Table of Contents (click on star symbol links to navigate within the essay)

       * Why a Discussion for Christians?
       * Why a Discussion for Christian Women?

What is Abuse and Atrocity, and How is it Different from Other Offenses?

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are Not the Same

The Law

First Steps of Forgiveness

Relations with the Abuser

Righteous Intermediate Judgment

The Question of Children

In the Context of Abuse, What Does it Mean to Turn the Other Cheek and to Love and Do Good to Those Who
       Despitefully Use You?

Unconditional Love?

Tips for Avoiding Dehumanization of the Abuser


Guidelines for Bystanders

The Wayward Child and the Prodigal Son

Death, and the Time Before It

The Death Penalty

Remember that Lucifer was an Abusive Member of God’s Family

Praise the Lord!

Appendix: Voices of Those That Have Walked the Path

* * *

Why a Discussion for Christians?
Why a Discussion for Christian Women?

            Sara’s husband has hit her before, even in front of their children.  But this time she required medical attention.  Her husband pleaded with her not to tell the doctors he had hit her, saying he was very, very sorry and didn’t mean it, and that he would never hit her again.  Sara knew that these apologies only resulted in short-term change.  But she was a Christian.  Christ has asked us to forgive “seventy times seven.” She also knew that Christ wanted her to “cleave unto” her husband.  In fact, her husband would tell her that if she didn’t take him back, she would be a worse sinner in God’s eyes than he had ever been.  So Sara lied to the emergency room physician about the source of her concussion, and she went back to her husband as she felt a forgiving wife and Christian should do.  The next time her husband beat her, she wound up in a coma and permanently brain injured.  The authorities put her husband in prison and her children in foster care.

            What is wrong with this picture?  Didn’t Sara do the right thing?  Isn’t she a good Christian?  Do you feel confused trying to answer these questions?

            This essay is written for anyone and everyone who is confused about what forgiveness is and what it is not.  Nevertheless, it is written from a Christian standpoint, using Christian scripture and commentary to examine this topic.  The reason for this approach is that Christian doctrine on forgiveness seems especially prone to misunderstanding, which in turn leads to prevalent bewilderment among Christians.

            The doctrine of forgiveness is one of the most important, yet potentially most confusing, in a Christian’s life.  Our Lord requires us to forgive all.  It is even said that the unforgiving are sinners, perhaps worse sinners than those they have not forgiven.  A forgiving nature is one of the hallmarks of a true Christian disciple.

            But what, precisely, does forgiveness mean?  What does it mean especially in the case of serious abuse or atrocity, whether that be physical, sexual, or emotional in nature?  What does it mean to forgive the man that murdered your child?  What does it mean to forgive the man who raped you or your child?  What does it mean to forgive the man who has repeatedly battered you?  Or who has abandoned you and your children for another?

            These questions seem particularly confusing for women who are Christians.  Women appear to be much more focused on maintaining relationships with those they love.  Perhaps because of the rigors and discipline of caring for babies and young children, women often seem much more inclined to incredible levels of self sacrifice than men in interpersonal relationships.  However, much abuse of women, perhaps most, is perpetrated by the very men that they love and live with.  When asked why they return to a battering spouse, for example, Christian women may answer that they love and forgive that spouse -- and that Christ would expect them to return in order to manifest those feelings.  In order to maintain a relationship with a man they love, women have even been known to turn a blind eye to the abuse of their own children.  Studies show that about half the women who have been abused as children were abused by a family member—and in many cases, the child suspected their mother knew but did nothing.  In especially depraved cases, women may actually assist in the abuse of others, even their own children, at the behest of the men they love for the purpose of maintaining that relationship.  In these and other cases, women have contorted themselves and their values almost beyond recognition for this purpose.  While their motivations are various, here we concentrate on those women who may sincerely feel that maintaining such a relationship is part of their Christian obligation to love and forgive all men.

            In this essay, we will clarify what Christian forgiveness is and what it is not in the context of serious abuse and atrocity.


What is Abuse and Atrocity, and How is It Different From Other Offenses?

            This book concerns only serious abuse and atrocity.  It is not about trivial offenses.  We are to endeavor to let trivial offenses slide off our backs.  We should freely forgive, because we may have once, or may in the future, be guilty of such offenses ourselves.  If a neighbor gossips against you, if someone says something impolite or rude to you, if someone behaves incompetently or foolishly, if people do not give you the credit you deserve -- in all these things, we should endeavor to let these things go, or take the offending person aside and try to reconcile the matter between you in love.  After all, we may have to account to God for committing such offenses ourselves one day.

            But there are offenses so grave, so appalling, that it is impossible to say that we might one day be guilty of the same offense.  Let us look at two categories of grave offense: those that are purely evil and thankfully rare, and those that are also evil but are unfortunately common.  If you have a sensitive spirit and think you understand the distinction being made between run-of-the-mill offense and abuse/atrocity, please skip to the next section.  Otherwise, let us begin by reminding ourselves of the full emotional difference between lesser offenses and the two types of offenses, atrocity and abuse, being discussed in this essay.

            ATROCITY: Pure Evil, and Thankfully Rare.  When a child is kidnapped, tortured, raped, and cruelly murdered, this is sin and atrocity of the most dreadful type.  In Australia in the early 1990s, a young girl was walking home from school, was abducted, raped and tormented, then hog-tied and thrown into a reservoir.  Her killer made sure that she drowned despite her struggles against the cords and her pleas for help.  Then he threw her bookbag in after her.  In Washington state not many years ago, a young boy was kidnapped, raped, mutilated by knife, including his penis cut off, and then was left for dead.  Such atrocities are heart-rending in the extreme.

            Some of the worst atrocities imaginable were committed by the Nazis: After invading Russia, the SS perfected the efficient routine of having mothers hold their infants above their heads so that mother and child could each be shot simultaneously.  One SS trooper preferred to skewer Russian infants on his bayonet, and would watch the child writhe and cry until dead.  In France, the first waves of Jews sent to Auschwitz were separated forcibly from their children, even their tiny babies.  The babies and toddlers were sent alone on separate trains after their mothers had already been sent forward to the camps to be gassed.  The screams and cries of the mothers who had been torn from their babies were heard for miles.  The monstrous Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele would experiment to see how long an infant could survive without food or water by binding the breasts of mothers who had just given birth and then forcing the mothers to take care of their infants without feeding them until the infants died.  In but one tragic case among millions, one young 12 year old boy was hanged in the cellar as the camp was being liberated so that he could not tell of what the Nazis had done to him.  The Japanese in World War II were equally vicious: Unit 731, tasked with committing some of the same experiments as Josef Mengele, vivisected many of their subjects -- that is, victims were autopsied while still alive at the beginning of the procedure.  And all throughout history, armies even into the twenty-first century have ripped open the wombs of pregnant women and left both mother and fetus to die.  Indeed, rape in war was not even considered a war crime until 1996; in the Bosnian genocide, tiny girls as young as 4 years of age were gang-raped by soldiers, with some dying in agony as a consequence.

            ABUSE: Also Evil, But Unfortunately More Common.  These types of abuse are often found in dysfunctional families.  Abuse by family members is a heinous crime, and a profound betrayal of that trust that defines a family.  Incest by brothers or fathers or extended family members can almost destroy the soul of a child, male or female.  As we have noted, it is not uncommon for mothers not to speak up against such abuse; in other cases, video evidence shows that the mother engaged in abuse of the child as well.  In some infamous cases, women were used to gain the trust of other young women, who were then abducted and abused and killed by male companions.  Likewise, parents who sell their children into prostitution, or instruct them in a life of crime, or teach them to abuse, hate, and kill others are guilty of horrible abuse.

            Physical battering within a family is devastating to the victim, but also to children who are forced to watch.  Oftentimes, the battering is the end result of a spiraling cycle of emotional abuse, where a woman is told over and over again how worthless and bad she is, and how she needs to be punished.  The woman may even be confined to her home, the phone ripped out, so that she cannot communicate with her family or with the outside world.  In India, dowry murder can be the ultimate physical battering, where a bride may be set on fire by her husband and his family if the dowry they received from her family is considered insufficient.  The Indian government has even changed its laws so that the husband’s family is considered guilty until proven innocent when brides are killed in mysterious fires.

            Emotional abuse can be so severe as to approximate the killing of a soul.  One young girl was told over and over again by her mother that she wished she’d had an abortion, or that she had flushed the baby girl down the toilet after she was born.  For a mother to wish these things, and to tell them over and over again to a child, is tantamount to attempted murder of the very soul of this child.

            Preachers or other leaders who teach that there is no right or wrong, no sin and no evil, or that salvation may be bought with money, are also guilty of grievous abuse.  Authority figures, such as church leaders, priests, teachers, police officers, and so forth, that abuse those over whom they have a stewardship have committed abominable offenses for which they must and will be held accountable.

             And although our culture tries to persuade us these are light crimes or no crimes at all, betrayal of one’s spouse and abandonment of one’s spouse and children constitute serious emotional abuse, creating lasting waves of deep pain and misery that echo through the generations.  A betrayed spouse may struggle for the rest of their life to become whole once more.  Children of a betrayed and abandoned spouse find themselves impoverished not only materially, but also emotionally.  They may be caught in an emotional impasse, where everyone tells them to be friendly with both parents and to continue to love both parents, even though they can see firsthand the incredible devastation caused by one of their parents deciding to leave the family.  They love both parents, but a serious wrong has been committed -- a wrong they are told by our culture not to label as such.  The betrayed spouse is told to “make peace” for the sake of the children, but it is often a peace based on lies and concealment of abuse.  Such a peace does not heal the soul.  Indeed, burying the natural feelings of pain and injustice that follow such a deep injury may turn these children into chameleons who are capable of committing the same type of injury in the families they subsequently create.

            These are the types of things that we mean by serious abuse and atrocity.  These are not things that most Christians could ever perpetrate -- in such cases, we cannot say we will forgive because we feel we may one day be guilty of the same offenses.  We will never be guilty of these horrible types of offenses.  What has been taken from us by these crimes are our chastity, our bodily integrity, the integrity of our family and our dearest relationships, even our very lives.  These are the core of a human soul – to take these things is to try and take our soul away from us.  These are the worst types of things that can possibly be experienced in this mortal life -- to be raped or sexually abused, to be tortured or mutilated, to be beaten physically and/or emotionally, to be betrayed and abandoned, to be murdered at the hands of evil men -- or to have these things done to our children.

            What, then can forgiveness mean in these types of cases?  What does Christ expect of us?


Forgiveness and Reconciliation are Not the Same

            One great key to comprehending Christian doctrine on this topic is to understand that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing, especially when we are talking about serious abuse or atrocity.  If by reconciliation we mean establishing or re-establishing a full, loving, close relationship with the abuser, this definitional fork in the road is where many Christian women become confused.  Your Christian obligation to forgive is not a Christian obligation of reconciliation.

