True forgiveness leaves offenders in their own noose… And a sneak peek at survey results

We Anabaptists say that for a Catholic priest to forgive a penitent sinner is false doctrine. He has no such authority, we say, to stand in the place of God and forgive sins.

We then turn around and teach that victims of sexual abuse and violence must forgive their offenders. It is his/her Christian duty. And we teach that it brings freedom not only to the offended but also to the offender. Moreover, we have members’ meetings in which the guilty are singled out, and the congregation stands to declare forgiveness.

Tell me, if the Catholic priest has no such rights and authority, how can we say that we do? Do we not also stand in the place of God, and encourage victims to do so, when we make forgiveness about the offender? (I understand the priest ‘absolves’ the sinner, which sounds much worse, but only means to set free from guilt or responsibility. So, same thing as forgiveness. Same doctrinal practice).

Forgiveness is one of the most crucial aspects of *our own healing*. It has nothing to do with setting the other person free from their sins or wrongs. It sets *us* free from *their* sins and wrongs. It’s like it cuts the rope of the noose the offender placed around our neck, and allows us to truly live, completely released from him/her and the crimes committed against us.

Part of that noose is vindictiveness; entertaining the urge to retaliate. Part of that noose is vengeance; the act of getting even and letting them have it. Part of that noose is hatred; despising the person rather than the vile acts they committed. When we cut the noose, we release hatred for the person, and we release vengeance and vindictiveness. We are no longer obsessed with getting back at them. We trade those things for compassion, and maintain a desire for truth and justice, and to protect the vulnerable. The latter qualities do not evaporate with forgiveness. In this exchange, when we forgive, we become whole and the noose about our neck is severed.

When we cut that noose, however, offenders are no more free from their noose than before we forgave. He/she must come before God taking full ownership and in full repentance to be freed from the noose around his/her neck. Both ‘cheap forgiveness’ — the kind that quickly tidies things up to look good,  and lack of forgiveness — that keeps us constantly seeking vengeance, hold offender in bondage and do nothing for the freedom of the victim. It is a gift to the offender to be held accountable.

We are set free when we forgive, and we release them to accountability before God and the law.

In other words, forgiveness is an act of faith in God. Through forgiveness we recognize that the offender remains accountable before God for his/her sins/crimes, not to us. Vengeance is not ours; it is Gods.

Forgiveness also does not fulfil the demand of law and government. That is a separate accountability structure. (Romans 13). We have no more authority to ‘forgive’ the offender and ‘free them from responsibility to the law’ than we have to offer eternal life through forgiveness of sins.

False doctrine surrounding forgiveness keeps both victim and offender in bondage to the sin/crime committed. It keeps the victim in bondage to the consequences of the offender’s sins/crimes. We were not designed to carry the consequences of our own sins, let alone the sins of another. We can only choose to take ownership of our healing needs that result from those sins/crimes.

Forgiveness leaves the offender, right there in his/her own noose, before God. Because that noose has nothing to do with the victim. It has everything to do with his/her heart before God. It leaves the offender with the choice to reach up and cry out for forgiveness from God, and turn from the wickedness, or to slowly strangle the life out of him/herself. Our false doctrine of forgiveness leaves the offender to strangle, not realizing that’s what is happening.

True forgiveness, separated from the offender and his/her story, sets the victim free from the offender. It sets the victim free from the offence. It sets the victim free *from the consequences of the offence*. It releases the victim *from* being a victim *to* being empowered.

True forgiveness frees the victim to become an overcomer. And it frees the victim to take ownership of his/her own healing.

That’s what real forgiveness does.

***

SURVEY:

Currently we have a survey looking at Conservative Anabaptist Leaders’ Responses to Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence.  We have 77 responses in under two days, which is outstanding. We are also collecting data on relationship of offender(s) to victims. Some of the results, as usual, are pretty much what we expected. Others are startling. For example:

SNEAK PREVIEW OF SURVEY RESULTS BASED ON 78 respondents:
• 40% of victims have been assaulted by their brothers
• 31%  of victims have been assaulted by family friends
• 27% of victims have been assaulted by their fathers
• 10% of victims have been assaulted by their mothers
• 15% of victims have been sexually assaulted by more than 5 offenders
• Roughly 57% of victims who suffered only SA or only DV left the conservative; When the two are combined — SA & DV — that number jumps to nearly 70%
• 30% of SA victims (no DV) who left the church say leaders played a significant role in their leaving the church; coincidentally 42% of all SA victims (no DV)  would recommend going to leaders
• 36% of DV victims who left the church say leaders’ response played a significant role in leaving the church; 87% advise victims NOT to go to leaders for support
• 42% of SA & DV victims who left the church say leaders’ response played a significant role in leaving the church; 100% advise victims NOT to go to leaders for support

NOTE: While the numbers are startling, it should not be assumed that 10% of all CA survivors (outside of this study) were molested by mothers. There are many factors that could contribute to this representation in this particular survey.
….

