Showing posts with label forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label forgiveness. Show all posts

Holy Envy: Valarie Kaur and Revolutionary Love

Seeing a lot of white folks in the zeitgeist talking about people on the right calling for civility and forgiveness now that Trump has lost, and the visceral rejection of any possibility of forgiveness. We need to talk about this, because this is going to be a crucial turning point for us all.

I'm going to be quoting Valarie Kaur's interview with Baratunde Thurston on his podcast, How to Citizen. Valarie Kaur is a Sikh activist who has been in the long fight for racial justice since 9/11. She has a pedigree in activism that is truly remarkable. She knows what she's talking about when she says giving up on people isn't the way to real change. Her book, See No Stranger: a Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, is all about her work in reclaiming people from the other side of the political divide, and how to labor in a way that preserves her strength, moral clarity, and dignity.

The fact that so many of us just reached the end of four years of being occupied by a hostile administration and we're absolutely exhausted? She knows all about that. She had to recover from that herself. We're doing it wrong and she shares her wisdom in how to do it better.

If we, as white people, give up on collecting and reclaiming our own, that doesn't make the problem go away. It just outsources the problem to black and brown people, who are most in danger from making that attempt. Where we can make that labor, that's our role in this fight.

To be an effective agent of change, she says we all need three kinds of love: 

  1. Love for our opponents
  2. Love for ourselves
  3. Love for others

When we burn out, it's because we haven't achieved a balance between the three in our activism. "Loving just our opponents, that's self-loathing. Loving just ourselves, that's escapism. Loving just others, that's ineffective." That's what she has learned from the long labor of trying to make a difference in this country. This comes from a woman who has labored with white supremacists. I don't need to learn the hard way what she has already figured out.

"I choose to see [my opponent's] humanity in order to preserve my own. Laboring to love my opponents is also how I love myself." Why? Because hate comes at an enormous cost that we shouldn't be willing to pay.

She compares the labor to reclaim the United States as giving birth. The darkness we've been in for the past four years was a tomb. It's also the womb, the place where all new things are born. If we imagine giving birth to new change in this country without labor, we're imagining something that has never existed. The arduous labor of changing minds and hearts is the only place where change has ever come from.

So, in her words, "breathe and push."

From My Own Experience

I know what it is to be in toxic relationships, struggling with the entire act of forgiveness for someone I feel doesn't deserve it. That's has been my cross to bear my entire life. I am an expert on that.

Here's what I know.

Forgiveness doesn't need to be immediate or instantaneous. If you need time, take time. Don't try and accomplish the hardest thing you may ever do from a wounded, exhausted place. That's not Christianity. That's madness.

Also, don't go through this alone! Reach out. Get help. Have a support system as you do this work. Study those who have gone before you down these same roads. Learn from them.

Saving space in your mind and heart for a different future doesn't have to mean pretending everything is fine, or being in denial about where things stand right now. Set whatever boundaries you need. Maintain them and adjust them as things may change.

Hope for change is not a betrayal to what we've been through. Allowing for healing and change is the ultimately way to honor our pain—by valuing our lives, the survival we fought for, sufficiently to not allow hatred and bitterness to destroy it. That's what you deserve.

The most transformative experience I've had in my Christian life was when I read the verse AFTER D&C 64:10. You know, the one that says "of you it is required to forgive all men"? 

Read the next verse:

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
If you don't want the corrosive, soul-destroying task of getting revenge and doling out punishment, God has already made you free from it. It's not your problem. If that's the best you can do for right now, that is enough! Refuse to believe in a God who cares more about reclaiming the injurer than rescuing the injured.

We will get through this together. Don't try to go through this alone. And if you're concerned about never being able to forgive out of agony of spirit, believe me. I've been there. It gets better. There is healing ahead for you. You can do this. I know you can.

The Miracle of Forgiveness going out of print

Spencer W. Kimball's family is taking The Miracle of Forgiveness out of circulation. There's a reason they were able to do that. Even though the Church distributed this book through its official channels, they never actually owned the copyright. The Miracle of Forgiveness was always more similar to McConkie's Mormon Doctrine than it was to an official manual. Its official use didn't match its unofficial status, which has been a continual problem for most materials that fit that description.

The news got me thinking about my only experience with that book, and why I'm so passionately against any person ever reading it.

When I decided to read it on my own in college, I was specifically looking for talks on forgiveness. I was trying to understand forgiveness in the context of abuse, to contend with what my obligations are to forgive my various abusers I've had throughout my life.

