In all the Christian talk about the beauty of forgiveness, we have made the mistake of teaching and believing that forgiveness and justice are at odds. They are compatible. It is not ‘forgiveness *or* justice’. It is ‘forgiveness *and* justice’. God loves both.
The problem is that we really do not understand what forgiveness is and means, and we really don’t understand what justice is and means. (I do not propose to have the understanding either! But to think they are at odds is evidence we are missing something). As a result, most teachings on forgiveness are imbalanced, saying you must choose ‘only’ forgiveness. Many even teach that to forgive means “I am taking the consequences of your sin on myself.”
I would propose that we release ourselves from the consequences of their wrongs and sins when we forgive. Forgiveness is a matter of releasing my heart from the burden I carry as a result of the evils done against me. The greatest longterm ongoing consequence for most sins committed against me is what I believe as a result of that wrong. (There are exceptions. If a drunk driver kills my child, the longterm consequences is my grief, the loss of that child and all that goes with it. I speak here specifically to my experience and most wrong committed against me).
My forgiveness cannot free the other person; only God’s forgiveness can do that. In fact, if handled in such a way that the other person never truly comes to grips with their wrongdoing, ‘forgiveness’ (as taught by many) keeps that person in bondage. There is a kindness in a person being confronted with their own capacity for evil, when paired with compassion, mercy, grace and consequences that holds him/her accountable. If the offender is truly repentant, this encounter is life altering and a gift to him/her and those in relationship with them.
I believe in forgiveness. It transformed my life. It continues to transform my life. It is what set me free to live a whole life, to pursue my calling. And it is what breaks the power their actions had over me. It does not impose on me any code of silence. It does change the way I speak about it. I still call out evil. I still call out corruption and manipulation. I do not hate. I do not call for beheadings, literally or figuratively. I still support going to the law and ensuring offenders cannot continue to hurt people. That’s part of justice.
There is no justice in leaving children vulnerable to predators. None. Nor is that forgiveness. That is ignorance. But true justice never calls for the destruction (death or other) of the wrongdoer. Because true justice recognizes that I, too, am fallen humanity who deserves judgement, and the grace I have received is the grace I pass on. God did not remove this life’s consequences; I continue to live with those to this day. But He did offer me eternal life and removed from me the consequence of eternal death. That is a gift I offer others, along with restoring their humanity, seeing them as having both capacity for good and for evil, and treating them with dignity even while holding them accountable for that evil.
Over my mother’s funeral several of my offenders showed up . One, in particular, stood out. He looks but a broken shell of humanity. Though he is not a family member, I’ve seen him at numerous family events such as weddings and funerals — I anticipate I will see him again tomorrow — and always what it stirs in my heart is grief. Not for what was done against me — I’m done with that grieving and am healed — but of what sin robbed him of. That’s not to say he hasn’t made his heart right before God. I’m not one to judge that. But the eyes tell a story…. and the story his tell…
I saw him there… So I walked over, stood behind the gentleman talking to him and waited ‘in line’ to speak with him. When my turn came, I shook his hand, and thanked him for his expression of sympathy by coming to mom’s funeral. Admittedly, he looked relieved when my thanks was all I had to say to him.
Whatever he took from me when he molested me, it does not compare with what he lost within himself, and the consequences he has to live with for his choices. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not downplaying his crimes; they had a huge impact on me. Truth is, odds are high I would still be conservative Anabaptist if he had not done what he did. That is where and when I started feeling lost in the culture to such a degree that I knew I could not stay. I saw myself as a misfit who would never survive, and whose dreams would never come true ‘among them’. Trust me, I do not bemoan the outcome, but at the time, as a young teen who dreamed of marrying a Mennonite man — ideally a farmer — it was devastating. I saw only ‘old rejected spinster’ in my future, and that belief isolated me.
The greater harm was the sexual confusion it threw me into. Feeling things for which I had no words or teaching, and the ensuing years of deep shame it cost me. And because word got out, I had no idea who all knew. Every time a young man looked at me, I was sure he was thinking “slut”. So I would sit through special meetings at other churches, blushing and ashamed, whenever a young man looked my way. Yes, the cost was significant.
But I saw the consequences in his eyes at mom’s funeral, and felt only compassion. Since seeing him at mom’s funeral, I’ve said to Tim from time to time, “I think I need to go visit him and his wife. I need to have a conversation with them….”
We will see. If and when the time is right, I will do it. And that visit won’t be for my own good or healing; it will be for his redemption. Not relational restoration. That is not necessary. But his deep soul redemption and freedom.
If I do it, I do it of my own choice. And that choice has nothing whatsoever to do with forgiveness, other than to give me the courage to do it. Forgiveness is something I did in my heart before God many years ago. These things should not be confused with forgiveness, because they are not a requirement of the forgiving process.
I felt that same compassion standing in the courtroom at Jeriah Mast’s hearing. First, and foremost, I felt deep grief for those whom Jeriah victimized. When the judge read the list of crimes Jeriah confessed to committing, it was all I could do to hold myself together and not begin sobbing. When the judge read how only weeks before the sentencing, Jeriah still said his sexual assaults (at age 25) of minors under 13 was ‘consensual’, I felt frustrated that he still doesn’t ‘get it’ how incredibly vile it is to use children and that there is no such thing as ‘consensual’ when adults take advantage of children. And when the judge handed down the sentence and explained why he chose the 9 years instead of a lesser sentence– because Jeriah is an ongoing risk to the public, in part because he doesn’t get it — I felt a mix of sadness and gratitude. Sad that it is a judge who ‘gets it’, not the church, and gratitude that at least someone does.
