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The Church as a Forgiving Community”

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Journal 2: “The Church as a Forgiving Community”
Peri Paige Kennedy
Liberty University

Summary
The article's title is "The Church as Forgiving Community: An Initial Model". It was written by Chad M. Magnuson and Robert D. Enright of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The commentary contains a brief synopsis of a system that could be integrated into churches to teach higher levels of forgiveness. It further explains the reasoning for the need of forgiveness due to all of the benefits that having a forgiving character can bring. Those who forgive more easily have a tendency to present with reductions in anger, depression, anxiety, grief, PTSD, and stress. They also have higher levels of self-esteem, hope, and positive attitudes. Even though the idea of forgiveness has been taught from early civilizations and documented in the pages of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, the benefits of forgiveness have not been explored until approximately twenty years ago. It was not until 1984 when social scientist, Smedes and again in 1990 Worthington and DiBlasio sought to explore these possible benefits and to develop models of forgiveness (Magnuson & Enright, 2008).
The two most popular models are Enright's process model and Worthington's REACH model. Enright's model which has four basic steps; the first is to begin to uncover the hurt or shame caused by the offense; the second step is to purposefully decide to forgive, the third step is to work towards forgiveness. One must begin to develop empathy for their offender. Not for the purpose of justifying their offense but to better understand why they acted in such a manner. The fourth and final step is to receive the healing of forgiveness. At this stage one learns to let the pain go and not to dwell on the incident. The second model, Worthington's REACH model is very similar. It involves the stages of Recalling the offense, Empathizing with the offender, altruistically giving a gift, Committing publicly to forgiveness, and finally to Hold onto forgiveness rather than the hurt (Magnuson & Enright, 2008). Actually, in fourteen different studies empathy is used as a term of healing.
Therefore it is logical to see that empathy is indeed crucial to forgiving. While all of these studies have shown benefits to adults in regards to living healthier and happier when they learn to live a forgiving life none actually address if children can benefit from this concept of forgiving. Also, if it is effective how can children best be taught a life of forgiveness? The article sets forth thee premise that for a child to learn a forgiving character then they must be taught on three levels. These three tiers together are called; “The Forgiving Communities” the first level is the school or educational system. To date, this is the most developed level and many models have already been introduced to schools in Belfast, Ireland (Magnuson & Enright, 2008). The second level is the family or home life. Then there is the final level which is the true focus of this article. It is the Church. Ironically, for a faith based upon the very idea of forgiveness, the Church has never had a reputation for developing deep forgiving atmosphere. This article goes into depth what a forgiveness model might look like inside of the Church to help nurture that trait in children as well as adults. The model is a form of from the top down tier approach. The first tier starts with the Church's Pastor. By training the Pastor in either the Enright process or REACH he can then form sermons of forgiveness and council and train others (Magnuson & Enright, 2008). The writers of the article also believe that if he would preach approximately five messages a year on forgiveness it would help to establish the forgiving environment. He could also use this training to work through his own issues that undoubtedly come with leading a church. After all, you can't always please everyone, and the Pastor is usually the first to be blamed when things don't go as expected. The second level is that of the associate or assistant pastors. These are the people who generally work more hands on with church members or volunteers. It is important that they have the forgiveness training when it comes to helping themselves and others when conflicts arise during different projects. Depending on the size of the Church there may be many other levels from music ministers to youth and children’s' directors. Each level should be trained to help foster an environment that promotes forgiveness. However, the final level always comes down to the individual. Individuals must understand that they are both victim and offender. Which role they play is dependent on the time and day. Once they understand that then most often they can begin to empathize more and forgiveness soon follows. In closure the article also points out that this model cannot be treated as most modern day themes that churches have come so accustomed to using and casting away. For this program to have a lasting impact it must be used in a continual manner over many years. After all, a forgiving character can only be developed by actions being repeated. This stems from repeated decisions that will only be enforced by repeated reminders of the values and virtues that forgiveness incorporates. Of course, as stated previously, this is only one of three parts to creating a community of forgiveness. It will take work in the school system, at home, and in church to create a culture of forgiveness. Only time will show how this change in direction could change all of society.
Reflection
I enjoyed this article and was drawn to it because of its involvement of forgiveness. Forgiveness in today's world is actually considered almost as taboo as someone who commits an offense. People are quick to judge and call one naive for forgiving. This article points out the benefits of forgiving and not having to hold on to anger and hurt feelings. One can become entrenched in these negative emotions when they hold on to an offense. They will often diminish their health and overall joy of life by holding onto a grudge. The concept of creating not just one place or time of forgiveness but a lifestyle of forgiveness is very hopeful. It could lead to a society with many more peaceful solutions to our conflicts. Even though this is a very simple model, it has potential to re-establish the concept of forgiveness in the church. And the top down, tier system in this article seems very efficient. The Pastor is considered the shepherd of the church. Where he leads they will most often follow. If he and other members of leadership learn the processes of forgiveness then it is more likely that the individuals of the congregation will do likewise. Of course, it boils down to if the church is willing to make plans like these permanent fixtures and not just a passing fad to be discarded on a whim. I certainly hope to see this come to fruition.
Application
Utilizing Enright's model of forgiveness, I would train all levels of church leadership to handle conflicts within the church from a basis of forgiveness and empathy. Each individual holding a leadership position would be capable of walking members of the congregation through the four steps of forgiveness. We would also establish seminars to help the leaders and church members to learn different techniques and methods to help individuals through each stage. Having an arsenal of different techniques would allow for each unique situation that may arrive to be dealt with in an empathetic manner focused on healing. For example, if a member was gossiping about several other members of the church we could counsel the victims of the gossip and the offending individual as to the destructive, divisive and hurtful nature of gossip. In doing so one could help each of the victims to get past being angry and move toward forgiveness. Then we could help them get to a point where they might understand why the first member was acting the way they did. This empathy could eventually lead to rebuilding a relationship out of forgiveness. Also, by counseling the one who committed the offense one might find out why they initiated the act. Most often it is due to them being hurt or offended in the past. Again, this could lead them to admitting their anger and walking through the other steps to get to a point of forgiveness instead of continuing a cycle of hurt promoting unity within our Church community.

References

Magnuson, C.M. & Enright, R.D. (2008). The Church as forgiving community: An initial model. Journal of Psychology and Theology. 36(2), 114-123. DOI: 0091-6471/410-730…...

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