Forgiveness and Repair
The Full Story
In the experience of many women in ministry, when relationships with superiors break down, demands for forgiveness often precede or replace any work towards repair. The resources on this page will clarify and carefully distinguish between the work of apology, the work of forgiveness, and the work of repair and reconciliation. In our experience, if these steps are not carefully distinguished, victims are re-victimized and perpetrators are robbed of the opportunity to repent, grow, and change into more holy people.
Power imbalances factor into this conversation as well. We have seen those with power behave in sexist or even abusive ways, stumble their way through a difficult situation without coming to terms with the harm they have caused, and then move on, putting the event out of their minds and evidently hoping and trusting that those they have harmed will do the same. For those without power, however, especially for those who were harmed, those events become flashpoints, clear evidence that those with power are not trustworthy, and those stories continue to circulate as warnings to those navigating the power dynamics in institutions in which we know we are not safe.
We have posted information on ways to move forward on some of our other pages. Here we focus first on making amends, and then on forgiveness. We trust that perpetrators who are focused on making amends will do the self-work necessary to center the needs of those who were previously hurt. We trust that those working on forgiving those who have harmed them will come to their own conclusions about whether moving forward means repairing or ending the relationship. We pray that God's Spirit would empower each person to recognize the image of God in themself and in the other/s throughout this difficult process.
Although each of these resources offer a slightly different model, they all include a victim-centered approach that includes:
Clarity about the wrong done and its consequences
Understanding that leads to change
Restitution if possible
Apologizing without excuses
Making different choices
We recommend Dr. Smede's work with some hesitation, so trust your own process more than his book. Still, he suggests three useful steps for forgiveness:
We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us
We surrender our right to get even.
We begin to wish the person well.
Please note that reconciliation is a completely different step, and depends on the commitment of the perpetrator to the work of change.