You can understand why I would be confused. Just look at the title. It's presenting itself as a lesson on the miracle of forgiveness. I don't think I've ever seen a more misleading title. Less than a third of the book even directly addresses forgiveness at all. A huge part of the messaging in The Miracle of Forgiveness targets sexual misconduct and the repentance that attends it. Its methodology is a horrible, guilt-ridden treatise against sin, filtered through Kimball's thoughts on what it means to "deserve" repentance. 

It's basically what Mormons cosplaying as Calvinists would look like. It's the only book that ever made me feel guilty for stuff I wasn't even doing wrong.

The true power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The entire concept of grace and mercy. These are all harmfully distorted, if not completely absent from that book. It also mischaracterizes sexual assault and homosexuality with deeply hurtful and inappropriate language. 

I don't think anyone should ever read that book. I don't think there's any continuing value to its message. I definitely don't think anyone in any leadership positions should continue recommending it wholesale to members of the Church.

But I'm also aware that countless members of the Church have been encouraged to read this book as part of their repentance process, especially for sexual misconduct.

Loving My Enemies

Jesus taught me to love my enemies.

He didn't say to throw out the recognition that when people are abusive to marginalized people, they are still my enemies.

All the injunctions that Christ gives to us to be loving, to show mercy, to have compassion, nowhere in those commandments is there a responsibility to be their friend, support their actions, or to affirm their worldview.

In what Christ taught, I would still tear down down the systems of inequality these people have built. I would reject and stand against that oppression in word and deed. 

What he taught is that hatred for my enemies, retaliation, hatred, and revenge, should never be a part of those efforts. 

The most loving thing I can do for white supremacists in the Church is to invite them to change, while refusing to be changed or swayed by them.

Why Sexual Violence Should Disqualify Anyone from Missionary Service

Is it a hot take to say that committed sins of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment should disqualify someone from full-time missionary service?

I am a survivor of sexual trauma. I've lived with this burden all my life. I was so young the first time I was abused, I have no recollection of ever being anything other than a survivor. It is all I have ever known.

I've had a lifetime to ask God about sexual trauma. From the earliest "why is this happening to me?" to now. I've spent years trying to understand what God's forgiveness looks like for the people who did this to me, and what that means for me as a survivor.

Here's what I know.

Restitution is Everything 

It is not enough for someone who is guilty of traumatizing someone with sexual abuse to confess what they've done to a bishop, a stake president, or even to the prophet himself. That confession is meaningless on its own.

Repentance for sin does NOT belong to church leadership. It is not theirs to bestow. It belongs to Jesus Christ alone. His is the standard for repentance and forgiveness, which is to confess and forsake sin. (See D&C 58:42-43)

What does it mean to "forsake" sin?

In the case of sexual trauma, it's not just a private rejection of the behavior. It's not just a personal conviction to never repeat it. It also means making restitution to the victim, their families, and everyone else affected by the abuse.

The effects of sexual trauma are lifelong. It's a burden many survivors live with every day of their lives. For as long as that suffering continues, there is more restitution to be paid. And until the utmost farthing has been paid, the perpetrator doesn't qualify for forgiveness.

Let me be clear about this for the church leaders in the back. You have no right to declare someone forgiven for sexually traumatizing someone who has done absolutely nothing to make restitution. You may give them institutional forgiveness, but it means nothing to God.

God gives justice to victims of sexual violence

Every tear, every pain, every heartbreak victims experience is seen by God. Weighed against the abuser's restitution. Measured. Remembered. Every victim of sexual trauma will receive justice. Otherwise, "God would cease to be God." (See Alma 42:13)

Individuals who have already sexually traumatized someone before mission age have much more important things to worry about than serving a mission. Their souls are at stake. The most important thing they need to do is begin the lifelong process of achieving their own repentance.

Some people mistakenly believe that serving a mission will help people in this situation achieve forgiveness—that giving up this time is a necessary sacrifice for that ongoing repentance. 
Here's why that's an unacceptable approach.

You Want Reasons? Here's Six of Them.

  1. Perpetrators of sexual violence are already at a serious deficit when it comes to forgiveness and repentance. They have no legitimate moral authority to speak on behalf of Christ about forgiveness to anyone.
  2. Male perpetrators especially have no business wearing a missionary name badge because they could hold leadership positions, in their missions and in branches throughout the world. They could oversee and administer to female missionaries, many of whom are survivors of abuse.
  3. As someone who was openly and repeatedly denigrated by elders where I served, I know what being abused by elders is like. I know how easily they can get away with, as well as the retaliation that follows when it no longer remains a secret. They don't learn the right lessons from these situations. They don't know how to make the situation right again. They only learn how to improve their abilities of getting away with it.
  4. It sends the wrong message to the perpetrator about what they've done and their abilities to handle it on their own.
  5. It sends the wrong message to the one they've traumatized. How many of them are sitting in pews, listening to a missionary mom read their abuser's letters over the pulpit in sacrament meeting? Why should that missionary get to live a lie before the whole world, while that person has to sit with what they know in silence?
  6. Being a returned missionary opens church members, especially men, to holding more leadership positions in the future. No person in this church should have to deal with the spiritual crisis of finding out their abuser is in a bishopric or a presidency.

