Why Churches Brush Off Verbal Abuse

Pastors and churches are often ill-equipped to deal with cases of verbal abuse among their members. Thankfully there has been a growing awareness of the scourge of sexual abuse and even domestic abuse in evangelical churches, so pastors have become sensitized to the symptoms of abuse. This is wonderful; our churches are better equipped to prevent sexual abuse and minister to abuse victims with compassion and care.

But in our zeal to address abuse, some churches have overlooked a subtle but devastating danger—verbal abuse. Physical violence and sexual sins are recognized as abuse, but churches in the main don’t regard verbal abuse as “real” abuse. This is especially unfortunate because so many wives[1]Most perpetrators are men although not exclusively so in our congregations suffer terribly. When she brings it to the church leadership, they have a history of mishandling it, adding to her distress.

I think there are four reasons for this.

#1 Because Verbal Abuse Has Had an Elastic Definition

Abuse is a very powerful word that can get used too freely, and I’m against an expansive definition of abuse—not every sin is abusive. However, the word does describe certain behaviors and language accurately. I’ve talked about this in another blog, so I won’t define verbal abuse again here, but Christians that don’t know better can imagine that verbal abuse is just a term used by a vindictive spouse to exaggerate how sinful her husband is. And they can believe it’s an extreme word used to generate sympathy for her cause. But that’s not the case.

Verbal abuse is not the normal communication sins that occur in all marriages. Every Christian husband has sinned against his wife with his tongue, and fixing those involves confessing sin and seeking forgiveness. Healthy Christian marriages involve mutual admission of sin and seeking and granting a lot of forgiveness.

Verbal abuse is different. It’s more severe, it’s consistent (it’s not a one-off event of severe verbal sin), and the oppressor is blind, defensive, and refuses to repent. When confronted, he excuses and points the finger at his wife. He really believes that his sin is justified and caused by her. When confronted about his words, he might claim, “I’ve never hit her.” That’s because he knows violence is “real” abuse. His destructive speech is just words. How damaging can they really be?

But victims say that verbal abuse is more damaging than physical abuse. Does that sound unbelievable? Both secular and Christian experts claim it’s so. Steven Tracy relates the story of a woman he calls Betty who was physically and sexually abused by her dad. He says, “I was shocked when she said that twenty years of physical abuse and ten years of rape by her father weren’t as painful as the verbal abuse she endured from her mother.”[2]Steven R. Tracy, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 35. The scars of verbal abuse last a long time.

#2 Because It Seems Less Urgent than Other Problems

Pastors always have more demands on their time—more than they can do. Dealing with a problem that doesn’t seem as easily defined just isn’t as urgent as preparing for Sunday, or reconciling those two families that won’t speak to each other, or meeting with the finance committee. Why stir up a potential hornet’s nest when other more pressing problems exist? Pastors don’t need to make more work for themselves, and dealing with a wife that complains about her husband’s harsh language seems like a problem with all downside and no upside for church leadership. And honestly, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” right?

It’s just not as urgent as other issues, and it seems a little exaggerated anyway. If he’s violent, well that has to be addressed right away. But words?! Can’t we just wait and see if it blows over?

You need to know that every physically abusive relationship began with verbal abuse. This doesn’t mean that verbal abuse inevitably leads to physical abuse, but that’s where all domestic abuse starts. Because this is so, addressing verbal abuse isn’t just good for the oppressor and victim, it might actually prevent the escalation to physical violence.[3]“The survey found that women whose partners were jealous, controlling, or verbally abusive [emphasis added] were significantly more likely to report being raped, physically assaulted, and/or … Continue reading Verbal abuse is an urgent problem.

#3 Because They Are Unfamiliar with Abuse Dynamics

What types of dynamics are characteristic of abuse? Coercion, humiliation, embarrassment, isolation, and control are all normal elements in an abusive relationship. Christian husbands that abuse will also weaponize religion—he will claim his spouse needs to ask his forgiveness, that she is not submissive, and that she’s the one sinning in the relationship. The cumulative effect of all this leads to confusion for the wife. Pierre and Wilson say, “Can we give a reminder we think is important here? A victim of abuse can often appear either crazier or more critical than the spouse she’s accusing of abuse. She may seem scattered, unreasonable, and even defensive. … If someone has been living under constant abuse, confusion should not be surprising.[4]Jeremy Pierre & Greg Wilson, When Home Hurts: A Guide to Responding Wisely to Domestic Abuse in Your Church (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2021), 85.