There is much more emerging, and when we have enough participants to feel fairly confident in the data, I plan to do a deep analysis and share some of the graphs and stats here. I’m hopeful that we will have around 200 participants with a bit of time. (Currently we are at 78, so climbing even since writing the last two paragraphs).

I have fine-tuned that survey, and will release the improved version on our new Survey’s Page shortly. (Hoping later tonight). I plan to update this page with new surveys as I get then ready, so check back. While this blog is the sole ownership and responsibility of myself, Trudy Metzger, the data gathered will be used by Generations Unleashed to better understand sexual abuse in our culture. I will also share surveys for other individual i trust, and who are researching sexual abuse.

I am hopeful that as the conversations continue, professionals and support persons alike will be equipped to give better advice and support sexual abuse survivors in our conservative Mennonite culture. For example, if professionals are encouraging victims to go to their leaders, but victims are finding their leaders to be abusive, then such advice should stop.

But it should not end there. Leaders should be trained and equipped to respond in more effective ways. Looking at the results above it appears (and has consistently throughout the survey) that leaders’ response to DV is even more neglectful than sexual abuse. There are many things that play into responses, including silence surrounding the topic. Respondents talked about ‘seeing change’ and ‘being hopeful’ that there is improvement. And some referenced ‘the last 10 years’.

This makes sense to me. The last 10 years is when we’ve started addressing sexual abuse more and more openly. It is anecdotal evidence that conversation is necessary for change. So let’s keep talking!

And, lest I’ve completely distracted you from good intentions, you can take the survey Conservative Anabaptist Leaders’ Responses to Sexual Abuse and Domestic Violence and let your voice make a difference. Also, for more accurate results.

As always,

Love,
~ T ~

 

© Trudy Metzger 2019

Happy Mother’s Day: The Power of the Father’s Affirmation

Zephaniah 3:16-17
“[…] Do not fear […], let not your hands be weak. 17 The Lord your God […] will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

On Wednesday evening I attended Sozo, a ministry training video series that teaches what it means to be saved, healed and delivered. This week they taught about ‘The Father Ladder’ and how our perception of God is shaped, to a large degree, by our relationship with our family.

God, Our Daddy-Father, Provider and Protector Who Delights in Us

Our perception of God whether distant and harsh or near and loving, comes largely from our earthly fathers. When our fathers provide, protect and affirm our identity, we tend to see God that way. If Daddy adores me and is proud of me, I am more likely to believe that God adores me and is proud of me.

When our fathers fail in these areas it is in forgiving them that we are freed from that misconception about God, and rediscover Him.

They talked about how many wounded women choose partners that have the same negative and abusive behaviours of their dads had. I thought about past boyfriends. I almost made that mistake. I remembered Howard, a man who stepped into the ‘Dad role’ in my life before I met Tim. I have never known a man more like Tim than Howard is. I thanked God, again, for the example Howard was in my life.

I thought back over the years to childhood… the pain, the disappointment and the deep wounds that are now healed. And then a new revelation hit me: I have never dealt with abandonment. I have always known that I felt abandoned. Awake at night, as a little girl, terrified by the shadows in the doorway, I had to do it alone. I could not cry out for my Daddy to come and protect me. In fact, I feared the shadow was his, and he was coming to hurt me. At six…seven… eight… nine… and until 15 when I left home, I could not call out to him. I was alone.

I had forgiven him for hurting me, for terrorizing me, but I had never forgiven him for abandoning me and not being my protector. No wonder I struggle to believe that God will protect me when I am in a bad situation. No wonder, when I face a difficult situation, whether spiritually or practically, I struggle to believe that He will come through for me and protect me. In that moment of revelation, I chose to forgive my Dad….. again.

The timing couldn’t have been more significant. I needed to know that right now, to believe that God has not and will not abandon me.

Jesus, Our Brother and Friend

Next we learned how Jesus, our Friend and Brother, can seem distant and hard to connect with depending on our childhood wounds from siblings and friends.

In a family with sixteen children, each in survival mode due to violence and dysfunction, wounding is inevitable. Sure, we forgive, let go, move on and understand what we all lived out of, but the scars remain for a time. Healing comes, one layer at a time.

I thought back to my wounds. I’ve forgiven my siblings and moved on. I abandoned my family the month before I turned sixteen and in the next two years they only saw me about a handful of times, if that. Then I suddenly reappeared. For almost two years I lived close to home but spent very little time there. And then I disappeared again, keeping limited contact.