I'm not saying abusers should live in public disgrace in our congregations. But there are opportunities they should relinquish as a consequence of their decision-making. Missionary service as a young person should be one of those opportunities. If that deprivation seems harsh, if that loss seems severe—good! Loss of opportunity is something victims of sexual trauma know a lot about. It'll be a chance for them to understand what it's like to have something you treasure forcibly taken from you.

It doesn't begin to compare, but it's a start.

Any consequence at all is a start.

Repentance and Forgiveness in Sexual Abuse Cases

My biggest frustration with being Mormon at the moment is how little the people who surround me understand the conditions of repentance, and how different that is from receiving divine forgiveness.

Repentance is the process through which a person makes an honest moral reckoning of their own actions and takes full responsibility for those actions. Not just before God, but openly with others as well.

Forgiveness is the absolution of sins by God, in exchange for full and sincere repentance. That is the condition upon which you receive repentance from God.

God does not forgive people for heinous sins when their repentance is unreal or unfinished. He has no obligation to do so.

Let's talk about this in the context of sexual assault and rape. Because "how can God possibly forgive rapists and sexual predators in a way that would ever be fair and just to their victims?" is a question I've lived with my entire life, long before I ever had the words.

Victims of sexual abuse live with the consequences of those actions for a lifetime. The idea that their abusers could apologize to God once and be forgiven is a farce. That's not justice. That's not repentance.
How is repentance measured then? How does God measure the sincerity of someone else's repentance? 
One word: Restitution

To whatever degree their victims suffer, abusers have to personally give that degree of restitution to their victims if their repentance is going to be real and just. That's before forgiveness, whether from God or from the institutional church, can even be on the table as an option.
God is not stupid. He is not mocked by abusers who care more about avoiding the consequences of their actions than the harm they've done. Abusers who are repentant don't deny the harm they've done. They don't expect cheap forgiveness because repentance is not a cheap experience—not for Christ who made it possible, and not the innocent person he suffered for.
If you advocate for easy forgiveness and repentance for rapists and perpetrators of sexual assault, you've imagined a God who would allow mercy to rob justice. Such a God wouldn't be worth the price of the paper his name is printed on.
There are a lot of bishops, stakes presidents, and abusers who are going to be in for a rude awakening when they see God turn away countless men who were formally "forgiven" by the Church for abuse. God is not bound to accept fake apologies and shoddy repentance, just because a church leader declared a predator to be in good standing. There is no power in that declaration except what God will accept, and he does not accept liars into his kingdom.
Repentance and forgiveness are two of the great Christian imperatives. We cheapen them at our own peril. We lift up counterfeits to them to the detriment of our own souls.


"Forgive my father"

I took you to the city
carried you in my pocket
a little blue and dog-eared
from long waiting

but still ready
an empty box
that never leaves my mind

I kept looking
over my shoulder
looking for your face

swaying like a pendulum

looking forward

holding back

looking forward

holding back

Until dizzy eye
couldn't see

I fell asleep
my heart calling
(the line was busy)
across time

for no answer

for the answer

for no answer

for the answer

So instead
I took your hand
and prayed

And began to wait
for you

Now instead of
chasing me
through days
and  two ways unsettled




I wait for you
to come to me
to sit beside me
in a calm place

for us to smile
and not to speak

 but to be in a place
At Peace


My father is returning to prison this month. I've been told that this time it's for 2nd degree assault and 4th degree burglary. Consequently, he has been contacting my sister a lot the past couple of weeks; thus following an absence of several months. I give my sister a lot of credit. She is much more forgiving than I probably ever will be. She is the only person on this planet that sees anything worth the effort in our father anymore. And honestly, I can't even fathom what she could see, he has fallen so completely.

I deal with a lot of cognitive dissonance because of how I choose to deal with my non-relationship with my father. When he calls, he now knows that my sister is the only person who will speak to him. If anyone else answers, he knows to ask for her. It used to be that if I answered the phone, I would hang up the second I realized it was him. But now I just pass the phone along or briefly tell him that my sister isn't home and that I'll have her call him. Then I hang up. He has learned that I refuse to speak to him because I have nothing I want to say to him that isn't infected with disdain.