The victim’s confusion is frustrating to those around her, including you as a friend, pastor, or biblical counselor. You point her to God’s Word, but she seems to be in a fog. Even the most sensible suggestions is difficult for her to process. She cannot seem to make the most basic decision for her safety. It’s surprising how long-term abuse can disorient a woman. The perpetrator will use that to prove that he’s not doing what he’s been accused of. He will suggest that her story can’t be trusted because she’s so confused.

His story and excuses on the other hand are convincing, especially to pastors. They know this guy; he’s probably faithful in attendance and ministry, and he’s well-liked in the congregation. When they talk to him, they are prone to take his perspective at face value. They don’t know that most verbal abusers are smooth talkers telling believable stories.

Not knowing these dynamics makes churches unprepared to hold the perpetrator accountable and to offer care to the family.

#4 Because They Don’t Realize the Harm Words Can Cause

While words aren’t violence—violence is violence—words can be hurtful, sometimes extremely so. Words can cause severe damage. James in his epistle claims the uncontrolled tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, a defiler of us, sourced in hell, a restless evil, and full of deadly poison. Those are not tame pictures of the tongue.  

A verbal abuser characteristically minimizes how hurtful his words are. He unloads on his wife and imagines that the name calling, swearing, and demeaning speech doesn’t hurt much. After he gets what he wants, he doesn’t feel much remorse. James 3 alerts us that words are powerful. They have a great capacity to cause severe hurt and destruction. Verbal abusers often yell, swear, manipulate through guilt, and attack their wives abilities, looks, character—their entire personhood. Sinful words damage wives.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of verbal abuse and a desire to pursue women in your congregation that are being verbally assaulted. May God grant you wisdom, compassion, and a willingness to seek the oppressor and hold him accountable.

References

References
1 Most perpetrators are men although not exclusively so
2 Steven R. Tracy, Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 35.
3 “The survey found that women whose partners were jealous, controlling, or verbally abusive [emphasis added] were significantly more likely to report being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by their partners, even when other sociodemographic and relationship characteristics were controlled. Indeed, having a verbally abusive partner was the variable most likely to predict [emphasis added] that a woman would be victimized by an intimate partner. “What Is Domestic Violence?,” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, accessed June 2, 2015, http://www.ncadv.org/need-support/what-is-domestic-violence.
4 Jeremy Pierre & Greg Wilson, When Home Hurts: A Guide to Responding Wisely to Domestic Abuse in Your Church (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2021), 85.

Husband, Unlock Your Phone!

When we lived in North Carolina, our neighborhood had a pool, and my wife and kids were there all the time. Sometimes my family would have lunch at the pool and I would meet them there. I would drive there, eat, change clothes, jump in the pool with the kids, change back, and drive to work. We had four kids which wasn’t so many that I couldn’t count them. 😉 I’d look for my almost three-year-old Riley and not see him in or around the pool. Turns out he was hiding in the shadows under the cabana. If I caught him under there, he would say something fearfully like, “Are you going back to work soon, Dad?” because he was nervous that I would take him to the “deep water” and make him jump off the side. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

He thought hiding in the shadows was the place to be. I thought bringing him out into the sunshine was a better idea. Better for him to come out into the light and deal with his fear of the water.

It seems better to hide in the shadows, but God encourages us to come out into the light.

It happened again recently, but it’s a story that is repeated over and over again throughout the last 20 years of ministry. A wife knows that something is wrong in her marriage, but she cannot figure out what is going on. Or maybe she actually suspects that her husband is unfaithful.

What’s a common warning sign that I’ve seen pretty much since the advent of the cellular phone? “Well, he wouldn’t let me look at his phone. He was really secretive about it.”