            This is so because forgiveness is a state of being between you and God -- not between you and the abuser.  Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a state of being between you, God, and the abuser.  Forgiveness, then, is solely dependent upon you.  Reconciliation, however, requires appropriate action on behalf of you and the abuser.  Since you have no control over another person’s agency, you cannot bring about reconciliation by yourself.  However, you can forgive by yourself.  This means that your obligation to forgive does not also mean reconciliation occurs, for these are two different, though related, concepts.

            We will say more about reconciliation in a later section of the essay.  For now, let us focus on forgiveness.

            So what, then, is forgiveness?  When one has been abused, there is searing pain, doubt, anger, fear and despair.  All of these emotions are corrosive to the soul, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ preaches a way of life characterized by love, hope, faith, charity, and confidence.  So one of the worst things the abuser has done to you is to strip from you your ability to live a fully Christian life.  In a sense, the abuser has put a wedge between you and God, and peace seems hopelessly unobtainable.

            How do you get God’s peace back?  How do you get your Christian life of love and hope back?  It is not by forcing yourself to feel all loving toward your abuser.  It is not by absolving the abuser of his crime, for you do not have either the right or the power to do so.  That is a gross mischaracterization of forgiveness of abuse. 

            Forgiveness is, instead, choosing to believe in God. 

            Forgiveness is believing that God felt everything you went through and feels everything you are going through.  Forgiveness is believing that God is outraged at the abuse you endured.  Forgiveness is believing that God, knowing all and being completely just, has serious consequences in store for your abuser.  Forgiveness is believing that any innocent person that died from abuse is now in paradise and in the arms of God.  Forgiveness is believing that God has the power to heal you from the effects of abuse.  In short, forgiveness is believing that God can give back to you what the abuser took away -- love, security, peace. 

            Indeed, though you will not believe it the first time you hear it, keep this thought in mind as you continue to read this essay and you will come to understand the truth it speaks: Forgiveness is not about believing in God’s mercy -- forgiveness is about believing in God’s justice.  (We will speak of God’s mercy in the later section on repentance and reconciliation.)

            God really is just.  God cares about you and your suffering.  God will ensure there are serious consequences for your abuser.  You and all innocent victims will be healed by God.  It is when we doubt these things that we are in hell.  When we doubt God’s justice for us and the abuser, we become filled with those corrosive feelings that will destroy us.  We find ourselves drowning in anger, resentment, contempt, and hatred.  We begin to believe God can’t or won’t dispel our pain, we begin to believe God will not insist on any serious consequences for the abuser  -- and so we feel we must dispel our own pain and must ourselves administer punishment to the abuser.   When we do that, we are supplanting God and dismissing His just nature.  And we are taking upon ourselves tasks that we are not strong enough or wise enough to accomplish.

            Even if you can but desire to believe that God is just, God can work miracles in your life.  Even that tiny step is a real and significant one.

            If we choose to believe in God’s justice for us and for the abuser, then we can feel confident in placing the abuse and its effects in the hands of He who has the power to fix it.  At that point, we are then freed from having to fix it ourselves.  God will fix it, and He will fix it right -- and better than we ever could.  Convinced of God’s justice, we are then free to feel God’s healing power, pouring back into our souls the love, peace, and security that were robbed from us.  With these in our lives once more, we cannot feel any thirst for the abuser to be punished; we can rest in peace that God’s punishment is assured and exquisite.  As the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (Romans 12:19), or as the NIV translates it, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but leave room for God’s wrath.”  Almost all the Psalms of King David are about this very belief: “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.  Upon the wicked shall he rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup” (Ps 9:5-6).  It is clear that one source of King David’s faith in God was his steadfast belief in God’s justice for the wicked.  Richard G. Scott, a man of God, put it this way: “Rest assured that the Perfect Judge, Jesus the Christ, with a perfect knowledge of the details, will hold all abusers accountable for every unrighteous act” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” Ensign, May 2008, p. 42.)  As K., a survivor of sexual abuse, put it, “justice will be paid, but not by the sword in our hands.” 

            Through a strong belief in God’s nature as perfectly just, we can be free of hating our abuser because we have confidence that God is definitely going to ensure justice for abuser and victim.  We can feel confident that the Atonement is not only about mercy, but is about both perfect mercy and perfect justice -- for all victims and abusers alike.

            Believing in God’s justice is forgiveness, and it is the path to freedom from the life of fear, pain, and despair our abuser hoped to inflict upon us.


The Law

            Though we have chosen to forgive -- to let God fix the abuse or atrocity and thereby prevent ourselves from becoming enslaved by corrosive feelings of hatred and revenge -- we still have responsibilities to discharge here on earth about that abuse.  One primary responsibility to discharge is God’s requirement that we report crimes to the proper authorities.  Richard G. Scott explains, “Your preoccupation with a need for justice only slows your healing and allows the perpetrator to continue his abusive control.  Therefore you should leave punishment for the diabolic acts of abuse to civil and church authorities” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse, Ensign, May 2008, p. 43).  Indeed, have you ever thought that one of the most important reasons that God instituted such temporal and ecclesiastical authorities here on earth is to make forgiveness possible in this mortal life when God’s own justice may not as yet be revealed?  That understanding helps us see that reporting abuse is more than an optional gesture on the part of the victim—it rises to the level of an obligation for Christians.

            Violations of federal or state law must be reported to the proper civil authorities -- it is our Christian duty.  Violations of Church law must be reported to the proper ecclesiastical authorities -- it is our Christian responsibility.  Failure to report known crimes and known sins is both a crime and a sin itself (D&C 42:78-93).  Christians cannot overlook these obligations or try to justify a lack of action as some part of the requirement of forgiveness.  Forgiveness involves letting the appropriate authorities handle the case -- these authorities include God, the criminal justice system, and the Church justice system.  So forgiveness involves testifying truthfully about what you have experienced to the appropriate authorities, and holding earthly authorities responsible for any failure to discharge their duties in this regard.

            Richard G. Scott, quoted earlier, has also said, “If you are currently being abused or have been in the past, find the courage to seek help.  You may have been severely threatened or caused to fear so that you would not reveal the abuse.  Have the courage to act now.  Seek the support of someone you can trust.  Your [religious leaders] can give you valuable counsel and help you with the civil authorities.  Explain how you have been abused and identify who has done it.  Ask for protection.  Your action may help others avoid becoming innocent victims, with the consequent suffering.  Get help now.  Do not fear—for fear is a tool Satan will use to keep you suffering.  The Lord will help you, but you must reach out for that help” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse," Ensign, May 2008, p. 42).

            This understanding that forgiveness involves testifying of crime and abuse runs contrary to the confused but common misunderstanding that Christian forgiveness somehow involves burying the pain, burying the memories, concealing what happened, storing the effects of the abuse completely within ourselves.  No!  Forgiveness mean testifying of the truth of what happened to the proper authorities and then letting them handle the case. This may also entail checking to make sure the authorities have discharged their responsibility. 

            Stepping forward to testify of the truth is not unhealthy -- it is not wallowing in abuse.  If you truly have confidence in God, then the truth is merely the truth.  Telling the truth is not being unforgiving -- telling the truth is simply telling the truth.  Telling the truth is a requirement of Christian discipleship.  It is also a civil duty, for civil authorities must be given the opportunity to arrive at the truth in their investigations.  It is also a social duty to warn those who may be at risk for abuse from this individual (and as we shall see, such warnings are not gossip).    Anyone who tries to make you feel otherwise -- that somehow you are being vindictive and unforgiving and a gossip by telling the truth to the proper authorities and other potential victims -- is, in a sense, compounding the abuse you have suffered.  And you should testify of that truth, as well.

            A poignant example of this dynamic is the story of Chris Witty, the 2002 Olympic speedskating gold medalist.  Witty was sexually molested by a neighbor from the time she was four until she summoned the courage to tell him to stop when she was eleven.  After she told her abuser, Clarence Platteter, to stop, he went on to abuse another girl in the neighborhood whom Witty babysat.  Witty has deep regrets about not warning the girl's family:

“Another neighbor, Pat Roebke and her mother, had lived in the neighborhood for 30 years.  They knew Platteter’s victims and had tried to warn other neighbors, the paper reported.  Witty wishes now that she would have alerted people, too.  “Even now, even as a gold medal winner, I feel so guilty about that,” she said.  She had every chance to sound the alarm—and she did try.  When she was much older, Chris babysat the little girl who became Platteter’s victim and the girl’s brother.  He “keeps coming over,” the young boy told Chris.  “I think he really likes my sister.”  “You stay away from Clarence,” Chris warned the brother.  “He’s a bad man.”  It crossed her mind that she should tell an adult, but she didn’t.  Couldn’t.  Witty’s friends and therapist tell her now it was not her job to protect the neighborhood from Platteter.  And all of the tactics he used were textbook predatory strategies.  Befriend the children.  Gain adults’ trust.  Demand secrecy.  Don’t tell.  Don’t tell.  Don’t tell.  These facts don’t make Witty feel one bit better.  “If I had told this story when I was 11, maybe this wouldn’t have happened to her.  I feel like it’s my fault, too.”  (Lucinda Dillon Kinkead, “Skating Past Pain,” Deseret News, 10 October 2004, internet version).


First Steps of Forgiveness

            Maintaining confidence in God and God’s justice after serious abuse or atrocity can often be difficult.  A few will be given it as a gift from God, as an almost instantaneous healing.  One woman, for example, recounts being hit by a loved one, but after getting away to a private place where she could pray, the pain, both physical and psychic, left completely.  Such instantaneous healing is not unheard of -- however, most of us will have to struggle with the pain caused by the abuse for the sake of our own growth.  In the grip of immense pain from abuse or atrocity, what are the first steps of forgiveness?

•          Pour out your heart to God.  If you are able, tell Him everything you are thinking and feeling.  Don’t leave anything out.  The first step in forgiving is to believe God actively wants to hear about every feeling of your heart.  If it is too scary or overwhelming to articulate what you feel, just get on your knees and weep to God -- and even in inarticulateness of your tears, your heart will be telling God what is inside.

•          Discharge your duties to tell of the abuse to the appropriate civil and ecclesiastical authorities.  Richard G. Scott notes, “Do not be discouraged if initially a [religious leader] hesitates when you identify an abuser.  Remember that predators are skillful at cultivating a public appearance of piety to mask their despicable acts.  Pray to be guided in your efforts to receive help.  That support will come” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse, Ensign, May 2008, p. 42).

•          As a first baby step, do not imagine how the abuser should be punished.  Agree in your mind and heart not to pray for or imagine his destruction or torture.  Agree in your mind and your heart to pray simply that God will be just in this case -- and then leave the content of that justice to Him.  Walk away from any temptation to recommend what form that justice should take, except perhaps to pray that one day the abuser will come to a full and complete understanding of what the abuse did to you and your loved ones.

