Yesterday I reflected on our culture’s obsession with branding one another with the label hypocrite. It’s our generation’s witch hunt, whatever background we have. We have hypocrite radars, and we often swarm at the first scent of hypocrisy.
But as I was writing, I kept thinking about how forgiveness factors into the admission, exposure and practice of hypocrisy. I had used the Ashley Madison hacker scandal and Josh Duggar’s admission of adultery and pornography addiction to illustrate what hypocrisy looks like in our world and our reactions to it. Duggar, by the by, has self-described himself as a hypocrite. In his public confession, he says:
“I have been the biggest hypocrite ever. While espousing faith and family values, I have secretly over the last several years been viewing pornography on the internet and this became a secret addiction and I became unfaithful to my wife,” (CNN, 2015)
Does Duggar need my forgiveness?
For adultery and porn addiction, no. No he doesn’t. I wasn’t victimized by his actions, nor was he intending to hurt me by choosing the choices he did. I could possibly self-victimize by saying that Duggar hurt me by his family’s stance against LGBTQ+ people in the name of God.
But that would be a stretch.
While homophobia needs to be addressed, as does hypocrisy, I can’t claim direct harm from Duggar or Ashley Madison. Neither person(s)/entity owes me confession, repentance or a request for forgiveness of any kind.
Duggar possibly owes us, as a culture, the confession that he made since his family’s show (“19 Kids and Counting”) was publicly broadcast all over the world. Their values and teachings were shared with millions, and Josh stomped all over those repeatedly. In terms of a societal apology, that’s about as much as we dare demand of him.
But that’s just it.
And then it’s not enough.
Hear me out: I’m NOT defending Duggar or Ashley Madison. They are current examples I’m using to ask pertinent (impertinent) questions about our own natures — MY own nature. With the reactions towards Duggar’s confession and a seeming prevailing derision towards the idea of forgiveness, I wondered at how we might better respond to this hypocrisy culture we’ve become to endeared to.
C.S Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms.”
I didn’t want to share a fluffy meme that depicts daisies and rainbows, expressing how great forgiveness is, or how forgiveness is about YOU and YOUR relationship with God; or how it’s about ME and MY entitlement to peace. I wanted to share how hard forgiveness is. Period.
I might need to forgive someone because I need peace of soul. Nothing wrong with that.
I might need to forgive someone because they need peace of soul. Nothing wrong with that either.
I might need to forgive someone not because I feel moral or righteous about it, but because without it my relationships with God and others will die. That’s pretty important.
I might need to forgive someone because that’s how I was taught to live.
I might need to forgive someone because there is true transformation happening, and it is exactly what Jesus would have done.
I’m not sure if any one of these reasons is more important than the others; and I’m positive that there are more than the ones I’ve mentioned. You probably have your own tender and important reasons. Those are valuable too. But any one of us, like Lewis mentions, knows just how hard forgiveness can be whatever the reasons. It’s not an easy path, but public confessions often portray it as flimsy, a way to squirm out of consequences.
As I wrote yesterday, I’m a hypocrite. My actions continually fail to match my words; I hide parts of me from you that I don’t want you to see; I expect others to live up to my expectations while not really checking how I’m living myself; and I make mistake after mistake after mistake.
Watching the AM fallout, and the outrage at the placement of personal information on the internet and the Duggar confession (specifically), it saddens me to read that many people have no time for apologies or confessions. Repentance is seen as God waving a magic fairy wand where Josh is suddenly absolved of all his transgressions, and “Poof!”, he’s free to go on living like nothing really happened. Sometimes we’ll accept the apology IF we see an immediate transformation sustained over a long period of time. But when we start attaching our conditions to forgiveness, it’s easy to get tangled by them. We may have good reasons not to forgive, but those reasons can be burdens unto themselves.
But as sad as I am about this perception, I don’t begrudge people for having it. Too many of us have been burned by hollow apologies and forced confessions.
How cynical and wounded are we?