A husband that won’t let you look at his phone is a big deal. I cannot think of a good reason for why a husband would keep his phone private from his wife. He’s hiding something.

Husband, unlock your phone!

I’m saying unlock it, but I really mean give your wife your password. My iPhone has two faces that can open it: mine and my wife’s. She and my adult kids know the numeric password. Why do you need your phone locked from your family? Live in the light.

Of course unlocking your phone means nothing if you aren’t going to give up your sin. The problem isn’t the advent of passwords on phones, The problem is that too many men are hiding who they really are.

Proverbs 28:13 (ESV) Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Don’t pretend to be what you are not. The locked phone is just a symptom of a heart that likes to hide in the dark. What this verse is saying is that when I have an attitude that says I must cover myself; I must hide my sin, I won’t prosper. I won’t be growing at the rate that God wants me to.

Take some steps out into the open. Have a lifestyle of transparency. Your marriage needs this. You need this. Husband, unlock your phone.

Decaeuxarista [Deca-eucharista] 2021

Every year I develop a list of 10 reasons I’m thankful for each family member, and I try to share it by Thanksgiving, but it’s normally Christmas. I call it my Decaeuxarista–I’m not a Greek scholar, but it’s my attempt at making up a word that means Ten Thanks. It’s good for me to intentionally think about why I’m grateful for each family member. This is the list I shared with them this year. My kids are all adults now, and they still look forward to it–and its unique title. 😉 May it spur you to appreciate your family.

Laura[1]I’ve included my wife’s name, but not my kids’ names. I think they prefer that.

  1. You are easy to like. You have an easy-going nature and earnest spiritual passion. I’ve always known that, but now I have more evidence since in your role as Assistant Dean of Women you are very popular with the college girls. They all love you.
  2. I love that you are willing to do hard things to spend time with your family. Backpacking in WY is probably the greatest recent example. You did it just because I enjoy it. Not many women of any age will do that.
  3. You are the peacemaker in the family. You want us all to be right with each other. It bothers you when we aren’t, and so you work with us sinning family members to lead us to repentance and reconciliation.
  4. Your absence of fear of man has blessed our family many times. You’re willing to ask questions when I would rather you didn’t, but you persist and we are blessed. On our vacation you asked if we could bring a cooler of snacks on the rafting trip, and I was sure they would say no. They said yes. That’s just one example.
  5. You are teachable; you are still growing spiritually. You’ve told me at least twice that moving to Ankeny has been beneficial for your growth in ministry skills. You’ve taken two college classes just to get better at mentoring girls. You sat in class next to girls that were less than half your age because you have a teachable spirit.
  6. You are the most thoughtful person in our family. You plan and save and shop for your family all year long. You make Christmas very special because you care about what gifts you give. I’m always encouraged at how well you know me and the kids when we get our stocking stuffers on Christmas morning.
  7. Your care when I am sick (and when the kids are sick and they are around) is legendary. You are so compassionate and kind. You think of all the little things to ease our discomfort. You jokingly said, “If Momma gets sick, this family is going down.” It’s true! We need you.
  8. Actually, you “Mom” very well. You are constantly up and taking care of business, getting stuff done for your family. The kids notice it when we’re all together. The rest of us stand around not knowing what needs to be done, and you just take care of things.
  9. You make all our family times so warm and fun. You especially serve at those times. Over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks you have been baking and comforting and encouraging all of us. You’re the first to jump up and get something for someone. You make home so homey.
  10. Part of making our home so comfortable is your design and decorating. I would probably never hang anything on the wall, and they would look cold and unfriendly. You, however, have a gift—you get the right furniture (always at a reasonable cost) and lighting and paint and wall hangings, etc. so that the house is welcoming. And you change it up regularly. You have an eye for making our home warm and comfortable, and you’re always thinking ahead on changes we can make. We’re in the smallest space we’ve been in since seminary, and it still somehow fits well when our kids visit.
  11. You know I appreciate spending time with you and you will purposely do work in whatever room I am in. You intentionally organize your day so we can be together more, and I love it. You’re my best friend, and there is no one I would rather be with.

