PSR alum proposes new approach to forgiveness

March 22, 2010

“How do we help people speak their truth, and have the courage to band with them and advocate with people, against those who would objectify them?” Anne Dillenschneider, MDiv 1987, asks. Her solution is to replace the common adage “forgive and forget” with an approach that is healthier for all involved, according to her doctoral research, which the Montara, California resident will present at a conference in Oxford, England this summer.

Dillenschneider maintains that the common mode of forgiveness has been manipulated and distorted from its biblical origins. “Jesus never said forgive and forget,” Dillenschneider says. “In Luke 17:3-4, he says if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke him or her. You call them on it when it’s harmful. If they repent, forgive them, but the message is not just forgive.”

To that end, she advocates forgiveness only if the offender recognizes the damage he or she has done. That acknowledgement allows the victim and offender both to move forward.

Dillenschneider’s proposal also creates a more community-driven model. She claims that when a person is absolved of any wrongdoing without showing remorse, he or she is implicitly validated and is allowed to commit other grievances. And that, she says, goes against Christian teachings. Yet when a community requires offenders to acknowledge the harm they have done, victims feel the support of the group—carrying on a Christian and moral tradition of upholding the people who have been wronged, she says. “It’s biblical to stand for a person’s humanity. That’s what Jesus did. Every good religious tradition will stand with the person who is suffering,” Dillenschneider says.

When a perpetrator denies his or her misdeed, Dillenschneider advocates mourning the lost opportunity for reconciliation. Once the victim has accepted the perpetrator’s refusal, she can move on without the social pressure to forgive someone who has not asked for that pardon.

Dillenschneider believes that religious leaders are uniquely positioned to alter the discussion around forgiveness, and that PSR can help grow a new generation of people fighting for justice.

“One of PSR’s strengths is speaking up for the voiceless. How do we stand with people so they’re heard? PSR gave me lots of resources and role models for doing that,” Dillenschneider says. “Things change when people speak up.”