Thursday, September 05, 2019

Forgiveness is a gift

I posted the above to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page yesterday. The questions raised by the linked article are simple: Can we forgive those who have caused us grievous harm? Also, should we?

The story is about a man who promoted the myth that gay people can be “cured” though so-called “conversion therapy”, which is also known by the colourful phrase, “pray the gay away” and the more pointed, “ex-gay torture”. His work harmed countless vulnerable LGBT+ people over the 20 years he promoted that nonsense. Can they forgive him? Should they?

By promoting the ex-gay myth, he also harmed the friends and families of LGBT+ people, not merely through giving them “false hope”, but especially by putting them through it all for nothing. Moreover, it also gave people without LGBT+ friends or family members reason to hold onto their anti-gay animus: They could continue to believe that “change” was possible, that gay people who lived their lives with honesty, integrity, and authenticity were being wilfully sinful and disobedient, instead of the reality, namely, that they were being themselves. Can they forgive him? Should they?

People like this guy harmed specific LGBT+ people and their family and friends, and he hurt us all by providing a sort of moral cover for his kindred religionists to cause us great harm. That can’t possibly be undone merely because he’s repudiated his past and come out as gay.

The now openly gay former “ex-gay” torturer was part of a whole system that leads to hatred and violence against LGBT+ people. He cannot escape his role in that. So: Can we forgive him? Should we?

I think that the answer is entirely personal: We each must decide for themselves. But we also have to realise that there are no easy answers, that each instance is unique and requires thought and reflection.

Personally, I think the “ex-gay” torture guy could merit forgiveness if he sincerely and appropriately atones for his wrongdoing—and merely turning away from it or saying it was wrong isn’t enough. Similarly, the fact he’s now out doesn’t absolve him of his duty to atone. Because he did such enormous damage to individuals and to an entire community, he has a moral obligation to try and make up for that. Then we might be able to talk about forgiveness.

People often say, “forgive and forget”, as if they’re the same thing, or at least connected. They’re neither. We can forget about grievous wrong done to us without ever forgiving the person who did it. Basically, we move on with our lives. Or, maybe based on our personal belief structure we forgive such a person, despite the fact we can’t forget what they did. Others can’t do either.

It is a rare person, I think, who can do both. Forgiveness really is a gift of sorts, as I said in the Facebook post. It’s something that many of us can never quite achieve when it comes to the big wrongs done to us individually or as part of a larger community. I think that’s okay.

I stand by what I said the other day, that when people do or say bad or stupid things, they need a path to redemption. I’ve laid out one path the “ex-gay” torture guy could take, but, obviously, that path won’t please everyone. Ultimately, he needs to choose his own path to redemption, and leave us to decide for ourselves whether he’s earned forgiveness. Or not.

Forgiveness is a gift. The people who have caused us harm are the best ones to give us that gift. The choice on forgiveness, ultimately, is theirs well before it’s ours.

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