Daughter

  1. You are sensitive to people that might be on the outside of the popular crowd. You will speak up if someone is speaking ill of someone not present. You lock on to people that are being ignored. It’s a way that your love looks most like Christ.
  2. You still call me when you need help. I got called in class when you locked your keys in your car on the first day of school. Of course that was an urgent need, but you also ask for help with your taxes, friendships, job decisions, etc. You are open to advice and counsel. In fact, you look for it.
  3. You intentionally show affection to family members. You still hold my hand when we walk together or when we sit together. You still hug your family members. You’ve never been ashamed of expressing affection. Your family feels very loved because of that.
  4. You are exceptionally careful with money. You are paying your way through college, and you make sure every purchase is necessary. You have almost completed three years without any student loan debt. But you still are generous with family and friends. Money doesn’t control you.
  5. You share the gospel. Mom told me that you have given homeless people at the U some cash or a gift card and a gospel pamphlet. You have witnessed to friends of yours on campus and at work. You care about your Muslim friend and atheist friend at the U coming to Christ.
  6. You work hard in school. No one is watching over your shoulder anymore, but you keep on plugging away. Mom and I don’t get concerned about you living independently because you are so responsible.
  7. You are a grateful person. You don’t expect us to pick up the check or pay for your gas when you come down to see us, and when we do, you appreciate it.
  8. You give up your own tastes (like K-dramas) and watch whatever the family is watching. You have eclectic media tastes and while you would appreciate it if we enjoyed them with you, you never expect it or demand it. You willing give up your preferences for the rest of us.
  9. You’ve always been the child that climbs into the back of the minivan no questions asked and no complaints given. You’ve never had any seat expectation except that you will take the one that no one else wants. That’s a wonderful servant heart.
  10. You have always been the least needy child. Not that any of our kids are needy, but you have always been independent and self-sufficient. You don’t expect us to serve you. You just assume that you will have to figure any problem out (although you still get advice), and you don’t have any expectation that we are responsible to “save” you. You just trust God and move forward.
  11. You are really good at making time for people. You are as busy as any other college student, but you make sure that you take time for lunches, coffee, phone calls, and other touches with family, but also with so many friends. Even though they don’t always reciprocate, you invest the time to build relationships.

Son

  1. I love how you take care of your mother. You are always happy to see her. When she visits you, you are generous. I’m glad you love your mother so well. You are kind to her.
  2. You don’t love money as far as I can tell. You have been generous with all of your family members through the years. You bought your sister a laptop; let your brother use your Mustang; helped another sister get a car and bought gifts for Mom and me. I’m glad you use money to show love; that’s a godly view of money.
  3. You think earnestly about Scripture. I’m glad you read and consider Christian books. You’ve gone to a conference with me and also on your own taken a Biblical Counseling introductory course. I’m glad you work at understanding theology and biblical application.
  4. You love people. That’s why you enjoy social events with friends. You’re great with people because you enjoy being with them. You invest in people.
  5. I like that you are a good friend. A person that has you as a friend is blessed. You will pursue relationship and communication. You will say hard things to them if they need it.
  6. Your sense of humor is a joy to me. I fancy myself humorous, and I like that we can riff off each other. Your humor is not hurtful or unkind, which is more mature than mine was at your age. In fact, your humor often helps defuse a stressful situation.
  7. You have grown a lot in self-discipline. I’m sure the Navy helped with that, but it’s a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). You’re more consistent in your spiritual disciplines.
  8. You have a good study ethic. You enjoy learning new things, and you have lots of interests. You’re always surprising me with your latest interest—plant-based diet, backpacking, guitar, minimal support running shoes, etc. You study things thoroughly. You don’t tend to be impulsive. Actually, maybe that’s a better way of describing it. You’re not an impulsive person which means you’re not the Proverbial fool. I’m glad you are prudent and consider things deeply.
  9. You care about growing spiritually. You willingly did a book study with your brother and I on Sunday nights. You were honest and transparent. You talk to your parents about spiritual things. You want to please God in your growth.
  10. You are committed to attending and serving in church even though a military job with its deployments makes that difficult. You pursue a gospel-centered church at every location—even if only there for a week, and then you forge friendships and serve enthusiastically.
  11. You are a gracious person. You tend to react to others outbursts or braggadocio with grace. You don’t tend to respond to anger with anger. You’re easy to be with because you soften the prickliness of others.