            As you get stronger and you put more and more confidence in God, the desire for personal vengeance will virtually disappear.  You will become so convinced that God will make up the loss to you and your loved ones, so convinced that the innocent dead are in a state of bliss, so convinced of the perfection of God’s justice, that you will be free of anger and hatred.  Your scars will heal in a manner you would have thought impossible.  You may even one day be moved to pray that God help the abuser see and feel the error of his ways and the pain he has caused so that there might be a greater chance of redemption for him.  All of this will take time in most cases.  Do not feel guilty if it does take time, even considerable time.


Relations with the Abuser

            Sometimes the abuser is part of our family -- a parent, a spouse, a loved one.  Women often feel that they must maintain such relationships at all costs.  But if the abuser is unrepentant or insincerely repentant, this is not what God wants you to do.  Indeed, where serious abuse/atrocity has occurred, you may well have a Christian obligation to put a sizeable distance between you and that person, and in some cases to even sever intimate ties with that person.

            As one Christian woman who is also a psychologist, Maxine Murdock, has said, "Forgiveness does not require acceptance of abuse or acceptance of an abusive person . . . Those so wronged have the right and responsibility to protect themselves" (Ensign, June 1994, “I Have a Question,” pp. 60-61).  Forgiveness must not entail allowing an abuser access and opportunity to abuse again.   Indeed, such things are the opposite of forgiveness, for you are standing in opposition to God’s desire not to see you or innocent others abused again. 

            Women often feel that they must turn a blind eye to abuse, or sweep it under the carpet, in order to maintain relationships.  They may even feel that it is God that wants them to do this, citing scriptures about honoring parents or cleaving to one’s spouse or having unconditional love.  This is an erroneous understanding -- God is not pleased when you place parents or spouse or boyfriend above Him and above the truth.  Avoidance of conflict is not the supreme Christian virtue -- sometimes we must set ourselves at variance with those who are not following the path of righteousness.  We must stand up for what is right or true, especially where serious abuse is concerned, even if standing up makes waves within our family or among our friends.  As Christ said,

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.  For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man’s foes shall be of his own household.  He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:34-37)

            God’s will is that you and innocent others not be abused.  If you defy God in order to avoid conflict or to please abusers -- even if they are family members or loved ones -- you will be accountable for that erroneous choice. As Russell M. Nelson, a man of God, has put it, “Boundless mercy can oppose justice.  So tolerance, without limit, could lead to spineless permissiveness. . . . Real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation -- not acquiescence!  Real love does not support self-destructive behavior” ("Teach Us Tolerance and Love," Ensign, May 1994, p. 71).

            There is clear scriptural support for Nelson’s assertion, if we have eyes to see it. The following scriptures may not be the subject of typical Sunday School lessons, but they should be, because in them we will find some excellent guidance on the subject of abuse/atrocity.  In these lesser known scriptures, God Himself has said:

•          “And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed” (Alma 5:60; italics added).

            Commentary: Notice that this is a commandment of God, not a suggestion. God wants you to be vigilant against abuse and abusers.  He does not want evildoers to hurt and destroy you or innocents in your care, and expects you to deny access to such ravenous wolves.  “You shall not pass!” is the watchword of all God's stewards, not simply fictional wizards.

•          “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14; italics added).

            Commentary: This scripture refers to all innocents, not only children.  It is never God’s will that evil be done to innocents.  You must not believe that God was or is indifferent about such evil being perpetrated, or that somehow the evil done to you was part of God’s plan.  It is true that God can turn the evil done by men into good in your life, but this is in spite of the fact that He didn’t want evil to happen to you in the first place.

•          “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee [and then will not change his ways after you and others have confronted him], tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:15-17; italics added).

            Commentary:  In Jewish law, Jews had no close relations with heathens or publicans: they could do business with them, but could not be close friends, or invite them over for dinner, or intermarry, etc.  This saying of Christ’s is very important, because just a few verses later in the book of Matthew (verses 21-22), Christ urges us to forgive “seventy times seven.” Indeed, these two sets of verses are on the very same page of the New Testament!  Obviously, then, in Christ’s eyes forgiving did not necessarily mean the same thing as reconciliation, otherwise Christ would not have instructed us to treat the unrepentant abuser as a heathen and a publican.  This is strong evidence that forgiveness is something that can occur even in the absence of reconciliation with an abuser, and that Christ did not mean for us to reconcile with the unrepentant or insincerely repentant abuser.

•          “Therefore if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; of if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off.  It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell.  For it is better for thee to enter into life without thy brother, than for thee and thy brother to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut if off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.  It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched.  Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another . . . And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, becomes a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.  It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.  For it is better that thyself should be saved, than to be cast into hell with thy brother, where their worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:40-44; 45 48 JST; italics added).

            Commentary: This is a scripture that is often overlooked when Christians discuss forgiveness.  Yes, forgive seventy times seven, but that forgiveness must not entail binding yourself to someone who will lead you into misery and wrongdoing.  Over time, it may become virtually impossible for a Christian to have a close relationship with someone intent on marching towards hell, because one of you would have to decide to go in the other’s direction for you to stay together, and that person should not be you.  To stand fast on that point will create a distance between yourself and the other person -- and that distance is not evidence of being unforgiving.  Indeed, this scripture indicates that it is your Christian responsibility not to march with them to hell even if you love them.

            On the basis of these strong scriptures, we can conclude that it is not unforgiving to distance yourself from or even, if necessary, sever relations with an unrepentant or insincerely repentant abuser.  On the contrary, that may be precisely what God requires of you, depending on the circumstances.  How can He heal you -- how can there be forgiveness -- if you insist on prostrating yourself before an abuser? Remember the First Commandment -- Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart, might, mind, and strength, and have no other gods before Him.  Even the ones we love the most . . .


Righteous Intermediate Judgment

            But what if an abuser who is a loved one or family member claims to have repented?  Isn’t there a Christian obligation to embrace them once more and restore what once was?

            Probably yes in cases involving trivial offense, but not necessarily in the case of serious abuse or atrocity.  The offenses committed, and the stakes of allowing the abuser to abuse again, are simply too large to be cavalier about these things.  Remember that forgiveness means a) allowing God (and other authorities, but not you) to fix and administer justice for the abuse that has already occurred, plus b) taking steps to insure that the abuser is not given access and opportunity to abuse again, and c) opening your heart to God and His healing touch so that you can be free from anger and hatred.  If you have done these things, you have fulfilled your obligation to forgive in the context of abuse or atrocity.  The abuser has no right to force you to the stage of reconciliation.  Bystanders have no right to force you to the stage of reconciliation.  Life is not a sitcom where all embrace at the end of a half hour, especially in the case of serious abuse.

            Abusers have a high rate of recidivism.  The repentance of many is insincere.  The repentance of all abusers is questionable because an abuser may not have the willpower, even if they have the sincere desire, to entirely cease abuse.  These are not unforgiving things to say -- these are true things to say.  It does not help an abuser to give him access and opportunity to abuse again -- it will only heap more coals upon his head.

            An important key given to us by Christian leaders is the concept of “righteous intermediate judgment,” labeled as such by Dallin H. Oaks, a man of God (‘“Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, August 1999, pp. 6-13).  Oaks asserts that no one has the right to place final judgment upon an individual besides his Maker, for only God knows all that occurred in that individual’s life, both pre-mortal and mortal. However, Oaks also teaches that God expects us to make righteous intermediate judgments, as the scriptures in the previous section make plain: 

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law is a vital rule to guide the conduct of a criminal trial, but it is not a valid restraint on personal decisions. There are important restraints upon our intermediate judgments, but the presumption of innocence is not one of them.

Some personal decisions must be made before we have access to all of the facts. Two hypotheticals illustrate this principle: (1) If a particular person has been arrested for child sexual abuse and is free on bail awaiting trial on his guilt or innocence, would you trust him to tend your children while you take a weekend trip? (2) If a person you have trusted with your property has been indicted for embezzlement, would you continue to leave him in charge of your life savings? In such circumstances we do the best we can, relying ultimately on the teaching in modern scripture that we should put our “trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously” (D&C 11:12).

Oaks' principle of righteous intermediate judgment is very helpful as we make decisions in a fallen world. Do you think God is upset -- or pleased -- if you are driving alone with your children and refuse to pick up a male hitchhiker you see at the side of the road?  If that seems clear, let's extend the reasoning. Do you think God is upset -- or pleased -- when a child refuses to go with an individual they do not trust, even if it is grandpa?  Do you think God is upset -- or pleased -- if you refuse to return to a spouse whose battering put you in the hospital?  Do you think God is upset -- or pleased -- when you refuse to believe the unreasonable claims of your abuser that it is all your fault that he abused you?   Do you think God is upset -- or pleased -- when you refuse to rush back to an abusive family member after they have been to see their church leader but once?

            As Christian psychologist Ann Horton has said, “But while the Lord commands us to forgive, He doesn’t tell us to forget any lessons we have learned or demand that we trust an abuser.  We can forgive someone without putting ourselves in the position to be victimized again” (“A Conversation on Spouse Abuse,” Ensign, October 1999, pp. 22-27, quote on p. 27).

            God is pleased when you exercise righteous intermediate judgment to prevent abuse of yourself or others.  Again, it is not unforgiving to do so.  It does not violate God’s commandments to “judge not,” and to “judge not unrighteous judgment.”  You are not doing something wrong, but actually doing good by refusing to be abused and refusing to let others be abused.  If you as a woman have a hard time accepting this, ask God.  Ask God if He wants you or your children or other innocents abused.  And if the answer you receive is that He would rather see you safe, how can He protect you and your children if you are not willing to protect yourselves?

            This fallacy is reminiscent of the old joke: a town is flooded and one man finds himself on the roof of his house with the water rising.  A neighbor comes by in a rowboat to save him, but the man replies, “No need -- God will surely save me!” A helicopter is dispatched to save him, but the man makes the same reply.  The man finally drowns and is furious when he gets to the other side: Why didn’t you save me, God?  And God replies: “Well, I sent a rowboat and a helicopter: why didn’t you accept my help?” Unless we act to protect ourselves and loved ones, we have no right to blame God when our circumstances remain as miserable as ever.  In fact, God would be justified in blaming us.



The Question of Children

            Every person has the agency to be as foolish as the man in the flood.  We will but suffer the price for our own foolishness, which price is our just consequences.  But no one has the right to keep their children on that roof with them.  You have committed a heinous sin -- a true abuse -- if you do so. As Supreme Court Justice Wiley B. Rutledge wrote in a 1944 majority opinion: “parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow that they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children.”

