The Church as Forgiving Community
The Church as Forgiving Community
The topic covered by this article is about the power of forgiveness and the Church posing as the initial model of a forgiving community. Forgiveness interventions have shown to decrease anxiety, depression and anger while increasing self-esteem and hope. (Magnuson & Enright, 2008) The article focuses on the process of forgiving as a learned action that must be practiced and performed in order to truly master it. The process is two-fold in both providing and receiving forgiveness. The article focuses on promoting the essential moral trait of forgiveness in children within their central communities and the establishment of these communities, referred to as “The Forgiving Communities”. These communities include three interdependent categories: the family, the school, and the Church.
The article introduces two process models of forgiveness; Robert Enright’s process model which breaks down forgiveness into a four phase process that includes uncovering anger, deciding to forgive, working on forgiveness and the final outcome. Worthington’s REACH model breaks down the forgiveness process into recalling the offense, empathizing with the offender, gifting the offender with forgiveness, committing publicly to forgiveness and holding onto the forgiveness one has achieved.
Both models agree that empathy for the offender is vital to the forgiveness process. These models were tested amongst select primary schools in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in which forgiveness interventions were held with children with notable success. The article proposes that the Church could be utilized as a similar model in which it serves as Forgiving Community in which all levels of leadership would cater to the community from infancy through adulthood with various types of programing and education.
I was interested in this article because I know how detrimental it can be to hold onto forgiveness. Throughout my 18 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, multiple deployments and several assignments in leadership, I have witnessed how holding onto past wrongs can eat away at you like a cancer and often time, it goes unnoticed until truly identified and examined by self-identification or through third party intervention. I have been involved with several situations in which members deploy into a combat zone and return different people. Many have been wronged by a common enemy and struggle to even examine the idea of forgiveness. Many soldiers carry around this pain and baggage for years without ever truly recognizing exactly what they are holding onto. The Church can be vital to this recognition and the recovery process.
The article relayed how the Church can play such a vital role as a Forgiving Community reaching to all members of the family from child to adult. It was also interesting how among the various levels of leadership and roles in the Church, each one was able to offer their own gifts and talents providing to the community. It relays how a community must be all-encompassing feeling of safety and opens not only to give forgiveness, but to accept forgiveness as well.
I would like to further investigate this topic by researching small group studies on forgiveness that are available through my own local Church community. I am part of a small group that meets regularly and would like to incorporate the topic into our lessons. In addition, I see that Robert Enright has done a vast amount of research on the topic and has produced many works as a result. One of the books that I would like to read is his Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope (2001). I understand that it is something that we must decide to do. Until we make the first step to accept and be willing to forgive, or be forgiven for that matter, we will bear the ever increasing weight of the wrong and carry it with us throughout our journey through life darkening our outlook and damaging our hope.
The setting for the application of the information in this article would be the Aviano Center, a small non-denominational Church located just outside of the Aviano Air Force base in Pordenone Italy. The client who came in for our session was a 30 year old wife and stay-at- home mother of two toddlers whose husband was currently deployed to Afghanistan. They had lived in the area for about 4 months before he deployed and he is currently 5 months into an 8 month deployment. She states that she can no longer deal with the children. She has found herself trying to cope alone and often finds herself losing her patience and yelling at the children.
She is afraid that she is going to end up just like her mother, who she resents because of the verbal and physical abuse that she had put her through when she was a child. She is ashamed and embarrassed about her situation. She approached me because I am one of the leaders at Aviano Center and she knows that I am in the military and also the “Life Group” facilitator who organizes the small groups for our Church. In addition, the group that I host is particularly for those families whose family member is about to deploy, is deployed or recently returned from a deployment.
In the meeting with this member, I would attempt to get her to realize that she is potentially dealing with several issues, with forgiveness and resentment potentially playing a major role in them. She may be holding on to past wrongs committed by her mother and past and present wrongs that she has committed herself. I would walk her through the forgiveness process and highlight that it is a learned trait that must be practiced. I would explain that forgiveness involves both granting and receiving forgiveness. I would explain the forgiveness models, the details of those models and explain that the Church can be a model of a forgiveness community.
Additionally, I would reiterate that she is not alone in feeling the way she does, in fact I would offer that there are many who feel similarly right within the Church making her aware of the current small group focused on the facilitation of the forgiveness process. I would encourage her that these groups are a caring community that respects confidentiality. Regardless of where the conversation led, in closing, I would ask her if she would like to pray with me. I believe that God has enabled us with this ability to communicate to encourage, provide hope and comfort in situations just like this. While this may not be appropriate in all situations, depending on the client, I believe it is all too often overlooked, especially amongst believers.
Magnuson, C.M., & Enright, R. D. (2008). The church as forgiving community: An initial model
Journal of Psychology & Theology 36(2), 114-123.