Son

  1. Your focus is a strength. You picked up golf and have focused on getting better. You’ve improved a ton in just over a year. You are never half-hearted in anything you do. You don’t understand why someone might do something without enthusiasm because you regularly give 100%. You take that same focus and discipline to all areas of life.
  2. I admire your confidence. You might not always feel confident, but you regularly radiate confidence to those around you. That’s an encouraging gift—especially if it’s coupled with a deep dependence upon God.
  3. I’m glad you are so involved in your church and in Navigators. You want to learn more about God and His Word. You serve in your church while at the Academy, and you love your weekly Navigators Bible study. You have a hunger for righteousness.
  4. You are efficient with your time. You definitely get more out of your time than the rest of us. You don’t waste time. Even in high school you could get your homework done quickly. It seems intuitive to you how to study efficiently and that has helped you in college. You are wired to redeem your time.
  5. I’m glad you have told other students at USAFA about your faith. You told them the good news of the gospel. You want them to know Christ, and you’re taking some opportunities to exalt Christ in their eyes.
  6. You have gotten more edifying with your talk. You say kind things to all of us that show a growing faith in Christ. At times while growing up you have struggled with your words, but you have grown immensely in the past few years.
  7. You are physically disciplined. You’ve decided to prepare for a half marathon and I don’t doubt that you will be ready. You don’t normally sleep in, and you exercise regularly. It’s good stewardship of your body. There’s virtue in doing hard things, and you love doing hard things.
  8. You have a regular, weekly schedule for calling your siblings. They look forward to your calls. (You also call your Mother on Sundays and she loves it!) You schedule time for your family because you love them.
  9. You prioritize time in God’s Word. You finished your Annual Bible reading by the end of October. I’ve seen you many times getting your daily reading and daily devotions in. You have stopped an activity to make sure you get time with God. I’ve seen it.
  10. I’m thankful for your growing kindness toward and appreciation of your mom. This was not always true of you. You have sent your Mom some texts in the past few months that are especially kind and grateful. God has changed you.

Daughter

  1. You are willing to be stretched. You taught English for two years, which is your love, but now you’re teaching Algebra. It has pushed you out of any comfort zone, but you are learning and growing and being teachable.
  2. Your willingness to leave one job for another one in a different state is pretty remarkable. It’s an evidence of your growth and maturity. You have always been very cautious—even when learning to ride a bike years ago. 😉 Now you take risks to pursue God’s will. That’s maturity.
  3. You don’t embarrass easily, and Mom and I have tried. 😉 Your struggle with fear of man doesn’t tend to be with public embarrassment and that’s such a welcoming trait to others.
  4. You are growing in your struggle with the fear of man. You think about it when you make decisions for your class. You are getting better at making hard decisions that you know might be unpopular but that are right.
  5. You are affectionate with all your family members. I still get good hugs as do the rest of the family. You’re not embarrassed to let people know by your actions that you love us.
  6. You defend your family more fiercely than probably your parents do. I admire that you are not scared to confront others that slander your family. Your friends know that you love your family much. They get tired of hearing about us from you because you talk about your family A LOT. 😉
  7. You’re very relational. You pursue friendships in your church with all ages. You had friends that were children, young adults, and even senior adults when you lived in SC. You have friends everywhere you’ve been because you like people. That is a great trait for a believer.
  8. I’m thankful that you aren’t tempted to find your worth in social media likes. You don’t spend much time on that. You rarely post. You much prefer IRL relationships rather than social media distant ones. That is a huge temptation for your age group; I’m glad that it seems much less tempting for you.
  9. You read a lot. I mean a lot! There are many your age that waste hours and hours on trivialities, but you would rather curl up with a book. And some of those books are actually good! 😉 Reading is more valuable than watching media and you definitely prioritize reading.
  10. You come close to your Mom in thoughtfulness. You think about others throughout the year, and you have gift ideas for them. You don’t just buy a gift to check them off your list, you like to make sure the gift suits them.

