“And you call yourself a Christian.”
That’s what Mac told Gigi after she tried to warn the woman he was apparently on a date with, letting this unsuspecting woman her know exactly who she was dealing with. Although Gigi is essentially stalking the man, she is doing it because she believes her uncle molested many women/girls, including her own sister, Faith. These six words are often used to shame people who have offended, and are used by offenders to guilt trip their way into a second chance. When Mac uttered these six words, he may have been suggesting that GiGi is at fault because she refuses to let what he did in the past go, with a healthy side of just get over it.
“And you call yourself a Christian.”
These six words are used as an attempt to put God’s finger on the scale of the person trying to a) win an argument or b) deflect judgment and/or accountability from their own bad deeds, or c) both. These six words show us how many people feel entitled to forgiveness, even when the person never offered an apology in the first place. And I cannot help but wonder how many people sit in churches in close proximity to or worse, alongside, their abusers. Far too often the default church response to trauma is to forgive the person that hurt them without ever addressing the offense.
This is a hard one folks. In the Black community in particular, forgiveness is hard because of an understanding that forgiving someone is sometimes perceived as excusing his or her behavior, and “we don’t want anyone running game on us.” But is forgiveness about the other person? Is the biblical understanding of forgiveness more about the offender, or the offended?
Can we afford to tell survivors of the worst kinds of betrayal that Jesus said to forgive 70 times 70 and then expect them to push their hurt aside and keep it moving? If we are being honest, forgiveness is one of the hardest aspects of daily picking up the cross and following Jesus.
While I was in grad school, I had the pleasure of hearing the incomparable Maya Angelou give a lecture. She took questions from the audience, and someone identified herself as a Christian, to which Mother Angelou responded, “already?” With a single word, Maya Angelou reminded us that being a Christian is something to work on daily, to measure, to have a trajectory of upward altitude. It’s not just one and done, it is daily persistent work.
Every single day, I must choose Jesus and make strides toward being more like him, and even this is not a task for the faint of heart. What would forgiveness even look in cases of sexual abuse and all of its subsequent ripple effects?
It is my hope that forgiveness is understood as a process that does not excuse the behavior of the person who offended you or hurt you. Forgiveness is like taking the fear out of the event, like removing the stinger from a bumblebee. You may still hear the buzzing of the bee, or receive reminders of the bee’s presence, but forgiveness removes the potential of the traumatic event to keep you bound in a space of immobilizing fear, waiting to be stung. As difficult as it is to forgive, we also need to examine our rage. Gigi has been using a baseball bat to accomplish this. Though highly satisfying to watch, we might benefit more from developing strategies for the people in our congregations who are struggling to forgive, and we must both devise and become conversant in methods that help people examine their rage in ways that don’t involve property damage. I look forward to seeing how Gigi comes to terms with this notion of laying aside offense, whether or not she will forgive Mac, and what happens to her ministry if she can’t: maybe this is one of the reasons she doesn’t want to preach anymore.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, remembering the last week of Jesus’ life before he was executed, it might bless us to remember that Jesus himself wrestled with forgiveness. As he was being nailed to the cross, he cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Maybe Jesus called on God to forgive the soldiers driving spikes into his flesh, because in that moment, he was not able to do it himself. Even in the midst of ministry, we can struggle to forgive.