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.
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.
~ T ~