Monday, July 18, 2011

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 3

Apostasy and the Commandment to Forgive, Part 2

Jesus explains in Matthew 18:15-18 the process of what to do if one of Christ's disciples (ostensibly a member of the Church) should trespass against you. First, you should discuss it with him, then if he does not listen, involve the church, and then if he does not listen to the church he is no longer your brother in the gospel (v. 17). I believe this means that you still treat him with respect, but no longer trust him to behave as a disciple should behave. The Lord also gives the church the power to "bind and loose". In context, this would seem to mean that the church has power over membership covenants.

Peter then asks how often a person should be forgiven. Christ says, essentially, that we are to forgive ALL debts we hold against someone because we are debtors to Him.

Which brings me to a very personal illumination of forgiveness.

My ex-husband did many things to me while we were married, and still does to this day. The consequences of his actions affect me at times. This is not one isolated act, but an ongoing attempt to abuse which I have no choice but to expose myself to on some level because we have children together. Every time he attacks me verbally or emotionally, I have to go through the process of forgiveness again. If I don't, it affects other parts of my life. Fortunately, the Lord has blessed me with increasing strength that makes it easier and easier to forgive. I have hope that some day not far distant the forgiveness will be seamless.

However, the Spirit has taught me quite strongly that this does NOT mean that I have to allow my ex-husband extra access to me. Although he believes that I am cruel to him, it has been empowering to learn how to draw boundaries. Gradually, I am coming to understand that drawing boundaries and setting limits to others' abuse of me is not a lack of forgiveness, nor is it cruel.

There was a time I pled with my Lord to open up a place for forgiveness in my heart. I was distraught with feelings of failure and worthlessness as a direct result of real pain to others I so frequently cause in my thoughtlessness. As a small part of that, I berated myself for feeling angry towards my ex-husband for his actions against me and my daughters. Quite clearly, I was taught by the Savior that feeling pain and anger did not necessarily reflect a lack of forgiveness. Words came into my mind, "Do you trust me?" I knew that I did. "Then trust me to handle the debt he owes you and the debt he will owe to your daughters, and in return, I will pay all the debt which you owe to those you hurt."

I would like to say that it was exhilarating, but although I felt lighter, it was deeply humbling. For the first time, I understood what the Atonement meant. He is literally a mediator, assuming upon Himself the debts of us all. I knew it was no longer my concern whether or not my ex would continue to take advantage of other people or to try to hurt me, that His grace was sufficient to cover all of it.

This is not to say I don't still have moments of frustration and despair. But, like a life preserver, my faith in the Atonement always helps me float to the surface again.

This has parallels and contrasts with those who are going through excommunication. Although I have never been a part of a disciplinary council, so my personal experience is slim, Mosiah 26 (beginning in v. 28) makes it clear that the church is to forgive all transgressors and sinners who are not in open rebellion. This means that generally, only those who are unrepentant are eventually excommunicated.

Do disciplinary councils make mistakes? Perhaps. But in every case of excommunication I have heard (solely from their mouths, as I have never heard anyone else discuss the process,) the person refused to see the wrong in what they were doing. Excommunication is not punishment, no matter what the excommunicated might think. But it is a necessary drawing of boundaries that can be done in a spirit of forgiveness.

One final thought in verse 39 of Mosiah which I found interesting was that those who remained members were still "admonished". In Revelations and in D&C the Lord makes it clear that those He loves may be rebuked at times. It is how we take that chastening that distinguishes His sheep from wolves or goats masquerading as sheep.

I am glad, even so, that I do not have to be the one to discern the difference.


  1. Nice atonement insight. Abusers were often abused which mitigates their responsibility before the Lord. You comments on excommunication speak to the ideal and are somewhat naive in practice I was fully repentant but exed anyway because I was inactive so you can be square with the Lord but still owe the church which is an odd place to be. You sound healthy here.

  2. Howard—You are completely correct that I'm speaking to the ideal. I admit that, as well as my inexperience in the OP. I wasn't really intending to speak to the many nuances of excommunication as much as the principles that it should be built on. It would be silly for me to speak to the nuance, as inexperienced with the practice of excommunication as I am (and am likely to remain for the rest of my life, not being a man. ;) )

    I don't know if abuse "mitigates [the] responsibility" of abusers or not. I don't think it necessarily does. There are many people who are abused who do not choose to abuse in turn. The point of the atonement is that it doesn't matter to me how much responsibility for his actions my particular abuser has. It's just plain not my problem. It's the Lord's. That, I think, is the essence of forgiveness, which doesn't necessarily carry with it feelings of bonhomie.

  3. Excellent series, SR. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts on forgiveness, as it has been something that has loomed large in my life recently, and I have been pushed to my limits and beyond in that regard.

    Nothing really to add, besides agreement. :)


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