            Women, if you want to return to a battering spouse, you have the right to do so.  God will not be pleased, but you have the agency to do as you wish.  But you have absolutely no right to bring your children back with you.  Women, if you stay with a man who is abusing your children because you can’t bear to part with him, you will learn firsthand what hell feels like.  If you want to choose self-destruction for yourself, you are free to do so; but if you drag your children with you then you are as guilty of their destruction as the abuser himself.

            The local newspaper carried the story of a man who had sexually abused his two little stepdaughters, raping and sodomizing the 4 year old and 6 year old over the period of at least a year and possibly three years.  His sentence was justifiably quite long, but speaking at his sentencing was his wife, the biological mother of the two little girls, who pled for leniency.  She said, “I know [he] has done wrong in the past.  He can be a better person.” The paper went on to say, “[She] said she believes with the proper counseling he could still become a good father to his stepdaughters. “They still love him very much,” she said.” (Geoffrey Fattah, “Harsh Penalty for Child Abuser,” Deseret News, 10 April 2003, B1, B2; quotes from B2.) That this mother could hope that her little daughters’ rapist will one day come and live with them again; that she could believe that her daughters sincerely love their rapist, is almost beyond belief.  There may not be a judicial penalty for this mother in this life, but there will one day be accountability for this woman, whose responsibility it is to protect these two little souls.

            Where innocent children are concerned, there must be zero tolerance for abuse.  If children are involved, then the highest standards of righteous intermediate judgment must be applied.  The highest standards of safety and security and prudence must be used.  If the choice is between hurting an adult’s feelings and possible abuse of a child, then by all means hurt the adult’s feelings.  God feels very strongly about innocent children:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.  (Matt. 18:6).

            Women, here is a pop quiz for you.  In reference to the recent pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church, here are the reactions of two Catholic bishops to a new policy to remove priests after one child abuse offense.  Which one got it right?

A) “I would argue that such a proposed policy, understandable as it may be from a public opinion perspective, is not consistent with who we are as a faith community, [for the Catholic Church teaches] forgiveness and compassion and reconciliation.”

B) “As Catholics, we do believe in forgiveness.  We do believe in the power of conversion.  An abuser who recognizes the profound harm he has committed and who has shown remorse can indeed be forgiven for his sins.  He just doesn’t get a second chance to do it again.  Period.” (Both quotes from Laurie Goodstein, “A Time to Bend, A Time to Sow for U.S. Bishops," New York Times, 16 June 2002, pp. 1, 18).

            If you chose B, you are on the path to a true understanding of the doctrine of forgiveness. 


In the Context of Abuse, What does it Mean to Turn the Other Cheek and to Love and Do Good to Those Who Despitefully Use You?

            Many Christian women feel that Christ’s injunctions to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies and do good to them that despitefully use you mean that God wants you to remain open to abuse, wants you to accept abuse, wants you to stay in an abusive relationship.  In this perverted view, passive acceptance of abuse is the mark of an advanced Christian disciple.  No wonder Christians, especially women, are confused about these issues!  And no wonder Christian women are easy marks for abusive men.

            First, let us take “love your enemies, do good to them that despitefully use you.” This is not a command to accept abuse: you can love and do good to an abuser while rejecting abuse.  Standing up for what is right and speaking out against abuse is loving your enemy and doing good to your abuser.  After all, they certainly won’t find happiness through abusing you!  Likewise, forgiveness is doing good to your enemies and abusers: that is, allowing God to handle their behavior, notifying civil and Church authorities when appropriate and testifying of the abuse as necessary, and protecting oneself and others from future abuse, IS doing good to your abuser.  Continuing to be honest and upright in your dealings with such individuals is doing good to them.  Providing necessities of life, even for abusers, through charitable donations to organizations that would help them is doing good.  Refusing to be vengeful or hateful to abusers is doing good to them.  Strengthening laws that protect innocents from abusers is doing good to abusers.  Gathering evidence against abusers and warning at-risk individuals about abusers is doing good to abusers (and it is not gossiping).  Praying that God is able to wake them up to the reality of the abuse they have committed as a first step toward their redemption is doing good to abusers.  These are all loving behaviors.

            Thus, it is completely possible to love and do good to an abuser without accepting abuse.  One can do good and reject abuse.  One can do good and also take steps to protect oneself and innocent others.  One can do good and also notify civil and church authorities about the abuse.  One can do good but also distance or even feel the need to sever any relationship with the abuser.

            Now, let’s turn to the other cheek.  In this case, we must understand the historical context of Christ’s statement.  In Christ’s time, smiting on the cheek was a form of public, symbolic humiliation.  One is to bear the humiliation and shame and persecution others may heap upon you as a Christian, and not seek to turn and do the same back.  But this injunction does not apply to serious abuse.  If a man has molested your 10 year old, are you to offer your 6 year old as well?  If your husband has broken your left ribs, should you offer your right ribs when you get out of the hospital?  If your boyfriend destroys your self-worth, is it a failure to turn the other cheek if you break off the relationship?  If a rapist enters your home to attack you and you shoot him dead, did you fail to turn the other cheek?  Any Christian woman who has trouble with this concept should again ask God.  Ask God what He meant by turning the other cheek -- does He mean to accept abuse, and even invite further abuse?  Is that what He wants His daughters to do?

            I am 100% certain that you will receive the answer that that is not at all what God meant when He spoke of “turning the other cheek.” Indeed, one early twentieth century Christian theologian, James E. Talmage, had this to say about “the other cheek,” and scriptures like it:

“Of old the principle of retaliation had been tolerated, by which one who had suffered injury could exact or inflict a penalty of the same nature as the offense.  Thus an eye was demanded for the loss of an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life.  In contrast, Christ taught that men should rather suffer than do evil, even to the extent of submission without resistance under certain implied conditions.  His forceful illustrations  - that if one were smitten on one cheek he should turn the other to the smiter; that if a man took another’s coat by process of law, the loser should allow his cloak to be taken also; that if one was pressed into service to carry another’s burden a mile, he should willingly go two miles; that one should readily give or lend as asked -- are not to be construed as commanding abject subserviency to unjust demands, nor as an abrogation of the principle of self-protection.  These instructions were directed primarily to the apostles, who would be professedly devoted to the work of the kingdom to the exclusion of all other interests.  In their ministry it would be better to suffer material loss or personal indignity and imposition at the hands of wicked oppressors, than to bring about an impairment of efficiency and a hindrance in work through resistance and contention.” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1977, pp. 235-236, italics added).

            Remember God’s own injunctions that we have discussed earlier –

•          “And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed” (Alma 5:60; italics added).

•          “Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:14; italics added).

•          “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee [and then will not change his ways after you and others have confronted him -- author], tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:15-17; italics added).

•          “Therefore if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; of if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off.  It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell.  For it is better for thee to enter into life without thy brother, than for thee and thy brother to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  And again, if thy foot offend thee, cut if off; for he that is thy standard, by whom thou walkest, if he become a transgressor, he shall be cut off.  It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell; into the fire that never shall be quenched.  Therefore, let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another . . . And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, becomes a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out.  It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.  For it is better that thyself should be saved, than to be cast into hell with thy brother, where their worm dieth not, and where the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:40-44; 45 48 JST; italics added).

            If someone tries to shame or humiliate you for your Christian beliefs, bear it patiently and without response.  If someone physically abuses you, sexually abuses you, emotionally abuses you, refuse to accept such abuse.  Testify against that abuse, for it has been said by Christian leaders, “we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven -- these should then be attended to with great earnestness” (D&C 123;13-14).  Pour out your soul to God and let Him decide the abuser’s consequences.  Notify the authorities about abuse, and hold them responsible for following through with their duty.  Protect yourself and others from abuse.  But do not abuse in return, do not seek vengeance, do not become filled with hate.  In short, forgive them.


Unconditional Love?

            All Christians have heard the phrase “unconditional love” used in reference to the love that God and His Son have for us and hope that we will strive to have for each other.  Yet the phrase appears nowhere in the scriptures.  One Christian theologian, Russell M. Nelson, makes a strong argument that God’s love is not unconditional.  “While divine love can be called perfect, infinite, enduring, and universal, it cannot correctly be characterized as unconditional.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, February 2003, 20-25, quote with italics in the original, p. 20.) 

            How could God’s love be “universal” but not “unconditional”?  We might want to think of love’s power at two different levels: at the first level, God wants every one of His sons and daughters to repent, become clean, inherit eternal happiness, and be with Him forever.  In this way, love is most certainly universal: He loves all His children.  However, some of His sons and daughters will purposefully reject Him and will love darkness rather than light, lies rather than truth, evil rather than righteousness. Some of His children may even wish to horribly abuse others of His children. That choice cannot help but affect the love relationship they can have with Heavenly Father.  They will not enjoy His presence or even His Spirit; they will not enjoy His favor but rather His chastening.  And if they are ripe in evil, then God may bring war, plague, or famine to their door.  But God will be willing their good even so, for God’s love is universal and even these afflictions can be an act of willing the good of another when performed by the Maker.

            But if by “love” we mean more than willing another’s good in the face of their determination to choose evil—if by “love” we mean God’s love in the sense of the gift of His Spirit, and His presence, and His protection, and His joy, and His peace—then that level of love is reserved for the righteous.  That loving favor is fundamentally conditional.  Therefore we must be very careful when we speak of terms such as “unconditional love.”  God expresses universal love at the first level of meaning of willing good for all, but at the second level of meaning, God’s love is surely conditional, as Nelson suggests.  Let us speak about that second sense of love—favor, blessing, protection, joy, and peace--in this section.

            Russell M. Nelson further describes the forms of conditional expression found in the scriptures, such as “if-then” statements, and “except-cannot” formulations.  He is then able to point out that virtually all statements in the scriptures about God’s love are highly conditional.  Here are some of the examples he provides (p. 22):

•          If ye keep my commandments, [then] ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

•          If you keep not my commandments, [then] the love of the Father shall not continue with you.  (D&C 95:12)

•          If a man love me, [then] he will keep my words: and my Father will love him. (John 14:23)

•          I love them that love me . . . (Proverbs 8:17)

•          God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34-35)

•          The Lord “loveth those who will have him to be their God.” (1 Nephi 17:40)

•          He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.  (John 14:21)

            Russell M. Nelson goes on to comment, “Understanding that divine love and blessings are not truly “unconditional” can defend us against common fallacies such as these: ‘Since God’s love is unconditional, He will love me regardless . . .’; or ‘Since ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16), He will love me unconditionally, regardless . . .’ These arguments are used by anti-Christs to woo people with deception . . . [D]ivine love warns us that ‘wickedness never was happiness’ (Alma 41:10).  Jesus explains, ‘Come unto me and be ye saved . . . Except ye shall keep my commandments . . . Ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (3 Nephi 12:20; quote pp 23-24).

            Nelson clarifies that it is true that God loves both saints and sinners, for his love is infinite and universal.  And the Atonement of the Savior offers immortality as an unconditional gift to all, saints and sinners.  However, the greater gift of eternal life is conditional.  Eternal life, says Nelson, will not be given to the unworthy.

