It’s not me, it’s you

Ok, I am going to get a bit personal here and allude to some of my own story and am interested in hearing your opinion on this subject.

I believe it is important to forgive everything.  To move forward in life (eventually) as you come through painful chapters.  So how does this look, practically?

We have worked very hard to preserve friendships at the church we left a year ago.  It hasn’t been easy and I have felt that often the onus has been on me to reach out for contact.  But gradually we have shared our story with people and this has really helped, and in some cases even strengthened our relationships.  

But the thing I want to talk about is the relationships with the leaders and how to handle that piece of the puzzle.  See, we were very close friends with the leaders for years, and towards the end of our tenure at this church, we confronted them personally and intensively about what we considered significant ethical/moral missteps (this took an enormous amount of courage on our part as we knew we were risking relationships as we made our appeals to them).  We also recognized that the decisions we were ill-at-ease about were not isolated incidents but part of the ingrained culture of the church – things such as financial secrecy, closed door politicking, and a general sense of “Lord’s anointed entitlement”.  We had, as part of the small and close-knit deacons team, turned a blind eye to this or even advanced it in times past.

We still occasionally see/interact with these leaders (at baby showers, kids’ birthday parties, helping friends move, etc).  This is inevitable since we are keeping up our friendships with those in the church.  

So here is where I am asking for your opinion….. I simply can’t feel authentic about a friendship with these self-appointed leaders when the issues that turned us away still remain.  I have a fundamental and diametric opposition to the shenanigans that took place.  I always will!  However, I also want to offer an olive branch of peace and be a forgiving person.  How does one go about this, without letting people off the hook or making it appear their choices were no big deal?  How can I forgive them and still let them know our friendship has a boundary because of the wall of privilege that THEY built – that it’s not me, it’s them?

5 thoughts on “It’s not me, it’s you”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this part of your story and struggle. My wife and I find ourselves in a similar dynamic, but with different details of the harms done to us. It was particularly difficult for me because I was writing my thesis at the time everything began to happen, and a section of my thesis was on forgiveness. I still find it helpful to read a few of the paragraphs again to remind myself what forgiveness is, why it is necessary, and helps me to think about how to forgive. Forgiveness, in my case, involved no longer seeing the harm done as a personal attack, and to recognize that the leadership was not the source of the harm but rather the institution of the evangelical/conservative church. This obviously does not absolve them of wrongdoing or me of feeling hurt, but it was a necessary step. Since then it has been a process of growing my empathy towards them as I was once an enthusiastic supporter/contributor of the system and pray for the Spirit to show them what I was shown about the errors of the system (this also requires that I continue to voice my concerns in appropriate ways). I hope this helps, and I pasted a small section of my thesis below.

    “Norvin Richards gives an account of forgiveness that is the overcoming or abandoning of negative emotions in response to having been wronged. Both Macalester Bell and Glen Pettigrove have given justificatory theories based on this account of forgiveness. Bell gives the following conditions for justifying the extension of forgiveness; the forgiving agent must maintain that the action is wrong; and the one may rightly extend forgiveness if either; a) If the offender attempts to transform themselves; or b) If they express a feeling of shame for their wrongdoing. While Bell’s account rightly maintains the judgement of the action as wrong, she gives too much power to the guilty party. There is no hope for the harmed to overcome their negative emotions unless the very person who harmed them attempts to change their character or expresses heartfelt shame and regret. This places the harmed in a powerless and pitiable situation, and gives me good reason to entertain another theory of justification for extending forgiveness.

    Pettigrove argues that there are three ways to justifiably promote and extend forgiveness focusing on the one affected by the wrongdoing instead of requiring action from the wrongdoer, as in Bell’s conditions. The three justified practices for promoting forgiveness are: mitigating our sense of the wrong done; altering our sense of the primary message communicated in the wrongdoing; and triggering empathy that discloses the possibility of reconciliation. Some may object that any of these three practices promoting forgiveness are still unjustified without the wrongdoer first acting. However, because the negative emotions come from perceived harm, injury, or failure to meet an interpersonal standard, the agent is justified in examining and adjusting their perception of the moral scenario. To claim that a person harmed by wrongdoing or badbeing has no need of examining their perceptions for accuracy is granting contempt a level of infallibility that simply does not exist. Therefore, the harmed party is justified in examining their perception of the harm done and the primary message communicated by the action and thereby overcoming or abandoning the negative emotions associated with being harmed.”

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me! My blog isn’t widely read but because of the type of folks that come here (albeit few) I am sure your insight will be a really great help. What you said about empathy was particularly profound to me.
      I would also reject Bell’s conditions for justifiably extending forgiveness, on the same grounds as you, but could you clarify Pettigrove’s point of view, I am not totally sure I understand it – probably just need it to be dumbed-down! ☺️

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  2. Steph, thanks for sharing your heart.We went through this.Be yourself.Forgiveness is not a state of doing something,but being someone.When Jesus shows you your wholeness in Him,forgiveness will be something you embody.In Him,you have already forgiven them and extended the olive branch even if physically you may not feel like you have done anything.

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  3. The core of Pettigrove’s position is that forgiveness is always justified by 1 of 3 things, but the one that resonates best with Christian ethics is empathy/reconciliation. This justifies the actions towards overcoming the negative emotions caused by the harm of being wronged

    “triggering empathy that discloses the possibility of reconciliation”
    – this is an action(s) done regardless of remorse or repentance from the wrongdoer
    – this is the model of Christ; becoming human (empathy) and even though the harmed lacks the flaw (sin) that caused the harm, a path of reconciliation was made (true reconciliation requires repentance, but the reconciliation is offered first)

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