Last Wednesday, August 12, Wayne Kent, a radio talk show host from Decatur, Illinois, interviewed me. His show, Direct Line, is designed as a live call-in event where current events are discussed through a lens of spirituality. Rev. Kent asked thoughtful questions about the impact of abuse on my life and what it was like to be cast out of my church family. I especially appreciated his own honesty when he admitted to bullying a classmate. To his credit as an adult he attempted to find her and apologize.
Time, of course, is at a premium on radio. The interview was like trying to talk to someone riding a bicycle faster than I could run. I could keep up only so long before they pulled away from me. With only a few minutes to make my point I found myself striving for a good sound bite when I prefer a longer conversation.
After discussing the impact of the abuse and what motivated my attackers, Rev. Kent asked if I forgave my adversaries. Whenever this question is asked I feel sick to my stomach. It churns acid. My arms are pinned to my side and I have trouble breathing. “I don’t know,” I told Rev. Kent.
I wish I had said, why do you ask me that question? If you read Not of My Making you would know I never sought revenge. I wanted reconciliation but my efforts only increased their abusive behavior towards me. I was powerless and terrified. During the church conflict my adversaries berated me for attending church before forgiving them while they insisted they had done nothing wrong. Fr. Lance at my present church has said they were seeking absolution which wasn’t mine to give.
While I remain confused about the difference between forgiveness and absolution, it appears to me forgiveness to my adversaries meant never talking about what happened. They expected me to come to church and act as if everything was still the same between us. I was, however, never good at pretending. I wanted to resolve our differences. The only way I knew how to do that was to discuss the issues that divided us.
Christians often rush to forgiveness believing that will heal everyone’s wounds. They crave stories of redemption. Since perpetrators rarely admit their sin and repent, Christians focus on getting victims to forgive.
Have you forgiven? The question leaves me flustered and unable to make a clear reply. Forgiven who and for what? What do you mean by forgiveness? Writers define it differently. No wonder I don’t know if I have forgiven them or not.
What I can tell you is I never sought revenge. I had a few fantasies of the church blowing up or burning down but I never planned to get even. Instead I tried to get my adversaries to discuss what happened. I was desperate for them to understand me. They were my friends. I wanted them to listen. I wanted to fix things. I wanted them to remain my friends. I would have done almost anything to regain my place in the church except lie. I wasn’t going to be untrue to myself. It was my former friends who sought revenge by driving me out of the church.
So have I forgiven them for that? Geoffrey Robinson, a Catholic bishop, wrote in Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church, that he has found survivors who say they haven’t forgiven yet who by his definition have. Perhaps I am one of those. I don’t know. When I consciously chose not to excuse what my former friends did to me and stopped seeking reconciliation I healed and moved on. I will leave it to God to judge whether I have forgiven or not.