These notes are from my Albany area’s Christian Response to Sexual Abuse–all typos are my own… and make sense of what Justice is in a more mature way than demanding forgiveness in (any kind) of power abuse situation. I’ve had a colleague use this material for financial abuse as well.
Also, as one colleague noted, each person experiences abuse differently and heals differently, this is one way to think about the complex process that is healing. But here are some deeper theological thoughts than “we should just forgive the abuser and show grace” in difficult situations
The Elements of Justice-Making
Truth-telling: giving voice to the reality of the abuses (from the victim’s point of view)
Acknowledging the Violation: hear, name and condemn the wrong doing (by the governing body of the victim)
Compassion : Listen and suffer with the victim (Consider having an advocate for the victim)
Protecting the vulnerable: Take steps to prevent further abuse to the victim and others (removal from position, how can they have it at this time?)
Accountability: Confront the abuser of trust, and impose discipline (negative consequences) this step makes repentance possible
Restitution : Make symbolic/real restoration of what was lost; give a tangible means to acknowledge the wrongfulness of the abuse and the harm done and to bring about healing. The restitution must be freely given and of significant value to show repentance wanting to make right.
Vindication: set the victim free from the suffering caused by the abuse when justice has been done.
THERE CAN BE NO HEALING WITHOUT JUSTICE-MAKING
FORGIVENESS, REPENTANCE & RECONCILIATION
If your Sibling wrongs you, reprove him/her, if he/she repents forgive them. Even if one wrongs you seven times and comes back to you seven times saying, “I Am sorry” you are to forgive him/her. Luke 17:1-4
Forgiveness within a relationship is not a matter of forgetting the experience, nor is it a matter of saying that the behavior was acceptable. When a person whom one has trusted takes advantage of his/her position, it is usually a traumatic experience, not one that is easily forgotten. In the bounds of sacred trust, that behavior is unethical.
For the victim, forgiveness is not unconditional we are not God. (We can believe and try to put into practice God’s universal ability to forgive)
The preconditions for forgiveness are
The Victim(s) must have experienced sufficient justice
The Victim(s) must be empowered through God’s grace
The Victim(s) must have experienced sufficient healing to be able to let go of the anger and pain
Without these conditions, forgiveness will not be authentic—it will be an attempt to or an effort to forgive. The victim must experience sufficient justice, grace & healing to be able t let go of his/her anger at the abuser.
For the abuser: Repentance= not merely confession, apology or intention not to repeat an offense
Repentance means to turn around to change one’s behavior and/or one’s life so that one will never repeat the offense. As the scripture passage makes clear, the victim(s) obligation to forgive is dependent upon the abuser’s repentance.
True Repentance : Signs
The abuser takes steps necessary for justice-making to make amends for the abuse: (see above)
The abuser identifies the beliefs & attitudes that lie behind the abusive behavior and finds ethical ways of rejecting those beliefs & attitudes
The abuser becomes aware of the needs that lie behind the abusive behavior and finds ethical ways of meeting those needs
The abuser identifies the conditions that allowed the abuse to happen, and changes the conditions to prevent future abuse
RECONCILIATION is restoring of the right relationship between the abuser and his/her church. IT involves restoring the trust that was violated and restoring the broken relationship on new terms.
(Note: my instinct is that since our God is a justice-making God, Forgiveness for God is universal, but I have not been able to fully think out this theology yet)