I’m sure I have done my share of wounding my siblings. It was survival of the fittest, and my survival was in taking care of myself, to remove myself from the reach of my family so that I would not continue being wounded.

Now, all these years later, I love my siblings, I care about them. Still, the reality is that an element of bonding never happened under the circumstances of our home life. Again, the woman said, forgiveness is key in freeing us in our relationship with Jesus.

Finally, we learned how the nurturing, comforting and teaching mother represents the Holy Spirit and, when misrepresented, there is confusion. I heard this part of the teaching, but stayed stuck on number one and two. Not because there are not things to look and work through in my relationship with my mom. Not because there are no wounds. There are. But the first two were all I could handle in one evening. My mind was tired, and my spirit needed time to process it all.

The Father’s Affirmation

Thursday morning I intended to get several items  from the grocery store first thing. I should have slipped out at 8:30 in the morning. I was out of detergent and laundry piles were waiting. And I was almost out of cream for my coffee. But I stalled.  An hour passed. And another. Still I stalled. For no particular reason. Another fifteen minutes.  Finally, at about 10:45 I slipped out, regretting slightly my late start, but only  until I discovered that God had His own agenda taking shape.

I grabbed my items, and headed for the check out. Slipping my card in the chip reader, I saw a gentleman across the store. Howard? I squinted. (Should have worn my glasses!) I wrapped up paying for my purchases, squinted again and was confident it was Howard.

When I was twenty-one, Howard and his wife Alice stepped into my life and helped me unravel the pain and trauma of those early years. Together they showed me love, acceptance, grace and offered me hope for healing.

I walked across the store, abandoning my big box of groceries. The thought occurred to me that they were paid for. Someone could walk away with them. That was a risk I was willing to take.

Howard saw me and his eyes lit up. With pride beaming from his eyes, he told me how proud he is of me. He had recently spoken with someone whose wife had attended a women’s retreat where I spoke. He encouraged me and blessed me. A second time he said, “Trudy, I am so proud of you! And I love you very much!”

I felt like a little kid again, but this time I was soaking up the blessing. There was no fear, no pain, no abandonment.

A great big Howard-kind-of-bear-hug later, I walked out the door, more empowered than a kid after eating a bag of candy and a Red Bull to wash it down!

It wasn’t until I walked away that I felt God saying, “I’m proud of you too. I sent Howard today, just to remind you that I am here. I know what you’re going through. I see your struggle. Your fears have not escaped my attention. I am here. You are loved. I bless you.”

That alone could have taken me a long way. But God wasn’t done.

At home I unpacked my groceries and had just tossed the empty box in the hall, to be taken to the garage for recycling, when the doorbell rang. There, peaking through the side panel, stood my ‘little’ brother, grinning from ear to ear. He’s thirty-five now and taller than me, but he will always be my little brother.  Some things never change.

We spent several hours together on Thursday, talking, laughing and sharing heart to heart. He’s a wonderful young man and I’m so proud of him. Proud to be his sister. Proud to be his friend. Proud of how honest he is, how authentic, how transparent. Proud of his heart , his kindness.

He told me I am easy to talk to. He shared some cool ideas he has and wondered if I wanted to be part of making them happen. Of course I do!  And then he left.

As he drove away, the previous night’s Sozo lesson returned. Jesus, my Brother… my Friend. He is as willing to interact with me, to be part of my life. I love Jesus. He lived transparently. He stood for Truth. He lived authentically. His heart is kind.

In one day two unplanned meetings, both relating to the previous night’s teaching and my struggle, had affirmed a deeper truth about God in my life.  And in that affirmation, my heart was strengthened for the battle we call life.

As I thought about this post, and it being Mother’s Day weekend and all, I wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to share right now. On further thought, I realized how much fathers hold the power to influence their daughters—the mothers of tomorrow.

This weekend, while Howard is not my Dad by birth, he did give me an amazing gift by showing me the gift of being valued. I observed how he did this with his birth daughters years ago, when I first moved into their home. He told them how beautiful they were, how proud he was of them. I had never heard a dad talk that way before but that example changed my life and shaped my expectation. I saw that I have value and should be treated with respect.

My brother gave me that same gift of respect and value. While he was here on Thursday, he told my fourteen-year-old son how fortunate he is that we can discuss sex. Understandably my son mumbled something about it not being cool, to which my brother replied that it’s very cool. He told my son that he is fortunate. While he may not have thought of it, he blessed me in my role as a mother.

I love being a mom to my kids! I thank Howard, my brother and all those who influenced and empowered me on this amazing journey!  Especially the godly men in my life who bear the image of God and represent the Father’s heart.  Through you I am reminded that God is my #1 cheerleader—that He delights in me.