Forgiveness is love tougher than leather. It has to be. It looks our own pain, hurt, betrayal, evil, darkness, selfishness, and hypocrisy right in the face and chooses to drain all those gross things of their power. We let go. We don’t forget; we use the experiences to shape and teach us; but we aren’t controlled by bitterness, fear or violence.
Even in saying that, I know forgiveness can have 1000 faces.
What if the offender is dead and we can’t speak to him or her ever again? What if we’ve offended someone who’s passed on?
What if the person(s) we’ve offended won’t speak with us? What if they choose to hate us for the rest of our lives? What if we don’t get the result we were hoping for? What if we forgive, but the offender continuously refuses to acknowledge that s/he did anything wrong to begin with?
So many circumstances.
Today, the United Church of Canada declared that it would become a “living apology” towards LGBTQ+ people.
I like that term: “living apology”.
It brings flesh to word — it incarnates confession and makes it real.
Kind of like Jesus?
A little bit?
When I think of confession and apology, I don’t think of God waving his hands and declaring: “You drew the Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card!” That’s not always how it works. Sometimes it is, I guess. With Infinity, I suppose there is the wonder of infinite responses.
But we don’t like a generous God. We want our pound of flesh hung up for all to see at the city gates. If someone confesses to a crime or a sin or a wrongdoing, we want people to suffer punishment. We twist karma to become a threat — if someone isn’t punished right away, we can be darn sure it’s-a-comin’! (I don’t believe in karma, by the way; I find it an easy out made of checks and balances that I really don’t think the universe is too particular about, but that’s another story).
Often, however, we do suffer the consequences of our misdeeds. Our marriages fail, our children abandon us, our parents turn us out, we lose our jobs, we get kicked out of school, we get branded, we get labeled, we become despicable even to ourselves. These consequences sting, sometimes even destroy. It’s harder living with these outcomes with our communities watching to make sure we’re suffering like we’re supposed to be.
So… we don’t take public confessions or apologies seriously; but we demand that transgressors suffer to the fullest extent possible anyway?
In a nutshell: we just want people to hurt?
Is that it?
I know I’ve wanted people to hurt. And I’ve wanted them to hurt deeply. I’ve wanted them to hurt as badly as they have hurt me. When they confess or turn their lives around, I get pissed. They haven’t suffered enough! This isn’t fair!
Forgiveness isn’t fair. It’s not equal. And it’s hardly just in the way most of us understand justice.
It’s radical; it’s crazy; it’s sacrificial; it’s brutal; it’s time-consuming (oh is it ever!); and it’s powerful.
I can’t force anyone to forgive anyone else, especially when there’s been profound trauma and evil inflicted somewhere along the line. Bugging victims of sexual abuse, for example, to forgive their abusers can become a form of wounding all it’s own. There is freedom in forgiveness, but some wounds go so deep that only the survivor and God know when… how… if… and our job is to love and support the whole person no matter what.
So I guess the best place for me start from is my personal identity.
I’m a hypocrite.
And I’m forgiven.
I’m broken and wounded.
And I’m healed.
I’m on a journey towards full restoration and reconciliation with my Creator.
And I’m already there.
Oh the paradoxes of the God…
There are people who don’t want me to see myself as forgiven; there are those who believe I’m living sinfully, and thus can’t be forgiven yet; but if I’m honest, the harshest person on me is me. I look at my life and the hypocrisy of my world and I can’t believe God would see me as forgiven.
For so long I began from a place of “pure evil”. As a broken human being, I was born as a sinful creature. Yet as I grow in faith, I’m learning that I’m forgiven because I was born as a loved creature. The first act of creation was to make us very good, to make us loved. Forgiveness is possible because God loved us first — the First Being living Love.
I can’t say I forgive people easily; nor do I forgive people equally (Why hello, Hypocrisy! How’ve ya been?). But I’m learning. We can learn from false confessions and hollow apologies; but let’s soften our hardened hearts towards the idea of forgiveness and its power.
As Nadia Bolz-Weber thoughtfully mused, let’s “speak from our scars”.