            He ends his sermon with the following:

“Perhaps no love in mortality approaches the divine more than the love parents have for their children.  As parents, we have the same obligation to teach obedience that our heavenly parents felt obliged to teach us.  While we can teach the need for tolerance of others’ differences, we cannot tolerate their infractions of the laws of God.  Our children are to be taught the doctrines of the kingdom, to trust in the Lord, and to know that they receive the blessings of His love by first obeying His commandments” (p. 25).
            We may unconditionally love others by always wishing the best for them: but the best may not be possible for the Lord to provide to the unworthy and disobedient.  The full expression of love, the full blessings that come from love, are only available conditionally.  This is not only true of our individual relationship with God, but is also true in our relationships with one another.  Though we may always wish the best for others, we must do what is right.  We cannot wink at our children’s disobedience to the laws of God.  We cannot refuse to help legal authorities identify and punish criminals.  We cannot allow innocents to be placed in harm’s way because we unconditionally love a sinner.  Wishing the best for someone may mean seeing to it they are held acountable under the law for what they have done, or it may mean not allowing them the opportunity to hurt others, or it may mean accepting a distance from a beloved sinner because we are not able to express agreement with their defiance of God’s laws.  Though we may wish them well, though we may love them well, the full expression of our love and care can only be given conditionally.  If this seems a strange doctrine to you, think more about God’s ways with his children.  Think about scriptures such as, “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).  There is a strong conditionality present in God’s words to us, if we but have eyes to see it.


Tips for Avoiding Dehumanization of the Abuser

            To abuse you, the abuser had to de-humanize you -- to think of you as an object or thing that was not fully human like himself.  Though you may need to distance (or in some cases, sever) relations with an abuser, you must guard against de-humanizing them in return.  If you de-humanize your abuser, in a sense you are abusing them.  It is impossible not to let hate, contempt, and a desire for vengeance creep into one’s soul if you have de-humanized another soul, even the soul of an abuser.

            However, the more heinous the abuse or atrocity, the harder it is to hold onto any concept of the abuser as a human being or as a child of God.  This is completely understandable, and you should not feel any guilt if it seems difficult for you.  But you should still try not to de-humanize them.

            One way to cling to their humanity is to hold a young newborn who has learned to smile and is not afraid of others -- say, about three months old.  A three month old baby will delight in you.  They will smile and coo at you.  They will be full of joy when you smile at them and tickle their chin.  To be around a three month old child is to be around heaven.  A three month old cannot deceive; a three month old harbors no malice toward anyone.  Every feeling is pure -- pure delight, pure love, pure hunger, pure joy, pure exhaustion, pure pain.  A three month old is incapable of abuse or betrayal.  They are as pure and guileless as the new fallen snow.  Just being around a three month old is a healing experience.

            But go one step further -- the abuser was once a three month old baby.  The abuser was once incapable of abuse and pure as new snow.  The abuser once smiled and cooed in love of everyone.  The abuser was once purely innocent.  The abuser once had a better soul, a better self.  Even if you can only intellectually think it and not deeply feel it, still try.  Accept that the abuser was once exactly like this precious three month old and cry for the incredible loss he has suffered to be where he is now and be who he is now.

            However, if you can reach the point of crying for him, that does not alter your responsibilities.  He is not that three month old any longer.  You must still do what is right to do -- reject abuse, notify authorities, distance or even sever the relationship when repentance is absent or insincere.  But what this mental exercise will do is change what is inside of you -- you can now put up a wall to shut out hate and contempt and a thirst for vengeance if you can keep that picture of the three month old in your mind.  Do not worry if it is difficult to do; just trying is what counts.



            As noted at the beginning of this essay, forgiveness is between you and God.  You can freely forgive even if the abuser remains completely unrepentant.

            However, reconciliation is a different matter altogether.  Reconciliation is between you, God, and the abuser.  All three parties are necessary for reconciliation to take place, if reconciliation means restoration of trust, intimacy, and closeness in relationship.  Let us talk about the steps each of the three parties takes in the process of reconciliation:

•          The Abuser

            The abuser must fully complete all steps of repentance sincerely, and “bring forth fruit meet for repentance.” Some crimes may be so heinous that full completion of these requirements cannot occur in this life, only in the next.  In such cases, it will be up to God to decide when the requirements have been fulfilled. No bystander has the right to make that determination -- certainly the abuser has no right to make that determination.

            Some may be confused about how to recognize sincere repentance. There are some signs, which manifest themselves in several steps, which include:

            1). Recognition that one has abused.  Many abusers are unable to even recognize that they have committed grievous sin and crime.    Many will blame others, including their victims, for any abuse they have committed.  Most abusers lack any sense of personal responsibility.  Accomplishing even this first step may be more than an abuser is prepared to do, or is capable of doing.

            2).  Sincere remorse for the abuse.  Great suffering will accompany this step, if sincere.  Even though the Atonement will eventually pay the full price for the sin, the abuser will pay a fair price, as well.  That price may well be the revelation to the abuser’s soul of how much their victims and loved ones suffered.  The abuser experiences in some way their victims’ suffering in the working out of the Atonement in their lives.

            Some abusers believe that if they simply express sorrow or regret, Christ will bear the entire punishment through the Atonement.  But that is not a correct understanding.  As Dallin H. Oaks has said, “What is meant is that the person who repents does not need to suffer “even as” the Savior suffered.  Sinners who are repenting will experience . . . suffering, but . . . they will not experience the full “exquisite” extent of eternal torment the Savior suffered” (“Sin and Suffering,” BYU fireside, 5 August 1990).  And as Spencer W. Kimball said, “One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins . . . If a person hasn’t suffered, he hasn’t repented. . . He has got to go through a change in his system whereby he suffers and then forgiveness is a possibility” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 88, 99).

            3).  Confession.  An abuser must fully confess his sin to God and to civil and ecclesiastical authorities and bear whatever punishment is affixed to his transgressions.

            4).  Restitution.  The abuser must make full restitution to the victims, if possible. Restitution is another part of the price the abuser must pay, even if sincerely repentant. If such restitution cannot be made in this life, it will be made possible in the next.  God is able to restore all things and to make up all losses, though we understand that may occur in the next life. 

            5).  True Change.  A true penitent will be determined never to abuse again, for his heart and life will be renewed and he will have no more desire to do evil.

            An abuser who has sincerely fulfilled each of these steps can reach come to the point where the mercy of God – and not only God’s justice - can begin to play a role in the abuser’s life.      

            For example, several years ago a teenaged boy dropped rocks off a highway overpass.  One rock smashed the windshield and then the face of a man who was driving by in a car.  The victim had to endure excruciating pain and numerous surgeries.  The boy began to write to him from prison, saying that he wished he had been the one in the car instead, and that he wished the injured man had rather died, so that he would not have to suffer so much pain.  These types of sentiments, indicating that the abuser is vicariously feeling what his victim feels, may be indicative of sincere repentance.  The boy seems to have been just an insensitive idiot when he dropped those rocks.  In addition to forgiveness, which is always available, reconciliation in this life between the boy and the man is a distinct possibility, and the sweetness of God’s mercy can begin to be felt.

            However, take the case of another teenaged boy, who was not just an insensitive idiot.  He was a member of a gang who shot at a car that looked like it belonged to a rival gang member.  It didn’t -- it was full of teenaged girls, one of whom was hit by a bullet and bled to death.  The boy didn’t even know he had shot someone.  When they hauled him in and informed him of the fact and showed him the girl’s picture, his comment was to the effect that if he had known she was so pretty, he would have raped her first before he shot her. Given these circumstances, in this life it would seem almost beyond belief to think that forgiveness could be followed by reconciliation between this boy and the girl’s family, or that God’s mercy could be applicable at this stage.  We can be thankful that change is still possible in this life, and also that this life is not where the story need end.

            Even with sincere repentance, abstaining from abuse for the rest of the abuser’s life may be difficult, and may require fail-safe procedures to be put into place.  Truly penitent pedophiles, for example, still should not be given unsupervised access to children for the rest of their mortal lives. Again, this is not unforgiving -- this is instead righteous intermediate judgment.  Authority figures must not privilege former abusers over the innocent -- especially vulnerable innocents such as children.  Church authorities must not jeopardize the security of the innocents over whom they have a sacred stewardship: as Richard G. Scott advises church leaders, “Carefully supervise the participation of any individual who may have had past offenses . . . Seek the guidance of the Spirit when you feel that something may be amiss.  Enlist the help of [church members and leaders] to avoid potential dangers” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse,” Ensign, May 2008, p. 43).   If an unintended injustice is thereby done to a repentant sinner, God will make that up to that person in the next life.  Indeed, part of the price of repentance may well be understanding without bitterness why you are no longer trusted around vulnerable innocents.

            The responsibility of the abuser to make reconciliation possible is thus: 1) full and sincere repentance, 2) bearing the price that sincere remorse and restitution demand, 3) understanding why trust may not be restored quickly, or even at all, in this life.

•          The Victim. 

            The responsibility of the victim concerning reconciliation is, first and foremost, to forgive: that is, to place one’s confidence in the Lord’s justice (and not one’s own, eschewing feelings of hatred and vengeance), to notify all relevant authorities of the abuse and follow up to make sure the authorities have discharged their duties, and to take steps to protect oneself and others from future abuse. 

            The second responsibility is to receive any offerings of remorse or restitution from the abuser, in the event those are forthcoming. However, this does not mean that one necessarily has to believe the abuser is sincere, nor does it mean that one must respond or have any sort of relationship with the abuser.  It is enough to receive these things in silence, if possible a peaceful silence, with no response or relationship required: one must, minimally, not reject these things.  (And one need not receive these things in person; you are entitled to maintain a safe distance even while receiving these things.)  It may not be until the hereafter that you will know the truth regarding the sincerity and depth of the abuser’s repentance.  But in this life, you are entitled to make an intermediate judgment that the abuser is not sincere or still represents a danger, if that is your judgment, and that therefore reconciliation is still inappropriate.  As noted previously, in this aspect serious abuse/atrocity is a different matter than trivial offense, where reconciliation should be actively sought by the victim in this life.  With grievous abuse or atrocity, that requirement in many cases must be deferred until the next life when all will be known.

            Third, one must be open to the revelations and promptings of the Spirit with regard to the situation.  For example, one woman felt prompted to send her abusive father cards for Christmas and birthdays, but not to visit him.  Great good was wrought thereby, but continued safety of the victim was simultaneously ensured.  Another man was given the gift to feel the desire to reconcile with his abusive father (which he had never felt before), with the Spirit revealing to him that his father was sincere in his repentance.  Immense joy resulted for both parties.  But make sure you are listening to the Spirit, not to bystanders who may urge you to action that makes you uncomfortable or fearful.    Feelings of anxiety, fear, even nausea, are ways that the Spirit has of warning you not to do something; in this case, not to reconcile.  Respect those feelings.

