On power and forgiveness


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Forgiveness can be a holy, righteous, healing thing.
But so many dominant theologies have mucked it up for us.
Gotten in our heads and our hearts and turned it into something that hurts.
A weapon that upholds power in families. In communities. In culture and government.
The forgiveness-talk that many of us have inherited
says there’s no such thing as structural power.
That it does not threaten nor silence.
That it does not weave everything intimate and personal into a larger story of us.
That it does not play-out over and over again
through patterns and practices predictable.
At that table of reconciliation,
the facts about
legacies of violence,
structures of inequality,
ongoing norms that harm and destroy
are not even welcome in the room.
Whether it’s sexual harassment or anti-Black violence,
anti-queer, anti-trans, or other white supremacist harm,
inaccessibility or colonialism still unfolding,
before we even round the corner of honesty about what happened and why,
our conversations are stopped in their tracks,
turned around on us,
until somehow the conditions that enabled the harm in the first place
are declared a fresh start,
a new beginning,
even though we have been there a million times.
This story of forgiveness is a lie
that has stolen something beautiful.
Unless patterns and norms are disrupted...
Unless amends are practiced materially...
Unless the truth is given space in its fullness...
Unless power is redistributed…
Unless there are protections put in place to prevent further harm...
It’s too soon for talk of forgiveness or reconciliation.
And using God to suggest otherwise,
to manipulate or control,
to guilt or to gaslight,
to keep real healing,
real hope,
real possibilities from emerging
through the hard, hard work of change that restores
is spiritual violence,
theological malpractice,
a tool of the state in the arms of the church.
Whatever forgiveness is,
it’s not that.
It’s never that.