And when I saw Jeriah handcuffed and taken from the courtroom before a numb audience (his church and family, by all appearances), I felt compassion and deep sorrow. Sorrow that Jeriah’s crimes caused so much loss and harm to the victims, his wife and family, and his friends. Sorrow that so much of religion doesn’t grasp the harm and rallies for the offender. (I was one of less than a handful of people – and that’s a generous number – who were there to support the victims in a courtroom so full that people were standing around the room). And compassion for Jeriah’s soul and the things that took him down this path. It came out in court that he had been sexually abused by an older brother. This in now way excuses his evil deeds. To commit them was a choice, and he must own that before God and man.
Some say he has owned it. I reiterate that his comments not long before sentencing, minimizing his crimes to ‘consensual acts’, are revealing of his lack of grasping the severity of his crimes, which means he isn’t safe around the vulnerable, but the rest — repentance and forgiveness — I leave between him and God. And leave it with God to fully break him and help him understand how evil and far reaching the crimes/sins are. And to understand that children should be protected by 25 year old men; they should not need to be protected from them.
William McGrath. The name evokes many and various responses, depending who is in the audience. Those who hold him high, and idolize this cultural trophy with his charismatic (so some say) personality, it evokes high praise and reverence. For his victims, and those near them, who watched a religious culture idolize him, then (some) question him, followed by deafening silence and cover-up, the name is a reminder of loss and suffering without proper acknowledgement of truth, and certainly a lack of justice. For the Beachy Amish leaders who investigated and then fell short of being honourable, I imagine the name brings shame.
For the woman whose husband — a victim of McGrath — committed suicide… I cannot imagine the deep suffering she has experienced at the silence, and at not hearing McGrath’s name where it should have been spoken, and where his actions should have been unequivocally condemned. And I can’t imagine how healing it must be for her to know that someone has heard her cries.
And ‘that someone’ who heard is the author of Anabaptist Medical Matters, a Conservative Anabaptist (CA) Medical doctor who has recently written several articles addressing the epidemic of sexual abuse in the CA community, including a current one on McGrath. He is forthright, gentle, honest, and — from what I see at a distance — seems to live honourably. (I have never met him, but still hope to one day).
In this article he tells of the case of William, and dares to speak to that which lies carefully buried. But the truth does not die with the body, and the consequences ripple throughout the generations, when sex crimes are left unaddressed. Especially when it is at a religious leadership level. To read the article, visit, “Blessed Are They That Mourn“.
(Warning: The article may be triggering for survivors. Trigger or not, I would read it for the gold that is in it. By giving you a heads up, I hope it will prevent extreme triggering and make it possible for you to push past the triggers. The first potential trigger is in ‘mourn for the offenders’. I agree with the author, but have worked long enough with survivors to know the general consensus is that offenders’ needs are always placed first. If able, push past this and read on. The second trigger is in addressing Jeriah Mast. The author may not be aware that only weeks prior to his sentencing, Mast was still defending/excusing his actions against boys as young as 11 — when he was 25 — as consensual. For those who know this, the author’s statement “By all accounts, he has sincerely repented, even expressing a desire to be rebaptized” could be very triggering).
I do not agree with everything written here, and that’s ok. I see a sincere and honest acknowledgement of deep failure in the CA community, in this writing, and bless the author for daring to go there. It is not a popular move in that culture.
Frankly, until survivors have permission to speak, and those who remain (whether family or culture) repent for the coverups and abuses, there is no changing the course of history. But God forbid that the abusers be the ones to ‘stand in the gap’ and repent for other offenders, if they have not first done so with their own offences. If you are godly, and if you have taken ownership for your wrongs and repented at a personal level, only then have you any right to stand in that gap without making things worse.
Tomorrow is my 50th birthday. I feel blessed to be alive and doing so well. I’ve had some near-death encounters in my life — two in particular stand out — including numerous events this year that reminded me of the fragility of life. To have made it half way to 100 and thriving, is the mercy and grace of God.
I have no personal needs but have many in my life who do have needs, so to celebrate my 50th, I invite you to support the following:
- THE GATHERING, our second annual event offering survivors of abuse a safe place to gather and connect, a place to find hope, safety and healing. This year we were able to offer attendance considerably below cost, thanks to donors. It is our hope to continue making this event affordable through donations. To donate, visit Generations Unleashed Donate and scroll down to The Gathering 2020.
- Support for victims of Jeriah Mast in Haiti who did not accept payouts from Christian Aid Ministries. We started this fund just prior to my mother’s decline and death, with a team of people willing to help oversee it, and with reports. To date we have received two donations — one for $200 and one for $20 — but unfortunately holds were placed on both donations (presumably because it was a new PayPal account, since we could not put this through GU). One hold has now been lifted. Furthermore, the tragic events in Haiti have made it impossible for us to set up vendors where these survivors can go for prepaid supplies, whether groceries or other. As of this week, that has changed for some survivors who have relocated. We will now work toward arranging for their needs to be met, where they have relocated, but will require considerably more funding than the $220 we presently have. Donate: Here and scroll down to Haiti Victims.
~ T ~
UPCOMING EVENT, ELMIRA ONTARIO:
November 28 and 29
Emmanuel Missionary Church in Elmira Ontario
To see details and register visit: Generations Unleashed Events Page or print flyer (below)Thanks to donors, we are able to offer this training at discounted. If you have questions, please contact Generations Unleashed.
To read more about what to expect on Training day, click HERE and scroll down to the Elmira training announcement.