            The last responsibility, which will probably not take place until the next life in the case of very serious abuse, is to be open to learning through God that reconciliation has become possible. You will not want the abuser to pay any more than you paid for the abuse, and God will be able to impart such knowledge to you.  When the abuser is freed in this just and merciful manner, you and God and the abuser will all rejoice.

•          The Lord God.

            The Savior of all suffered for us that we might not pay the full price for our sins if we were truly repentant.  This does not mean the abuser gets off scot-free: as we have seen, the repentance process, if completed fully and sincerely, is very painful in and of itself.  The Atonement would be a supremely unjust act if victims continued to suffer from the abuse or effects thereof while abusers paid no price for what they have done.  But the Atonement is the pinnacle of both mercy and justice -- the place at which justice and mercy are wed.  Sometimes women accentuate mercy over justice, and so feel the Atonement must be only about mercy.  But that is not the case. 

            Justice and mercy are both evident in the Atonement.  The abuser will suffer through the repentance process -- but such suffering will have an end if repentance has been full and sincere.  Perhaps God will give the memories of the victims to their abuser to carry for as long as the victims were forced to carry them.  But after that suffering has been borne, the remainder of the price has been paid by the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the mercy of God, and it is just that it can only be earned through full and sincere repentance.

            We know also that in addition to paying the price for sin, Christ also suffered all the pains of innocent victims in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He did this so that His justice could be perfect -- He must know your suffering to be able to claim He loves you, and He must know your suffering in order to correctly judge your abuser.  Furthermore, He must know your suffering in order to be able to make up your loss to you.  If He did not feel your loss as you felt it, He could not gauge the restitution you require.  Perhaps the Lord makes up the loss by taking away your memories of the abuse in the hereafter.  Perhaps the loss is made whole by giving you all that would have been yours if you had not been abused.  In whatever fashion, the Atonement provides as much of an escape for the victim as it does for the abuser.  The Atonement is truly the marriage of mercy and justice -- the mercy applied is just, and what is just is ultimately the most merciful thing that can be done.

            Through the Atonement, the Lord claims the titles of Savior and Judge both.  Only the Lord can decide when the abuser merits the grace of the Atonement -- if ever.  Only the Lord can fully make up the losses suffered by the victim.  As such, the Atonement is the lynchpin that makes reconciliation possible.  Without the Atonement, no such thing as reconciliation could possibly occur.  With the Atonement, reconciliation becomes a possibility, though not an inevitability--as we have seen, the possibility of reconciliation inherent in the Atonement must be activated by both the abuser and the victim.  This may take place in mortality, but where serious abuse or atrocity has occurred, it is not likely to take place until the next life.


Guidelines for Bystanders

            Sometimes we are not the victim -- sometimes we are the friend, or the bishop, or the police officer, or part of the extended family.  We are bystanders to the abuse or atrocity.  But we can be involved in a positive way with victims.

            An important first principle is that no one deserves to be abused.  No one receives abuse as some justified consequence of behavior on the part of the victim.  A woman who was wearing a short skirt when raped did not deserve to be raped.  Rape is not the justified consequence of wearing a short skirt.  Rape is an evil, vicious crime justified by nothing, for it is unjustifiable.

            Second, though some cultures deny this truth, victims are still innocent and pure.  In some cultures that place emphasis on virginity, to be raped is tantamount to being an adulterer, with full blame affixed on the victim. However, that is not an accurate understanding of God's justice: any chaste person, male or female, who has been raped is still chaste in the eyes of God; virgins, male or female, remain virgins.  Victims do not need to repent of anything, for they have not done anything for which repentance is necessary.  These perspectives must be imparted to the victim by those who care for them.

            Third, the most Christ-like thing one can do for a victim is to listen to them.  It is akin to abuse to refuse to hear a victim, for invisibilizing abuse is itself a crime.  Bystanders should support victims in testifying to the relevant authorities about abuse.  Victim testaments must be respected and listened to respectfully in their entirety -- even if the authority in question is required to determine the veracity of the testimony.  Richard G. Scott notes, “Remember that predators are skillful at cultivating a public appearance of piety to mask their despicable acts . . . Recognize that it is very unlikely that a perpetrator will confess his depraved acts . . .[P]ainstakingly assure that every individual that is suffering from abuse receives appropriate help” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse," Ensign, May 2008, pp. 42-43.)  Ecclesiastical leaders, especially, must listen to the entirety of a victim's testimony if they ever hope to manifest Christ’s healing love to victims.  After all, Christ actually suffered what the victim suffered in order to have the power to heal these individuals.  The least an ecclesiastical leader who claims to be called by Christ can do is really listen to victims. 

            The end of silence often marks the beginning of liberation of a soul from the hell created by the abuse.  As one physician put it, “The silence of abuse covers the frequency of the problem.  Silence shields the predators and prevents the treatment of the perpetrators and the healing of the violated.  Silence sustains shame and fosters feelings of fault by the guiltless . . . [S]uffering in silence is not golden.” (Joe Cramer, “Suffering or Cowering in Silence is Not Golden,” Deseret News, 22 March 2008, A11.)  Ridicule of or unjustified skepticism toward a victim who has broken their silent suffering--or meeting a victim’s testimony with silence and averted eyes--constitutes a new layer of pain for the victim.

            Fourth, bystanders have the obligation to learn what forgiveness of serious abuse and atrocity is, and what it is not.  False traditions about forgiveness may lead bystanders to urge victims to engage in behavior that is inappropriate, premature, or even harmful.  Bystanders should never push or prod victims according to the bystanders’ sense of timing.  Bystanders should instead respect the path to forgiveness of the victims, and encourage them to have confidence in the justice of God and His healing power.  Richard G. Scott, addressing victims of abuse, says, “While an important part of healing, if the thought of forgiveness causes you yet more pain, set that step aside until you have more experience with the Savior’s healing power in your own life” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse," Ensign, May 2008, p. 42). 

            For Chris Witty, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist in speedskating we met previously in this essay, the hardest betrayal was, in her opinion, the betrayal she felt from her family.  When Witty first began to explore her childhood sexual abuse with a therapist, she called her parents to tell them what had happened to her when she was a child.  Apparently, her parents were not responsive: “Witty’s family had also talked to the old neighbor [her abuser—author].  ‘Maybe he’s learned his lesson,’ they told Chris.  ‘He’s really not a bad person.  Maybe now we can all heal.’  Witty knows they were probably trying to be supportive of an old friend, but that support felt like betrayal to her . . . ‘I want you to see him for what he really is,’ Chris wrote [to them—author] . . . Chris wanted support.  She wanted understanding and love from her parents and family.  She knows they probably did the best they could, but she is hurt.” (Lucinda Dillon Kinkead, “Skating Past Pain,” Deseret News, 10 October 2004, internet version). 

           A parallel wrong occurs when anyone who claims to be a friend or loved one or family member of the abuser overlooks or downplays what the abuser has done in the name of Christian principles, or unconditional love, or loving the sinner.  Indeed, the most loving thing a friend or family member or church leader can do is to insist that the abuser begin the steps of repentance immediately.  Reach out to them in love, but for the purpose of drawing them away from their abusive behavior.  Speaking to perpetrators, Richard G. Scott exemplifies this type of exhortation:

“You likely have deceived yourself in the false, temporary security that you have successfully hidden your transgression from the civil or church authorities.  But know that the Lord Jesus Christ is completely aware of your sins. . . .Know that even without action by a victim, your act of abuse will be publicly known, for Satan will expose you, then abandon you. . . .Show your desire to heal the anguish that you have cause others.  Talk to your [church leaders].  The seriousness of your acts may require you to face civil and church discipline . . . Recognize that it is much easier to repent in this life than it will be in the next, so repent now.  You will be helped when you decide to be freed from your addiction though repentance and the support of others.  Be grateful that you didn’t live anciently when abusers were stoned to death without the opportunity for repentance” (Richard G. Scott, “To Heal the Shattering Consequences of Abuse, Ensign, May 2008, p. 43).
          If the abuser is unwilling to budge from their sin or even to admit that they have done wrong, then the next most loving thing to do may well be to distance yourself from the abuser. Continue to love them, but stand your ground with respect to their abusive behavior.  Do not confuse love with acceptance.  It is a braver thing to stand up to our friends and family members than it is even to stand up to an enemy.  We have no right to deny to the abuser his negative consequences, including perhaps losing our close fellowship when there has been no effort on the part of the abuser to repent, for these negative consequences are the catalyst God is providing to facilitate personal change.  (Interestingly, this is the basis for Church sanctions such as disfellowship and excommunication -- both of which are about the withdrawal of relationship, to one degree or another.)

          Confusion of love with acceptance can even further damage the victim, especially if both victim and perpetrator are in the same family.  Listen to this heart-rending letter to Dear Abby, which Abby entitled “Sometimes, abuse perpetrators are treated better than victim"s (Deseret News, 7 July 2005, C4):
“Dear Abby: “Lost Teen in LA” asked whether to tell the family about being sexually abused at 7 by a close relative.  She is afraid of the repercussions the perpetrator will suffer if the secret is revealed.  (You advised her to do so.)  Unfortunately, that isn’t all she needs to be afraid of.  I was molested by my father at age 7 and again by my brother at 14.  Unfortunately, revealing what happened put me in the position of being perceived as “the accuser,” while these two family members are regarded as “innocents.”  I’m the one who is “forgotten” at family reunions.  I am the one not invited for Sunday dinners.  Why?  The answer I was given by my own mother was: “He’s now so old and fragile, he doesn’t remember.  His time on Earth is limited, so why bring up horrible things that can only cloud what days he has left?”  He wasn’t old and frail when he molested a 7-year old.  I didn’t bring out these allegations on my own.  I was in therapy and just coming to the realization that “something awful might have happened,” when I got a phone call asking me straight out if I recalled any kind of abuse by my father.  Dad had admitted it while in psychiatric care before he was placed in a nursing home.  My world crumbled in seconds.  As for my brother, no one has heard from him in three years.  I am not sure he even knows that what he did to me is now out in the open.  But I listen to my mother cry for a lost son and the grandchildren she will never see again.  I also listen to other relatives—who also know what happened—comment that “maybe one day he’ll just show up,” and “wouldn’t that be great?”  Please warn “Lost Teen” that while she may fear what happens to her molester, there’s always the flip side of the coin.  The first thing counselors tell us is it wasn’t our fault.  But sometimes our families treat us like it is.  Signed, Lost in the Land of the Free.”

          The consequences are truly tragic when the truth plays second fiddle to the desire not to make waves within a family.

