Saturday, October 15, 2016

Who Needs to Forgive Donald Trump?

Angela Merkel/ Bing
I’ve seen some posts by Christians saying they’ve forgiven Donald Trump. One explained it was his Christian duty. Others said they forgave but won’t vote for him. Well, I haven’t forgiven him and here’s why I don't need to--yet.

Forgiveness is about healing the hurts.

Forgiveness is a process of healing for people who have been hurt­. It’s not about small stuff. It’s about hurt to the point that it’s hard to let go of the pain, anger, and desire for revenge.
Like most people, I’ve been hurt by things people have said and done.  Sometimes it took a while before I recognized how deeply I had been hurt and how long I had held on to that hurt before I let it go.

I know politicians have said some very offensive things to or about a lot of people. And those who have been hurt would surely feel better if they were able to forgive them for what they said or did. Let’s not make this post about Trump. Let’s just say any political, business, or church leader can say or do things that hurt others. And hurt people can struggle with forgiveness.

My reason for not forgiving Trump is that he has not hurt me. There’s nothing to forgive.

So what about apologies?

Apologies can help survivors forgive their offenders. But apologies vary in how effective they are (Sutton 2016). Sincerity is important. I’m not so sure how general and public expressions work when there’s no personal connection. If somebody wanted me to express forgiveness to them for a past hurt, then I’d like the apology to be personal and specific.

For me, no apology from Trump is needed. I see in the news he apologized. I say forgiveness is up to the people who have been personally offended by him. It’s not my place to accept or refuse his apology. I do need to exercise judgment—more on that below.

I like to see evidence of changed behavior to support an apology. To use a biblical analogy, I like to see fruit as evidence of a person’s changed character.

Forgiveness Does Not Require Public Expression

Like Jesus said of the Sabbath Day, forgiveness was made for people (see Mark 2: 27). Forgiveness repairs the inner damage caused by hurts and frees us to live with a focus on the future. If we are in a relationship with someone then it makes sense to express forgiveness as a part of reconciliation.

That brings up another point missing in some posts–reconciliation. Reconciliation is not a part of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation can work together to repair damaged relationships.

But many of us have worked with people who have hurt us. We collaborated on projects or activities before we reached the point of forgiving them. And some of us have forgiven people but wisely kept our distance–no sense being hurt again.

Forgiveness is one thing- reconciliation is another. Reconciliation requires trust.

So what about the wrongdoing of public figures?

I and my colleagues have studied clergy offenses. You’ve probably seen a few headlines about pastors who had affairs or clergy who sexually abused children.

There’s no doubt family members and friends have been deeply hurt when a clergy member or Christian leader violates people. Certainly those who have been hurt have something to forgive.
Some may wish to reconcile–especially– if they feel they can trust the person not to re-offend. But restoring a pastor to a public ministry is something else entirely. It’s not forgiveness or reconciliation but a restoration process, which is usually in the hands of a church or organizational board.

For good reason, the decision to restore a fallen leader should be something for a group of people to decide. Restoration is partly about the fallen leader but it’s also about public trust. Board members must be wise enough to ensure a leader has changed in a way that he or she can be trusted again.

What about the wrongdoing of politicians and business leaders? Should we restore them following an apology? Maybe. Maybe not. If they wish to be restored, let’s see some evidence that they can be trusted to do the job without harming people.

All are sinners. Right?

I’ve seen Christians defend heinous conduct by saying all are sinners (Falwell, 10 Oct 2016). I see reminders about not judging and not casting stones. But I (not God) say unto you, "let’s use wisdom." Surely not all sins are created equal.

Any system of justice—biblical or secular—recognizes that some wrongdoing requires a minor fine, other acts result in more severe restrictions like prison time and/or heavy fines. And in some cases, acts result in people being put to death or given a life sentence.

Sexual harassment is wrong. Sexual harassment may result in a warning, a referral for treatment, or immediate termination. Every supervisor must make judgments for the good of the workforce.

Parents and teachers have rules and children learn to live with consequences. But not all violations are the same. Wise parents and teachers judge the seriousness of an act and try to be just in their administration of consequences. And when it comes to rule violations, children are different in what rules they break, how often they break rules, and how hard they work to avoid future violations.

Parents and teachers know how to judge. Sins and sinners are not alike in all respects.

In a democracy, every citizen exercises judgment when voting. We may not cast stones but we do cast ballots. And ballots end political lives. Votes represent the judgment of the people.

All are sinners. All have done wrong. But many people demonstrate evidence of a changed life in what they say and do. And most people are not rapists or murderers.

Read more about Christianity, Morality and Culture—including the role of forgiveness in repairing the divide.

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

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Forgiveness in Brief

Forgiveness is a process.

Forgiveness helps hurt people heal.

Forgiveness aids reconciliation but forgiveness is not reconciliation.

Reconciliation involves a relationship between at least two parties.

Reconciliation requires trust.

Trust is built on evidence of trustworthy behavior- not words or promises.

People can and do practice a degree of reconciliation when they work together following an offense but that does not mean one has forgiven the other.

Fallen leaders sometimes apologize and seek forgiveness. Meaningful forgiveness happens when an offended person forgive the leader.

Forgiving a fallen leader does not require reconciliation.

Forgiving a fallen leader does not require restoration to leadership. Some sincere people relapse.

Reconciling with a fallen leader does not require restoration to leadership.

Restoring fallen leaders is best left up to a responsible group concerned with the leader and those who may be vulnerable if the leader were restored. Don't put a fox in charge of a hen house.

Contrition does not mean future behavior will be different from past behavior.

Apologies do not mean future behavior will be different from past behavior.

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