Note from the Author: This analogy depicts all too well what occurs in an abusive church when abuse is perpetrated against a child. Many of these victims are told to “forgive and forget”. Some are even told that they are lying about their abuse! Nancy’s analogy definitely hits home on this issue. The ‘forgive and forget’ gospel only enables the perpetrator to move on to another victim and it does nothing to help the victim heal.
HIT & HIDE EM!
Imagine you are walking down the road with your son and a truck driver purposely sideswipes him. Your teenager is writhing in pain with a broken body. The truck driver stops for a moment and is about to drive away. Since you are a Christian parent you wave goodbye to the driver, wish them a wonderful life and yell, “I forgive you!” Then you turn to your teen and say, “Now, tell him that you are sorry for being on his road!” You prop him up to dutifully say, “I forgive you.” The truck driver nods and waves as he drives away. The teen struggles to wave back and you pat him on the head for being such a good Christian.
Instead of taking your child to the hospital, you bandage his injuries as best as you can with your limited medical knowledge; but the injuries never heal properly. Your teen has chronic leg pain and walks with a limp—but the family tells everyone it happened while skating at a church function. After all, the truck driver is a good person and you all go to the same church. You would not want to give God a black eye by letting the world know a church member ran down your son; so you help your child cover his pain. You go to church with the truck driver. You even sit in the same pew with him so no one will suspect that a horrible crime has occurred.
When the teen eventually starts acting out the emotional pain, you go to the pastor to talk. You learn that the pastor already knew about the truck driver’s tendency to pick off young people who are walking along the road; but the pastor has chosen to forgive and has asked God to forgive the truck driver as well. The truck driver has come to the pastor numerous times to be absolved—a couple of times before your son was hit and a few times since. You see, as hard as the truck driver has tried to stop, he has become obsessed with running over teens; so the pastor and truck driver have been meeting regularly and earnestly praying for God’s help and forgiveness.
Your crippled teen needs some advice since the anger is causing problems in his life. The pastor—not wanting to choose sides—says, “Well, I was not there when this accident occurred and I want to stay on the path of truth. I believe that forgiveness is the only answer.” The pastor prays with your son asking God to forgive the truck driver and to forgive your son for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This spiritual band-aid helps your child feel better for a short time, but it’s not long before the anger returns and the pastor convinces you to send your rebellious teen to an IFB group home for “healing”. At the group home the teen tries to talk about the accident but is advised not to discuss what happened, but rather to forgive and forget. Because of the perceived futility of the situation the teen’s psyche shuts down and he limps though life trying to watch out for truck drivers with a propensity for picking off teens who walk on the side of the road. Of course, the pastor works diligently with the truck driver to avoid any more carnage along the highway; but because of the nature of obsessions more teens are struck. Will it ever end? It’s not likely. Due to the special treatment the truck driver has been given, other truck drivers who like to sideswipe teens on the road are attracted to the same IFB church—and the cycle continues.
Should we encourage a teenager not to express anger about being hurt by a truck driver who was a member of our church? No! When we ask victims to bypass anger and go directly to forgiveness—before they have had a chance to process the damage that has been done to them—we rob them of the natural healing process. Forgiveness is the last stage of healing and takes time to achieve. As a therapist I have learned to allow my clients to express the anger in order to get past it. We call that “working through the anger”. It is better to sit patiently with the victim on the journey to forgiveness than to force it to happen.