References

References
1 I’ve included my wife’s name, but not my kids’ names. I think they prefer that.

A Better Illustration of Spiritual Blindness

Every pastor, every biblical counselor has talked to a counselee that really couldn’t see his sin very accurately. You’ve patiently showed him how he’s hurting his marriage, how he’s not fulfilling his biblical role, how he’s not loving his wife as Christ loves the church, and he’s not seen it. He refuses your counsel. He doesn’t own his sin. He rejects blame. It’s difficult to communicate the biblical concept of spiritual blindness—that we don’t see our sin very clearly. Sin deceives us to its existence (Heb 3:12-13), and we want to be deceived about it.

In this life we will never have 20/20 vision about our own sin. The Laodicean church shows us that.

Revelation 3:17 (ESV) For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

Did the Laodicean church think that everything was okay while in fact, everything was radically wrong? Did they really believe that things were A-Ok when they were really wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked? Yes they did. So do you. And so do I (Cf. Mt 7:3-5).

So what illustration can a biblical counselor use to communicate our tendency to be spiritually blind? Most use physical blindness which works, but has limitations. One, a physically blind person knows they are physically blind; a spiritually blind person often does not know they are spiritually blind. Two, physical blindness as an illustration is all or nothing, but there can be degrees of spiritual blindness.

Protanopia or deuteranopia are types of color blindness. With protanopia you cannot see the color red (1% of men) and with deuteranopia you cannot see the color green (5% of men). Most commonly a colorblind person struggles to differentiate between reds and greens. What is life like for the colorblind? They go through life without seeing all the colors we see. Most times it doesn’t affect them—at least in ways they are aware. They look at their child’s crayon drawing, and they don’t know what they’re missing. They notice the cut and shape of a new dress on their teen daughter, but they don’t know that the colors are fantastic.

We had a student in our church who didn’t know he was colorblind until he took his vision test for his driver’s license. You need to be able to distinguish between reds and greens if you’re going to have a license—stoplights demand it! His family enjoyed camping and in looking back, it made sense that he wasn’t ever impressed with the sunsets while sitting around a campfire. His life worked fine—as far as he could tell—while being colorblind.

YouTube videos of colorblind people seeing colors for the first time are somewhat common now.[1] http://enchroma.com/ A company called EnChroma worked with Valspar Paints to develop glasses that allow colorblind people to see colors. It’s amazing. In one I saw a guy look at a sunset and say, “So is that what you guys see every day?” He’d never understood the glory of a sunset.

Colorblindness is a better analogy to our spiritual lives than total blindness. Think about what it means to be colorblind. You can function fine. You might know that you’re colorblind, but you really don’t know what that means. You don’t know what you’re missing because you’ve never seen it. You look at a flower garden and you can see the different shapes and some differences in hues, but you have no idea that you’re missing the eye-popping colors in the garden. You’re missing something that is obvious to everyone around you. That’s spiritual blindness. You and I can function in life, and because we can, we don’t notice our blindness to our true condition. We go through life ignorant of the depths and extent of our sin. We cannot see it.

Sin is blinding. By nature it fools us, and when we’ve sinned for a long time in the same way, we become less and less able to see it in all its ugliness. I’ve rarely, maybe never, talked to a person whose tongue was destroying his family who thought his problem was as severe as it really was. That’s the human condition. Sin is blinding.

Colorblindness is a better illustration of spiritual blindness than actual blindness. It illustrates the blindness-to-our-blindness characteristic of spiritual blindness. It illustrates that we can function with our spiritual blindness. We’re not incapable of making our way through life. And that fact keeps us from seeing our sin very well.[2]The picture at the top is a test for colorblindness.

References

References
1 http://enchroma.com/
2 The picture at the top is a test for colorblindness.

The New Puritans Don’t Do Forgiveness

In an interesting article in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum decries modern cancel culture, pointing out that some feel trapped in a world of unforgiveness. Who’s trapped?

