What Forgiveness Isn’t

Forgiveness is not in any way saying something is okay or acceptable, nor is it saying that you deny appropriate justice. It's not even pretending something didn't happen—it totally happened and it definitely sucked.

What forgiveness is, is simply releasing someone from their debt. It's saying that the sin they committed is no longer held over them, for you have freed them from what was owed you.

Forgiveness and peace are not some masochistic way of embracing violence or seeking it out. This is a common misconception of Christian pacifism. People think we're somehow advocating that you should go get beat up by others and be all lovey-dovey and subject yourself to horrible situations without even trying to avoid them. But to quote Derek Flood, "The goal of enemy love is not to subject oneself to violence, but to act to break the cycle of violence" (Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture, p 191).

Jesus never said, "If someone molests you, forgive them and pretend it didn't happen and stick around." Absolutely not! Jesus came to set the captives free, not subject them to a theology of repetitive violence. Pacifism means embracing peace, love, and forgiveness over violence, hatred, and bitterness and it means doing it as many times as a sin is committed against you.

Pacifism and forgiveness still seek justice. The judgment and ruling of courts and judges and juries are completely acceptable—so long as a death sentence is not the answer, for Christians are to be pro-life in all ways, knowing redemption is always possible. Prison is still a possibility. Creative ways of making amends are still a possibility. God is a God of justice just as he is a God of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a way of allowing us to get away with things.

We often misunderstand what justice is as well, because we usually turn it into revenge. For example, I once felt that some injustice had been done to a friend of mine and I wanted to raise awareness so that those who had committed the injustice would have to face themselves. I called my friend looking for their opinion as to how far I should go to find that justice.

“Well, how bad do you want to get back at them?” they asked.

“I’m not trying to get back at anyone!" I laughed. "I’m just trying to find justice.”

“Right," they paused. "So how much justice do you want?”

I laughed again. We use the words so interchangeably and think of them as the same thing, but they're not. Justice is done in love, revenge is done in hatred. Justice is done in righteousness, revenge is done in unrighteousness. Justice is done in peace, revenge is done in violence. Justice is what's right in God's eyes, revenge is what's right in ours. We must be people of justice, not of vengeance, for Christians are to have nothing to do with vengeance (Ro 12:19).

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Dear Hit-and-Runner

Dear Hit-and-Runner,

Yesterday morning you managed to run a stop sign and crash into my wife’s vehicle, leaving both her and our four-month old stranded on the side of the road. We have witnesses, we have statements, a description of your car, and a piece of your headlight that you left behind at the scene.

Obviously you did us wrong—once by hitting my family, and twice by fleeing the scene. Justice has not been carried out.

But I am here to tell you something bold. Something so bold, even some of my Christian brothers and sisters will be upset with me.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for leaving my family behind at the scene without checking on them and I have chosen to not consider the “what-ifs.” “What if my wife had been injured?” “What if my son had been thrashed around?” The good news is (and I thank God for this) that my family is fine. Sure, my wife felt the after-effects of the event later that night, but altogether she’s doing well. I am not going to hold the what-ifs against you because that’s all they are: “what-ifs.” In this case, contemplating them would only make me  pointlessly angry.

I forgive you for the damage you did to our car. It’s not covered by our insurance and will cost a bit of money to fix—more money than we’re willing to invest in it actually. It is fortunate we have acknowledged the fact that we may need a new car over the next few years and that the idea of buying one was not a complete and total surprise. Though you have forced our hand to do this while we are not in the greatest financial state, I still choose to forgive you.

I’ve been told that if we could find you, we would be able to sue you up to a thousand dollars—but neither my wife or I want to do that. As I try to put myself in your shoes, it seems to me that you must be in a difficult financial state of your own. Since you fled the scene, my guess is you do not have the proper insurance to cover the accident (or that you’re covering yourself for some other reason). Therefore, my family does not wish to make your financial state any more difficult than it currently is, even if we do have the full authority to do so. As I put myself in your shoes, I realize I too have ran stop signs and driven recklessly at times. As I put myself in your shoes, I see myself as having the capacity to be like you. As Henri Nouwen says:

“Compassion grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you. This partnership cuts through all walls that might have kept you separate. Across all barriers of land and language, wealth and poverty, knowledge and ignorance, we are one. Created from the same dust, subject to the same to the same laws, and destined for the same end. With this compassion you can say, “In the face of the oppressed, I recognize my own face. And in the hands of the oppressor, I recognize my own hand. Their flesh is my flesh. Their blood is my blood. Their pain is my pain. Their smile is my smile. Their ability to torture is in me too. Their capacity to forgive I find also in myself. There is nothing in me that does not belong to them too. Nothing in them that does not belong to me. In my heart I know they’re yearning for love and down to my entrails, I can feel their cruelty. In another’s eyes I see my plea for forgiveness and in a hardened frown I see my refusal. When someone murders, I know that I too could have done that. And when someone gives birth I know that I am capable of that as well. In the depths of my being I meet my fellow humans with whom I share love and have life and death.”