            Last, bystanders have the obligation to prevent further abuse of the victim or other innocents.  Especially where children are concerned, the appropriate attitude toward abuse is “zero tolerance” and "zero opportunity." And if we are friends or family members of the abuser, we must never allow our love for the abuser to stop us from preventing him from abusing innocents again.  Our first loyalty must be to God and to innocents, not to the abuser, even if he be a friend or family member.  Righteous intermediate judgment, as explained earlier, must be invoked by those whose stewardships include the safety and watchcare over vulnerable innocents.

            There is yet one more obligation for bystanders that must be mentioned.  In addition to the actual victim of abuse, there may be other victims.  The family of the victim is also most probably suffering intensely.  Furthermore, the abuser may have innocent family, such as a spouse or parent or children, who knew nothing about the abuse and are also in great pain at the revelation that their loved one is an abuser.  These individuals also need support.  In particular, great care should be taken that innocent relatives of the abuser are not shunned or ostracized for the abuser’s sins.  That, of course, would constitute abuse of the innocent, as well.  We cannot allow what the abuser has done to lead us to abuse others.

The Wayward Child and the Prodigal Son

            Sometimes the abusers are our own wayward children.  If the very worst thing that can happen to a mother is to lose her innocent child at the hands of evil men, then the second worst thing must be to have one’s child become an abuser himself.  Intense guilt follows, as the mother wonders if these choices were somehow the product of parenting received in the family.  In almost all cases, that is not the case.  The child has simply been attracted to the wrong influences, and has allowed evil to have a hold on his heart. 

            A mother cannot help but always love her child.  But love does not mean acceptance, as we have seen in a preceding section on that subject.  Not even God loves us unconditionally; the term does not even appear in the scriptures.  Though God loves all, saints and sinners, and wants the best for us, God will not bless or protect the unworthy.   A mother who hides or shelters an abusive child from the law, a mother who enables her abusive children by feeding and sheltering them so that they are able to continue the abuse, a mother who conceals the abusive nature of her child which results in innocent individuals being placed at risk or injured, a mother who refuses to hold her child to a righteous standard of behavior in the name of unconditional love -- any mother who does these things does have something to feel guilty about!  Remember, “he who loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” You must love God and his law, his truth, and his goodness, more than you love even your child, or you can never really do right by your child. 

            If you are the mother of an abuser, tell him (repeatedly) you love him and will forever, but that you will do right by him.  Tell him that you will turn him in to the authorities yourself if he breaks the law.  Refuse to provide for him so that he can continue his abuse of others.  Insist that repentance is the only way forward, if the close relationship is to continue. Warn and protect at-risk individuals from him.  Refuse to make his life easy for him; refuse to provide a haven where he can feel he is safe and protected no matter his crimes; refuse to “keep the peace” so that conflict is avoided.  After all, these are all things that God would do for your child, for the sake of his salvation.  They are but a small price to pay compared with the price your child will have to pay if he does not turn his life around.  Would you rather see your child protected in this life, but in torment in the next?  Or would you rather expose your child to the consequences of his abusive acts in the here and now, in the hopes he will repent, qualify for the Atonement, and be saved in the next life?

            Now, some may tell you that the parable of the Prodigal Son is meant to suggest that parents should embrace their children no matter what they have done, as a sign that we have unconditional love for them.  Indeed, the father in the parable appeared not to hinder the son at all in his behavior.  Let’s look more closely, though.  In a previous section, we have heard the strong arguments of Russell M. Nelson as to why it is erroneous to characterize God’s love for us as “unconditional.” But let’s look at the parable itself as a testimony that this is so.  We cannot tell from the scriptures whether the prodigal son was involved in abusing others, or simply living a “riotous” life by abusing himself.  Nevertheless, while the son was living this riotous existence, the father in the parable did not run after his son and offer to have him live at home and be provided for and enabled while he was continuing this type of life.  Instead, the father waited in silence.  We are not told how long he had to wait, perhaps for years.   We are not told that there was even contact between the father and the son during this time.  But when the son did turn around, when he did repent of his foolishness, when he did retrace his steps back home wanting only to be a servant and not claim back his privileges -- when that day came, his father ran out to meet him and embrace him.  The father even held a big party to rejoice over his son’s return.  Was the prodigal son restored all his privileges, at least in this life?  Probably not -- I’d venture he probably wasn’t trusted with money anymore.  Even after sincere repentance, there may be some continuing restrictions or limitations based on sure knowledge of the abuser’s weaknesses.  But now the unconditional love in the parent’s heart could envelope the young man once more.  While the son was doing wrongfully, that love waited silently in a state of hope and anticipation -- but not in a state of enabling or overlooking the bad behavior.

            If an abuser not only hears from authorities and his victims that he needs to change his life -- but he also hears it from his Mom and his Dad and his brothers and his sisters and his best friends -- he has a better chance of returning to the path of happiness.  Sometimes this means that the relationship will have to be strained, distanced, or even severed (at least in this life).  In many cases, this distancing is initiated by the unrepentant loved one, who cannot be at peace in the presence of those who desire that he change.  That does not mean your love for the person has vanished -- it only means it cannot be expressed in a way that would help the individual if the relationship is not altered.  In these cases, one sometimes must wait in strong, faithful silence, the love sitting there in your heart, waiting for your loved one to retrace his steps back.  In the meantime, you can be praying and even fasting for this child.  And if they do return with a changed heart and nature, you will be there to run out to them and hold them in your arms once more.  That will be a truer joy than the path of “the peace of lies,” where a mother hides abuse so that she can avoid conflict with her child and maintain a close relationship with him.  The path of loving your child more than God is the path of never-ending sorrow, guilt, and grief.


Death, and the Time Before It

            There can be nothing worse for a mother than to know that her child died at the hands of evil men after great suffering and abuse.  Because a mother’s love is so near to divine, a mother will try in her mind to suffer through what her child suffered before and at death -- because, like Christ, she loves her child so much that she cannot help but desire to suffer all that they have suffered, just as Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane what each of His children suffered.  The child is no longer alive to comfort; the mother cannot try to take the burden from them through loving them, for they are no longer here to embrace and comfort.  No doubt such feelings are the same for fathers, as well.

            Imagining over and over again what probably befell her poor child is a horrible fate.  Some mothers even go so far as to contact their child’s killer in prison to get information from them about their child’s last moments.  But this is even greater torture.  One imprisoned serial killer of young boys wrote to an inquiring mother that her son had been a “screamer” who had called for his “mama” over and over again as he was tortured, abused, and finally killed.  The pain of learning such information can almost be worse than the imagination.  Serious depression and suicide can follow, as the pain of these thoughts haunts the mother.

            I cannot pretend to have any final answers for this horrible predicament, for the only answer must come from God.  Yet there are two things that I can offer.  One is that we know from God Himself this sure promise: “And it shall come to pass that those that die in me shall not taste of death, for it shall be sweet unto them” (D&C 42:46).  I was not sure what this scripture meant until a friend related the following story -- and this is the second thing I have to offer, as meager as it seems in the face of such overwhelming pain.

            My friend was scuba diving with her husband and another friend in the Gulf of Mexico.  They decided to explore an underwater cave, and my friend went in first.  The entrance to the cave collapsed upon her. A split second before the collapse, she related afterward, she was whisked away to a place about 20 yards from the scene.  Her spirit was there with another spirit that she did not see, but whose comforting presence she could feel.  She felt perfectly safe and perfectly calm as she watched her body struggle against the collapsing rock and eventually go limp.  She watched her husband and friend dig her body out and begin to bring it to the surface.  Just before reaching the surface, she felt her spirit whisked back into her body, where she came to herself.  The episode encompassed at least 10-15 minutes of earth time, though it seemed speeded up while she was not in her body.

            I believe my friend had a true experience.  I wonder if this is the answer to understanding the Lord’s promise.  Perhaps, somehow, in those awful moments before death, our spirit is not fully with our body, and not fully experiencing what our poor body is experiencing.  But our body is still functioning and moving and reacting as if our spirit were within it.  If these things are true -- and I confess I do not know if they are -- then perhaps God would whisk the spirits of innocent children away from their bodies as abuse and murder were done to them.  At least, I choose to believe this is so.  It would be like our Savior for this to be true.

            Others besides my friend have had similar experiences.  Here are book excerpts about this phenomenon of bodies continuing to function, move, and speak while the soul was not within it:

“It appears that one’s body can continue to function even after the spirit leaves it.  Bodies have been seen to walk, talk, give birth, etc., by the individuals whose spirits are located outside of their bodies.  Doris, a woman sailor, for instance, had this experience after going without food for eleven days:
            ’I was walking back to my bunk and as I passed a cinderblock wall, all of a sudden within the snap of a finger, I found myself high above my body.  My body continued to walk below me.  Naturally, I went into shock.  I never had expected anything like that.  I had never even heard of it.  It took me at least a minute to get hold of myself.  In the meantime my body kept right on walking below me . . . '"
            And another:
“James Niitsuma, an automobile accident victim, stood outside of his body and watched his mortal body talk to a nurse: ‘I could see them working on me from outside my body, while it was under the car . . . I could see them working on me, and I could see my lips moving.  I could hear the nurse, yet I was outside looking at her.’”  (Duane S. Crowther, Life Everlasting, Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishing, 1999, p. 56)
            In childbirth, Melanie Killian experienced something very similar:
“’When the dilation had neared completion, the birth agony was driving me out of my mind, and maybe that was just what happened, for I suddenly felt a weird whirling sensation—and ‘pop,’ I was floating over the bed in the labor room, looking down on my body and the nurse who was trying to ease my pain.’  Melanie was shocked to see how contorted her facial features appeared.  ‘At first I thought I must have died, but then my body below began to move and let out a terrible cry of pain,’ Melanie was really baffled.  That was definitely the Melanie Killian she knew and loved down there on the bed, writhing in what was obviously awful agony.  But it was also Melanie up near the ceiling, watching the scene below, feeling absolutely no pain at all” (Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger, Baby Miracles, Adams Media, 2003, p. 76).
            However it is fulfilled, the promise that death will be sweet only holds for the innocent -- for evildoers, there is a different promise: “And they that die not in me, wo unto them, for their death is bitter” (D&C 42:47).  As we have seen, God is a God of perfect justice, as well as being a God of perfect mercy.  They who warrant mercy shall have it; they who do not warrant mercy will not obtain it.  This is an absolute assurance from God, about which there can be no doubt.


The Death Penalty

            Some think it would be unforgiving not to ask for clemency for the person who has murdered their loved one in a death penalty case.  Some have expressed the opinion that if the murderer were to be executed, that would stunt the survivors’ ability to forgive and find peace.

            In reality, however, there is no relationship between forgiveness -- or even reconciliation -- and the death penalty.  Penalties are affixed by a society for crimes, and the worse the crime, the more serious the penalty.  That a murderer pays a particular penalty does not lessen your ability to forgive them, or the potential to be reconciled to them in the hereafter.  The murderer has an eternal life, just like his victim.  The murderer has just as much possibility of repenting and coming to a stage of reconciliation with his victims and God in the next life as he does in this one.  His passing to the other side does not preclude these things.

