The Limits of Forgiveness

The Limits of Forgiveness: Case Studies in the Distortion of a Biblical Ideal

Maria Mayo
Copyright Date: 2015
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Limits of Forgiveness
    Book Description:

    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. Mayo also takes pains to show that the idealization of forgiveness in each case depends on peculiarly modern psychological and therapeutic notions of forgiveness and misrepresents and misconstrues the very biblical passages—especially in Jesus’ teaching and actions—on which advocates of unconditional forgiveness rely. The Limits of Forgiveness is an incisive critique of the forgiveness “mystique” and a sobering wake-up call to any who look to the Bible for guidance in situations of injury or injustice.

    eISBN: 978-1-5064-0037-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    David Konstan

    Our values, even our emotions, have a history: people in other times and places did not feel the same way we do. This is one of the reasons why I find my own profession as a classical scholar endlessly fascinating. On close inspection, a Greek or Latin word that is normally translated as “anger” or “pity” turns out not quite to fit my preconceptions of these ideas, and I start wondering what the ancients might have meant. When Aristotle says, for example, that we cannot be angry at people we fear, I ask myself: What does he mean by “anger”...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Maria Mayo
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. 1 Introduction: Mapping the Forgiveness Territory
    (pp. 1-46)

    Forgiveness has a history. As far back as the biblical record, authors have depicted forgiveness as a way to repair relationships and heal communities. In Christian accounts forgiveness serves as an antidote to revenge, a mechanism for staying in right relationship with God, and a way to hold communities together. In the modern age, it becomes the psychological power of the individual to supersede negative emotions in the aftermath of violence. Celebrated by therapists and talk-show hosts, forgiveness emerges as both a sparkling moral ideal and the amazing accomplishment of magnanimous victims. Somiraculous, onlookers whisper.So Christlike!

    The particular...

  7. 2 Repentance and Repair, or “Ethical Bungee Jumping”? Forgiveness in the “Seventy-Times-Seven” Instructions and Victim-Offender Mediation
    (pp. 47-96)

    When Clair and Anna May Weaver were brutally murdered by their fourteen-year-old son Keith in 1991, the response from Landisville Mennonite Church was immediate. In addition to caring for surviving family members, Pastor Sam Thomas created support groups for the community and began providing legal and social assistance for Keith. In the early days after the murders, Thomas encouraged the congregation to “understand what it means to forgive,” and to “think about their intent to forgive.”¹

    A few months later, church members had established the “70×7 Fund” to help with the legal, therapeutic, educational, and personal needs of Keith Weaver....

  8. 3 Community Cohesion, or a Hegemony of Harmony? Forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer and in Post-apartheid South Africa
    (pp. 97-158)

    On April 16, 1997, in the small coal-mining and cattle-farming town of Vryheid in KwaZulu Natal, Bettina Mdlalose took her seat before the Human Rights Violations Committee (HRVC) of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). She was there to testify about the night of April 19, 1990, when her son was killed.¹

    “The police arrived at night at about twelve midnight,” she began. “They knocked at the door and I asked, ‘Who are you?’ They said they were police. I opened the door…. Now they started looking, searching for [my son]…. They went outside to get one white...

  9. 4 Passionate Prayer, or Pastoral Pressure? Forgiveness in Luke 23:34a and the Pastoral Care of Victims of Domestic Violence
    (pp. 159-206)

    From Joy M. K. Bussert, “Letter from a Battered Wife”:

    I am in my thirties and so is my husband…. We have four children and live in a middle-class home with all the comforts we could possibly want. I have everything, except life without fear. For most of my married life I have been periodically beaten by my husband. What do I mean by ‘beaten’? I mean that parts of my body have been hit violently and repeatedly, and that painful bruises, swelling, bleeding wounds, unconsciousness, and combinations of these things have resulted.

    I have been kicked in the abdomen...

  10. Conclusion: The Future of Forgiveness
    (pp. 207-214)

    In the United States, restorative justice is receiving new attention thanks in part to a recent feature in theNew York Times Magazine, appearing under the headline “Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?”¹ After Ann Grosmaire, 19, was shot and killed during an argument by her boyfriend, Conor McBride, also 19, her parents chose to engage in victim-offender mediation with McBride. The article embraces the restorative justice rhetoric of an idealized forgiveness, especially the notion of forgiveness-as-healing: “The [parents] said they didn’t forgive Conor for his sake but for their own.”² That forgiveness extended into influence over the...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-246)
  12. Index of Authors
    (pp. 247-250)
  13. Index of Scripture References
    (pp. 251-253)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-254)