420: (Encore) The Abuse and Forgiveness Dilemma

The sexual assault and abuse scandals rocking Hollywood these days, along with the “Me, too” campaign that is encouraging victims of unwanted or abusive sexual advances to speak up make this a prime moment to re-release one of Mormon Matters podcast’s most powerful episodes. Below is a description of the episode.

The April 2012 General Conference featured a terrific talk by President Uchtdorf that reinforces the importance of being forgiving and non-judgmental. He “bottom lines” his message with the following statement: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” Earlier in the talk, he cited D&C 64:9, “Forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not . . . [stands] condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”

For the vast majority of Latter-day Saints, such messages are wonderfully received. When it comes to judging and hating and resenting and holding grudges, yes, we should “stop it.” Most listeners would also hear in an earnest spirit of striving to do better the scriptural statement that those who fail to forgive others are sinful—perhaps condemned even more than the one who did the offending. But what about abuse victims? What about those who have been physically, sexually, emotionally abused—sometimes relentlessly and violently? How would they hear such messages? Is a warning that they must forgive their abusers, rapists, torturers or else they are even worse sinners than them a good one to hear? Can certain messages that are wonderful in most cases (and no one is imagining that abuse victims were on President Uchtdorf’s mind when he gave his remarks) be heard in spiritually and emotionally damaging ways by those whose self image distorted by internalized shame over the abuse they received as a child or whose lives are in danger or souls are being warped by abuse even in the present? Are there circumstances in which even the beautiful message of “Families Are Forever” be heard as a threat—heard in such a way that a person might express a deliberate choice to live in hell rather than be forced to associate with their abuser(s) in heaven? The answer is yes.

In this episode, LDS therapist Natasha Helfer Parker and blogger and abuse survivor Tresa Brown Edmunds share deep insights about how important it is for all of us, whether it is through official church capacities or friendships or other relationships, to understand and keep in mind the realities of abuse and all the ways it can affect its victims. They discuss the mindset of victims that often includes deeply internalized shame and warped thinking about their own role in the abuse, the effects of trauma and helplessness on physiology and normal bodily responses that manifest in many and varied ways beyond the victim’s control yet somehow still get carelessly talked about (often in wrong-minded gospel frameworks) as if these “problems” are actually the victim’s fault, that if they were only stronger or a better person they would just suck it up and move on.

This discussion is a difficult one but powerful and very important. We encourage you to share it widely.

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Exponent II issue (pdf) with Tresa Brown Edmund’s article on Abuse (see p. 32). Natasha Helfer Parker also has a short essay in this issue (see p. 18)

Amazon links to books mentioned in podcast by Natasha Helfer Parker:

How Can I Forgive You? by Janis A. Spring

Integrating the Shattered Self by Nicki Roth

Comments

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4 comments for “420: (Encore) The Abuse and Forgiveness Dilemma

  1. EDiL13
    October 26, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Wow. Interesting take on the story of Abraham and Isaac. It dovetails nicely with something I felt that I “received” (I make no claim to being “sure” that this was “personal revelation”, so I give it as my opinion) a few years ago when I was “pondering” and “praying” about this, because it has always troubled me:

    It wasn’t God’s idea. Abraham “went off the deep end” — I imagined him being almost obsessed with this one son that he had finally had with his beloved wife against all odds, and perhaps being afraid that he might lose him after all, and then having some sort of nightmare that God demanded a sacrifice, and coming to believe that it really was the will of God. God stopped him, but Abraham never realized that it was never God’s will in the first place, and God knew that he would be devastated if He told him, so He praised him for being “faithful” enough to offer his son (instead of chastising him for attempting to do something so horrible), and that was what went down in the “history” whenever Abraham (or whoever the author was) told the story.

    The idea that Abraham was repeating a pattern of abuse that had occurred in his own family when his own father tried to sacrifice him to a god, as well as the idea that a way was found to heal this pattern, was something I had never thought about from that perspective, even though it was once mentioned in gospel doctrine class, but in terms of how much harder it would have been for Abraham to “pass the test” since he would have known from his own experience how Isaac must have felt. I could never accept the idea that a good, kind, and loving God would administer such a cruel test to anyone, even if He did feel the need for someone to understand what it was going to be like for Him to sacrifice His own son.

    Although I was never severely physically or sexually abused. the LDS church did become an emotionally toxic environment for me, due to policies and practices that did more harm than good where my mental health and emotional vulnerabilities were concerned, to the point that it became necessary to end my membership, so I can really relate to what was said about feeling like you might be a “son of perdition”, and about feeling like the “Celestial Kingdom” would be Hell for you if you had to be with the abusive family you grew up in, although in my case, even though I still wanted to be with my beloved husband, I was afraid that it would be Hell for me if we ended up in a place that was ruled the same way that they run the LDS church on Earth.

    Thank you all (as always) for an enjoyable and enlightening podcast.

    EDiL13 (Elohim’s Daughter in Law)

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 26, 2017 at 2:28 pm

      Powerful comment, EDiL! Thank you for sharing it here!

  2. David
    October 27, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    So where’s the link to Theresa’s article?

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 27, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Sorry, David. I didn’t realize I hadn’t included the links to things mentioned in the show. I’ve now put them into the body of the episode’s writeup. Thanks for alerting me to this!
      Dan

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