  • An editor of the New York Review of Books that “was not accused of assault, just of printing an article by someone who was—Ian Buruma discovered that several of the magazines where he had been writing for three decades would not publish him any longer.” 
  • Daniel Elder, a prizewinning composer (and a political liberal) posted a statement on Instagram condemning arson in his hometown of Nashville, where Black Lives Matter protesters had set the courthouse on fire after the killing of George Floyd, he discovered that his publisher would not print his music and choirs would not sing it.
  • Alexi McCammond was named editor in chief of Teen Vogue, and then people discovered and recirculated on Instagram old anti-Asian and homophobic tweets she had written a decade earlier, while still a teenager. McCammond apologized, of course, but that wasn’t enough, and she was compelled to quit the job before starting.
  • One former journalist told Applebaum that his ex-colleagues “don’t want to endorse the process of mistake/apology/ understanding/forgiveness—they don’t want to forgive.” Instead, he said, they want “to punish and purify.” But the knowledge that whatever you say will never be enough is debilitating. “If you make an apology and you know in advance that your apology will not be accepted—that it is going to be considered a move in a psychological or cultural or political game—then the integrity of your introspection is being mocked and you feel permanently marooned in a world of unforgivingness… And that is a truly unethical world.”[1]Anne Applebaum, “The New Puritans,” The Atlantic, August 31, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/new-puritans-mob-justice-canceled/619818/.

Applebaum calls the self-righteous mob the New Puritans, and they are professional shunners. When “sinners” offer the apologies demanded, they know they won’t be accepted. They truly are trapped in a world of unforgiveness.

Unbelievers talk about forgiveness, but mostly just to say that something or someone cannot be forgiven. Cancel culture is just the latest example of unforgiveness, but we have been an unforgiving people from the beginning. Outside of Christ changing us, how could anyone forgive a debt—and that’s what forgiveness is. An offender has a debt that only the offended can write off. How can anyone do that? Only believers can, and only believers that recognize they have sinned greatly against the King and inexplicably been shown mercy (Mt 18:23-35).

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. Matthew 18:26–27 (ESV)

If you don’t understand and appreciate the gospel, you will never be a forgiving person. We who have been so generously forgiven, must generously grant forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an exclusively Christian virtue. I’ve seen marriages invaded by adultery fully restored. Not left in an uneasy truce, not left weakened and ill, but completely reconciled and whole. I’ve seen daily verbal assaults and general selfishness of a spouse forgiven. A marriage that should have so much distance after years and years of sin has become a glorious example of Christ’s love for the Church. I’ve seen siblings reconciled after incredible hurt has been done. Again, I’m not describing holding the offender at arm’s length after proclaiming forgiveness. I’m describing real reconciliation. Can your religion—or irreligion—do that? I don’t think so.

Have you ever thought about whom[2]Meaning, which person? All of our sin is ultimately against God, Ps 51:4 you’ve sinned against most in your life? For me, it’s easy. I’ve been married 29 years, and while I’ve sinned against my parents, my siblings, and my own children, I’ve sinned most against my wife, and it’s not even close. Yet she is the one person I am closest to in this world. We are best friends. How? God has forgiven her, and therefore she regularly (often daily) forgives me. That’s the only explanation. So many marriages eventually crumble under the cumulative weight of each other’s undealt with, unforgiven sin. Why is ours stronger than it was before I started sinning against her almost three decades ago? There is only one answer—Christ-honoring, God-glorifying, Gospel-motivated forgiveness.

Real, genuine, biblical forgiveness is amazing. The world has nothing like it. They have no way of healing broken relationships. They continue to harbor bitterness. Only God could come up with forgiveness. The New Puritans don’t do forgiveness. They don’t do grace. They don’t do mercy. Aren’t you glad that God does all three, and because he does, we can as well?

References

References
1 Anne Applebaum, “The New Puritans,” The Atlantic, August 31, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/new-puritans-mob-justice-canceled/619818/.
2 Meaning, which person? All of our sin is ultimately against God, Ps 51:4