Forgiveness and Abuse, co-published as Journal of Religion & Abuse, Volume 4, Number 4 2002, is a multi-disciplinary, muliple-genre collection of pieces examining Christian and Jewish theologies about forgiveness, pastoral practice, congregants' attitudes, and the perspectives of abuse victims, their advocates, and mental health professionals. Through short story, midrash, vignettes of parish life and liturgy, literary criticism, social scientific research, and theological analysis, the reader is led to encounter the gravity of abuse, the travesty of its frequent trivialization, the complexity of the question of forgiveness, and the hope for healing, restoration, and justice.
This book engages in what one contributor calls a "victim-oriented hermeneutic" that exposes the pervasive misconceptions about the nature victimization, trauma, and recovery as well as the deeply imbedded and seldom questioned patriarchal value system that lie beneath pious-sounding imperatives to forgiveness, especially on the part of Christian communities and pastoral leaders. Several contributors expose the all-too-common impulse to "hush-up," to cover over, to "protect the victim from publicity" as a refusal of communal responsibility and a flight from the difficult but essential task of truth-telling and justice-making. The insistence of these contributors on the communal dimension of forgiveness and the dangers of expecting a purely private forgiveness of abuse is one of the most challenging and powerful aspects of this book.
Studiously refraining from easy answers, these essays not only decry facile prescriptions to forgive abuse, but also avoid inflexible dicta that forgiveness in such situations is always impossible, unadvisable, or unwise. Contributors to this volume agree that in certain circumstances forgiveness may be beneficial to the process of recovery for the victim and may result in greater mental health and self-reported spiritual well-being. One author even argues that in certain contexts forgiveness may be seen as an act of resistance to the abuse. But they emphasize that forgiveness that does not arise out of the victims' sense of the injustice of what was done to them and that is not accompanied by the firm, public and unequivocal support of their communities of reference in the task of re-establishing justice, runs the risk of subverting the victim's process of recovery, the offender's potential for true repentance, and the integrity of the community as a whole.
The use of multiple genres does not allow the reader the safety of academic detachment. This book invites the reader to squirm, to wish to be somewhere else, to be thinking of something more pleasant. It shines a revealing light on the inadequacy of our usual, privatized way of thinking about forgiveness and occasions a salutary sorrow over the myriad ways that Christian communities have failed and continue to fail victims; the ways we allow ourselves to be blinded, by facile conceptions of forgiveness, to the harm done to victims of sexual abuse. Forgiveness and Abuse ought to be required reading for every seminary student and for all engaged in pastoral practice or leadership in religious congregations.