Friday, February 10, 2017

Limits to Forgiveness?

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Most of us are aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which crossed Canada listening to the powerful and often tragic stories of those affected by the Residential Schools. The schools were run by the federal government and different denominations, including the United Church. Too often the schools perpetrated cultural genocide and many children were subjected to terrible emotional and physical abuse.

We are less likely to have heard about the abuses at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. It was established in the 1920s at a time when black children were not allowed in orphanages for white kids. Oh, Canada.

In 2014 the Nova Scotia government issued an apology, settled a class action lawsuit with former residents, and set an inquiry in motion.

This restorative justice inquiry is now underway but many former residents of the school want nothing to do with it. "Some people just feel that no matter what you say, no matter what you do, you can never ever replace that pain. I don't forgive you. I hate you. That's just the way some people are," said Tony Smith, inquiry council co-chair.

We would hope that there are opportunities for reconciliation with those who have been wronged, yet we must realize that we can never orchestrate or impose forgiveness or reconciliation. Unfortunately we want happy endings, and over time religions have, at times, created unfair and na├»ve expectations of forgiveness. Yes, God's forgiveness in Christ is at the heart of the gospel. No, we cannot insist on particular timelines or outcomes. We can only pray that the grace of God is at work in the uncertain realities of remorse, restitution, and reconciliation.

One of the many books waiting for my attention (retirement?) is The Limits of Forgiveness
Case Studies in the Distortion of a Biblical Ideal by Maria Mayo. This is a thought-provoking description of its contents:

Maria Mayo questions the contemporary idealization of unconditional forgiveness in three areas of contemporary life: so-called Victim-Offender Mediation involving cases of criminal injury, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, and the pastoral care of victims of domestic violence. In each area, she shows how an emphasis on unilateral and unconditional forgiveness is often presented as a Christian (and Christlike) obligation, putting disproportionate pressure on the victims of injustice or violence.

What do you think about the various commissions and inquiries in Canada? Do you understand the challenge of forgiveness for those who were wronged? Do you struggle with forgiveness in your life? Has it been freeing to forgive, or does it seem like a burdensome obligation of our Christian faith?

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1 comment:

none said... writes
A horrid chapter in Maritime history - along with Butterbox Babies.