Obviously, what you did was not right, and I hope that you will not do it again should you find yourself in a similar situation. But regardless of what you did, my Savior Jesus calls me to appeal to the backwards politics of the Kingdom of Heaven and extend to you the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that you don’t deserve. He points to the cross and reminds me of the bloodshed on my behalf even though I didn’t deserve it—even though I put the nails through those hands. He asks me to turn the other cheek, to offer you my cloak, and to go the extra mile. He draws in the dust that makes up my life and asks me if I am without sin.

I drop my stone.

I forgive you.

And I ask my Savior to do the same.

May you be blessed and come to know (or rediscover) the great love of the cross,

-Jamin Bradley

KONY 2012: Ending Slavery

If there ever was a viral video, KONY 2012 would be it. In just 6 days it hit 100 million views making it the “most viral video in history” according to Mashable.

Just to put that in perspective, it took famous viral videos like Laughing Baby, Charlie Bit My Finger Again  and David After the Dentist over a year before they got that many views. The next fastest viral video to KONY 2012 would be that of Susan Boyle’s performance on Britain’s Got Talent which achieved it’s 100 million views in 9 days (see Visible Measures‘ graph for more stats).

Whether all 100 million of those people made it through all 30 minutes of the video, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I’ve never been more sickened by criticism. I’ve written on this blog before about how today’s society is highly critical about everything—especially when they can hide behind the protection of a keyboard (see post 1 or post 2). We rip apart everything we see and it makes me feel so sick that I can’t even begin to scroll through the KONY 2012 YouTube comments. Especially when the first one I see says something along the lines of:

We should concentrate on saving AMERICA first. Kony 2012 is a SCAM for Uganda’s Oil and the region’s resources. Joseph Kony has not been active in over six years. Wake up people! Don’t fall for this scam!

Where do people come up with this stuff?

I wonder how many other negative comments have popped up since that one was made. After all, from the moment I started watching the video to the point in time I am writing this, there have been 1,519 other new comments made on this YouTube video.

On top of this my wife read to me some negative article about Invisible Children before I even got a chance to watch the video. It seems everyone wants to accuse Invisible Children of not spending their money appropriately, minimizing the years of effort they’ve made to make the invisible children out there visible.

By the way you can see how real their work is by reading their financial response or simply watch them clear up all the confusion and gossip in this video:

Everyone’s quick on their feet to react. And furthermore, everyone’s quick on their feet to try to counteract a very real situation out there that needs very real help and justice.

Q. Should we go green?
A. Heck yeah!

Q. Should we treat animals more humanely?
A. You betcha!

Q. Should we do something about slavery?
A. What? Slavery doesn’t exist.

Actually, it does. And Joseph Kony and the L.R.A. are a prime example of what slavery is. According to Not For Sale, there are an estimated +30,000,000 slaves in the world today. That’s more than any other point in human history. They’re children and adults. Women and men. They’re being sold and forced into all kinds of slavery—sex slavery being one of the big avenues.

I work as a pastor in the Free Methodist church and for quite awhile, I thought the “free” in Free Methodism was a part of my past, not my present. We got our denominational name partly because we opposed slavery at an unpopular time to do so. It was so important to us to see it ended that we had to incorporate it in our name as a part of our vision. And now here I stand today, becoming more and more aware of slavery around the world and in my own backyard. There is still a reason today to push the free in Free Methodism and fight for social justice in all areas of the world.

For such a long time I thought there was nothing I could do. But as I educate myself more on the subject, I realize there are things I can do—one of those primary things being educating myself. The more you know and the more you spread that knowledge, the more we create a community of people looking to take a stand against injustice.

And it doesn’t take the identity of being Christian to battle something like slavery. We all know slavery is wrong that we all want to do something about it. We can stop Kony. We can stop slavery. At times we may feel small and unable to make such a massive change, but we can.

Many didn’t believe that Hitler did such horrendous things to the Jews at the time that he did. And now here we stand today, trying to pretend that Kony and slavery doesn’t exist either. Why? I don’t know.

Perhaps the startling realization that all of this does exist is just too much for some to take.

This is me: a small pastor at a small church writing a small post on a small blog in attempts to make a big impact. What are you doing?

God, forgive me for ignoring injustice for this long.

Places to start:

Invisible Children


Action Kit

KONY 2012 Digital Kit

Not for Sale Campaign

Free to Work App