Sunday, April 22, 2012

License to blame?

April 22, 2012

Dear friends,

In relationship building forgiveness can serve as a powerful positive process. What is also true, however, is that the faulty use of forgiveness (pseudo-forgiveness) is a powerful process as well, one that is difficult to identify and even more difficult to confront.

A friend who is a sensitive, nurturing pastor of a small parish recently met with me for a “working” lunch. The problem with which my friend was grappling held at its core a parishioner’s use of forgiveness (pseudo-forgiveness) as a license to blame.

As my friend related the story, a woman in the congregation frequently made an appointment with my friend. She would inevitably explain the purpose of these appointments in biblical terms. “I believe that if my brother trespasses against me, Scripture tells me to go to him and tell him directly what he’s done. That’s why I’m here,” she would say, adding virtuously, “Now, Pastor, you know I take Matthew 18:15 seriously.”

Then having pre-framed her blaming behavior as obedience to Scripture, she would recount in painful detail all the faults, sins and omissions of the pastor that she had observed since her last appointment.

The issues would include such items as:

• length of sermons (some were too long, some too short)

• unsatisfactory behavior in the grocery store (once the pastor stopped to chat when clearly she was in a hurry and had wasted her time; once the pastor discourteously failed to stop to chat because he was too much involved in his own affairs to notice her and so hurt her feelings)

• failure of the pastor to appoint her to the welcoming committee on the deacon board despite her demonstrated concern for the outreach of the church

• failure of the pastor to greet her properly in the Sunday morning reception line (sometimes too effusive, sometimes too perfunctory)

• failure to maintain proper ‘balance’ in choice of preaching texts (too often from the Gospels, too seldom from the Gospels)

• failure to ‘supervise’ selection of music for worship (too much contemporary music, too many hymns)

The above sampling from the list gives a fair sense of the tone and nature of the complaints and the consistent assignment of blame to the pastor. The problem that my friend brought to lunch, however, was not the complaints as such, but rather the way in which the woman would close each blaming session.

“But I forgive you, Pastor,” she would say as she completed her list. “I forgive you, Pastor, and I just want you to know that I don’t hold anything against you.”

“Now what,” my friend asked, waving his fork with considerable energy, “what in the name of good parish relationships—what in the sense of honest forgiveness am I supposed to say to that?”

What, indeed?

In this instance, “forgiveness” was a powerful tool that enabled this woman habitually to blame and criticize yet avoid relational accountability and consequences for her act.

The subversive use of pseudo-forgiveness as manipulation can tempt us all.

Remembering with you this week that “forgiving” someone for failing to meet my standards neither establishes that person’s guilt nor demonstrates my sainthood.

See you next week.


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