what is predictable about the typical responses of humans who have been harmed — Christian or not.
This philosophy speaks to the actual experience of survivors of abuse, and it explains why resentment is the most predictable response to harms that have been done that are harms that haven’t been or cannot be reconciled.
UNMERITED ‘FORGIVENESS’ IS NOT FORGIVENESS
Jesus commands us to love our enemies. What better way to love our enemy than give them feedback about how they harmed us?
Who would love their enemy enough that they would pursue them with a mercy-prepared justice so they could be acquitted BEFORE they meet their eternal Judge?
Just like it is for salvation — where it’s accepted that we MUST repent to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness — it’s a golden opportunity for all sinners to face consequences for their actions THIS side of the eternal divide; otherwise, it’s judgement on the other side — remembering God sees ALL.
This is a forgiveness that’s more than prepared to extend mercy when the enemy has confessed their wrongdoing. This is a forgiveness that Jesus calls for; “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. If they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Why wouldn’t a perpetrator face the consequences of their harmful actions through confession when they know that true repentance activates mercy and forgiveness?
They don’t because they feel entitled to do what they do.
True abusers feel they’ve never done anything wrong!
And church leaders often side with people like this.
What is it about the present-day church leader who doesn’t cope well with a person rebuking someone who has abused them?
Church leaders are more likely to tell the person who’s doing the rebuking that they’re out of line — when in fact they’re doing exactly what Jesus has commanded them to do.
But it’s not just that. Think of, “IF they repent, forgive them.” What is this rubbish peace-keeping teaching, then, that says, “Forgive them regardless whether they repent or not”? It is not biblical. Jesus didn’t say that... he said, “IF they repent, forgive them.”
For me, it’s a false gospel that insists people be ‘forgiven’ when they clearly haven’t learned anything — there’s no justice in that because there’s no love in it.
Part of love is committing ourselves to the BEST for the other person. When we let people off the hook, they learn nothing, and they cannot grow to become better, and they’re confined to eternal judgement.
We need to love people with the truth,
not pretend it never happened.
THE CHURCH HAS A ROLE TO FACILITATE JUSTICE
When we facilitate justice, we’re truly peacemakers. But what future does the church have when it would prefer to victimise survivors than advocate in cases of injustice?
My prayer is that churches and leaders who do that do an about-face, pronto.
The church and church leaders clearly have a role to facilitate justice in peaceful ways.
They have a role to investigate claims, and just as much, they’re committed to loving all people. Those who have a claim of abuse are loved through being listened to and by being believed. A great amount of good can be done when a leader simply believes a survivor.
The person who is alleged to have done the abuse is loved by holding them to gentle account. They must be given the opportunity to repent.