I knew before I ever converted that a relationship with Heavenly Father would mean I would have to forgive my father. And I have tried. When I got my patriarchal blessing, I learned that I have a responsibility to serve my father; to pray for him and forgive him for all that has happened. Sometimes I do pray, which I don't find difficult anymore. But it seems like every time I nearly get to a sense of inner resolution for what he has already done, he gives me a new stone to throw at him; a stone that, because of the pain that he has caused me, I wish I could throw at him.

But I can't. Not just because catharsis doesn't work, but because I know better.

I spent all day redecorating my blog in a new layout. Its background is a pile of stones, to serve as a reminder of what Christ did for me. He protected the harlot that I used to be when he admonished, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8: 7) He protected me, his younger spirit sister, because he loves me. And, whether I can appreciate it or not, he loves my father too.

I know this. I know this in my mind, thoroughly. I know I have no right or authority to pass judgment on anyone; not when I have stones of my own that others could throw at me.

But at the same time, I cannot bring myself to speak to my father when he calls. I prayed for strength when I told him that he was no longer welcome in my life, and in hindsight I know my request was granted. But now that I'm supposed to make a re-entrance into my father's life, if for no other reason than to give him a Book of Mormon and my blessing, I can't do it. I refuse, despite my better judgment. Despite everything I've learned about Heavenly Father, and all of the sacrifices I've made, I still am not ready to make my ultimate sacrifice; and the opportunities to complete the task I've been given will only continue to gather like stones before me.

And it grieves me to know that there is only one way to truly get rid of them; and it isn't by throwing them.

On Forgiveness

I came home from my "other family's" house, and went into my parent's room to say hi and to ask how Easter down at my grandmother's was. And before I could even get a word out, my mom said, and I quote, "You look like a hooker in a tablecloth."

My Easter dress was cream colored with roses around the bottom and a red cover sweater. I had matching red Mary Jane heels. To say that I liked the outfit is an understatement. I adored everything about it. If I had looked like a hooker in a tablecloth, I wouldn't have worn it. But my mother doesn't think about the gravity of her statements before she tosses them about so casually.

And then, as if I needed to hear another ugly word come out of her mouth, she started talking about her Easter, and how the aunt she doesn't like takes in LDS missionaries to feed them. She asked, "You aren't still thinking about a mission are you? Because they don't feed you. So be careful, because they're just a bunch of brain washers." And I left the room. I left in tears, convinced that she and I were incapable of conversation during which I wouldn't feel alienated for my religion. I felt as if I had lost my mother and gained a sparring partner. I prayed and cried as I brought the laundry in from the Durango like she asked, and felt betrayed and foolish for enduring such treatment.

Pretending like nothing's wrong as I continue about my day with tears and prayers; that's the story of my life presently. She wonders why I don't stick around, why I'm never home, why I spend every day of my life away from my family, whether it’s for work, holidays, weekend activities, or Church. THAT'S why! She can't go without insulting me, without being ugly and cruel! I don't deserve how she treats me.

But, of course, my Heavenly Father always takes care of me. He gave me peace, as he always has in the past. He also gave me understanding of my situation, and what I need to do for now.

The Church is my support system. The blessings I’ve received from the brethren in my branch, the talks and hymns from the church web site I’ve listened to on my MP3 player when I’m upset, the prayers I’ve stumbled through in my darkest hours, my patriarchal blessing, the support of my church family has made remarkable changes to my life, and have gotten me through some of the hardest times I've ever faced. As long as I have the Church, and the love of my God and my Savior, I cannot be destroyed. I know that for certain. Why should my mother's comments even phase me for more than a moment? The best advice I've received from General Conference about what to do in my situation came in the form of a question: If the gospel is true (which it is), then what else matters? Answer: Nothing else. Only the gospel matters.

I failed to appreciate how valuable, how essential an imagination is to the human existence. To be able to create a future, a story, another reality in my mind is something I've often relied on to get me through my trials. To endure through struggle is one thing, and obviously very important. But imagination cultivates hope by creating new circumstances without the grief, sorrow, anger and negativity that is all too easy to inherit. I take joy in the life I conceive silently, yet hopefully. I have a beautiful future ahead of me because I've decided it shall be so. I've painted the images in my mind, and the gospel will be the colors on the canvas.

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn has been with the virtue of forgiveness. But as I've thought about this experience with my mother for the past few hours, I wonder, why should I be bitter for anything she places in my path? Why allow petty misunderstandings to upset me? I know full well that she knows not what she does. How can I therefore justify even the shallowest of anger against her? If the Savior can forgive the men who caused him to bleed from every pore, who hung him from the cross, mocked him, and allowed him to die, then why should I allow myself to harbor anger, hatred, or despair?

He lives, and would have me live, which I can only do if I forgive those who wrong me.

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