            Thus, if you think the death penalty is wrong in principle, by all means work to overturn laws allowing it.  But do not fall into the confused state of thinking that in order to be a forgiving person you must oppose the death penalty for those that have murdered your loved ones.  The death penalty is but society’s way of expressing its horror at certain crimes, and in no way removes your opportunity to forgive and to perhaps eventually come to a state of reconciliation. Personal forgiveness and societal penalties are not really linked. It is the obligation of the repentant abuser to pay whatever penalties society affixes to his crime.  Society, in the form of the judge or jury, may take remorse into consideration in affixing a penalty, but this is not the role of the victim, for whom one aspect of forgiveness is to hand over to the proper authorities the right to affix penalties.

            In sum, you can forgive a murderer even while thinking that the death penalty is appropriate in his case.  There is no contradiction in this at all.


Remember that Lucifer was an Abusive Member of God’s Family

            One way to understand the truth about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation is to ponder the fact that Lucifer, though a son of God, was an abuser.  He was a “son of the morning,” and no doubt was very loved by God.  But Lucifer wanted God’s power in order to rule us all as a master rules his slaves.  He certainly did not have our happiness in mind, but rather our misery.

            It is instructive to reflect upon how God handled this situation.  He did not continue to embrace Lucifer and keep him in heaven.  No, there was a war in heaven, and Lucifer and those who shared the same desires were thrust out of heaven.  We are told that they live in outer darkness, and will never know the presence of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost ever again in their lives.

            No doubt God does not feel filled with hate or vengeance towards Lucifer.  In fact, we can assume that God mourns the loss of this son and even continues to will his good.  But God will not let him back into heaven to destroy the souls of His children.  All in heaven are safe from Lucifer by the hand of God’s power.  It is true that Lucifer is allowed to tempt and try us here on earth, and it is true that some of us fall prey to him and become his servants, but God is strong to save the righteous from Lucifer’s evil influence.  Even if Lucifer succeeds in killing our bodies here on earth through his minions, he cannot touch our souls, which will be taken safely back to heaven -- a place completely protected from Lucifer’s presence.

            Apparently, God, though the epitome of forgiveness, has severed his relationship with his son, Lucifer.  God has put an impassable gulf between his home and Lucifer’s abode, and vigorously protects the innocents in His care from Lucifer.  Indeed, God could not be God if he did not set himself in active, open opposition to Lucifer (2 Ne 2:13).  There are some important lessons here for us.  If God can take this approach in handling his own abusive son, we are not in the wrong to emulate His example when we encounter abuse and abusers in our own lives.


Praise the Lord!

            When properly understood, forgiveness is liberation.  Forgiveness does not mean acceptance of abuse or atrocity, or maintenance of a close relationship with an unrepentant or insincerely repentant abuser.   Forgiveness does not mean submitting to or covering up or minimizing abuse.  Forgiveness does not mean forsaking one’s duty to testify of the abuse or atrocity to God and to the proper civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Rather, forgiveness is a state of being between God and an innocent victim that provides peace and healing to the victim.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same: forgiveness can be required by God of all, while reconciliation is not a divine requirement and may even be against God’s will when repentance is absent or insincere in cases of serious abuse or atrocity.

            Reconciliation is a state of being between the victim, God, and the abuser, and in the case of serious abuse or atrocity may not occur until the next life.  When properly understood, the Atonement is at the heart of all human reconciliation, for the Atonement is the marriage of justice and mercy.  Mercy does not rob justice; justice cannot cheat mercy.  The Atonement does not completely spare even the sincerely repentant abuser from feeling great pain, but rather allows an escape for both sincerely repentant abuser and victim from eternal pain.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ not only paid for our sins, but experienced in full our innocent suffering.  He is truly our Savior and our Righteous Judge!

            Christian women, it is vital that you understand the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, for God does not want you or innocents in your care to be abused and does not want you to tolerate abuse.  To the contrary, He wants you to take steps to protect yourself and innocent others from abuse and atrocity -- and it is your Christian responsibility to do so.  He loves you, for you are His daughters!  What woman among you would want her daughter to believe she should passively accept abuse, or re-embrace her abuser?  No, women, it is time we believed that God is as good a parent as we are!

            And when we truly understand how wonderful a parent He is, we will understand why the angels praise Him day and night, and we will want with all our hearts to join their song.


Appendix: Voices of Those Who Have Walked the Path

I.  The Voice of K., survivor of familial sexual abuse.

            I think many people underestimate the after-effects of abuse and the near “soul murdering” that takes place.  The abuse [does indeed] put a wedge between the abused and God.  As simple as it may seem, it just resonated in me as truth.  This is what happened, replacing innocence and faith with anger, a lack of trust, and a loss of faith.  The forgiveness process, I think, is a continual process -- forgiving again as the abuse takes on different forms and after effects.

            There are many pathways to come to know our Savior, however we often times do not get to choose our own.  It took me a long time to learn that our Savior doesn’t merely look at these extremely soul scourging experiences as trials that we have to get through, but that he WEEPS with us.  He weeps for us.  He mourns our loss of self.  And yet we are told “that all these things shall be for thy good.” This means, I feel, that God can turn them into something that eventually molds and develops us for the better.  This is part of the joy of the Atonement.  We have come to this life to experience trials and to be tested and proved.  This does not make me consider for a moment that God wanted this trial for my life.  God does not take away others’ agency, even if it is evil.  Soul murdering or poisoning abuse, is not meant to tutor us into being better servants.  Quite the opposite -- what it does is to put a wedge between us and our God.  It more or less retards our spiritual growth and development, stripping us of faith, hope, and trust.  For many, this happens at a very young age which only contributes to a distrustful, confused, and almost delusional mindset.  This was along my pathway to come to know my Savior, for there could never be anyone else capable of healing me.  As soon as one can find trust in their Savior, it is then that they can calm down and be still and know that He is God, and will administer the appropriate justice.

            Certainly, as [the man of God] Neal A. Maxwell puts it, we are required to not hold in chains those whom the Lord chooses to set free.  But I think while we are still wrapped up in the chains of the abuse, still suffering and working through the emotional trauma, still experiencing the feelings of loss, delusion, and being psychotic, it is indeed difficult to let go the chains of hatred, vengeance, and anger.  And perhaps also too premature, because anger when your spirit has been broken and trampled upon, is a good thing.  It means your spirit is crying out that this is against your identity as a child of God, offense that has gone way too far.

            Maybe forgiveness is easier when you actually see the abuser got through the process of guilt, remorse, self-loathing and shame.  At that point I think it then becomes easier to go back and see that once innocent and pure child behind him that hurt you so greatly.  At the same time, being so close to the abuser may actually stunt the growth of your own healing process.  I have come to understand that there is a great deal of difference between reconciliation and forgiveness.  Reconciliation is sometimes not possible or desired.  On the other hand, sometimes it is. . . . For me, reconciliation was possible, but only after sincere repentance on the abuser’s part and a complete change of heart.  This is what the Atonement does.  I love him [my former abuser] now -- admittedly because I completely disassociate him with the person from before.  For [me to reconcile with] that person, only forgiveness through the Lord to get past the memories and be healed from and be able to associate him as someone else was possible. . . . I think [reconciliation is possible] when the abuser has actually repented and accepted the promises of the Atonement with an entire change of heart.  Even still, to me forgiveness is a continual process, an everyday experience.  This is due to the fact that when such an atrocity has come upon us, it is bound to affect us daily for oftentimes many years.  Thus, we find ourselves at a point of forgiving, remembering, re-forgiving, experiencing new difficulties or baggage, then raging and forgiving once again.  You forgive in bits and parts, for each of the bits and parts of your life that were lost or damaged because of the abuse.

            The great turning point comes when we acknowledge and watch the Lord consecrate something so horrific for our good.  God can rule over all, he is God.  The suffering, is we allow it, can mold us into the more Christ-like palace He intended us to become.  Our empathy and compassion can increase an 100 fold as we draw upon His love.  Christ himself walked a road more difficult than we can imagine, personally feeling the effects of any person ever abused in any moment of time; He has known these things and feelings.  He had to feel the suffering in order to have true empathy for us, now we can have it for others.  Unlike reconciliation, forgiveness is between the abused and the Lord.  He takes the sword out of our hands and promises justice.  We can trust in that.

II.  Voice of M., survivor of extreme emotional abuse by her mother.

            My mother was very emotionally abusive.  She would tell me how she wished I’d never been born, or that she had had an abortion, or that she had flushed me down the toilet after I was born.  When I was little, if I made a mistake, she would pretend to call an orphanage to come and pick me up, until I begged and pleaded with her to hang up.  When I was older, she would pretend to call a mental hospital and tell me she was going to have me committed.  There was more, but what I’ve said is enough.

            The last time I saw my mother before I got married, she cursed me that I would be lonely and miserable all the rest of my days.  On my honeymoon, I started to feel very very depressed, and I took a walk to a nearby church and sat on the steps alone to think.  I realized that I felt I was betraying my mother by being happy to marry my husband!  I felt I could not be her good girl if I was happy -- I could only be her good girl if I was as miserable as she wanted me to be.

            I started praying very very hard.  A voice came to my heart: “If you become happy, there will be mercy for your mother.  But if you don’t, your mother will pay to the last farthing for what she did to you.”

            Although I still don’t completely understand all that this means, this broke the logjam in my heart.  For the first time, I realized I could do good to my mother by simply choosing to disobey her and become happy!  I could do good to her by refusing to let her have such power over me!  And a big part of making this come to pass was to not communicate with her, for I knew she would try to poison me again.

            Over the next 6 years, I did not communicate with my mother, nor she with me.  I became a very happy person.  Then one day she called.  But she was different  - through a series of almost miraculous events, she had been under intensive medical care and her mental illness and drug addiction were under control.  She now was no longer an evil person.  She was now a fairly normal, kind person.

            I feel strongly that God really did have mercy on my mother as a result of my having done everything in my power (including shunning her) to become a happy person.  I refused to be abused by her and chose to save my soul from destruction.  That was the most forgiving thing I could do.  Great good for me, my family, and even my mother has come from this choice to refuse to continue to be abused.  And now that God has had mercy on her and allowed her to be healed, I am now reconciled with my mother -- who is now at last a real human being.  One of the highlights of my week now is to speak with her long distance, and I cherish our relationship.

III.  The Voice of P., survivor of an abusive marriage.

            I thought this guy was a really good Christian -- he could tell you all about the events of the Last Days and all that.  I was divorced, and hadn’t really connected with any other guy.  I see now that I was easy prey for this abuser.  He wanted a committed relationship right away, but kept telling me how lucky I was to have him, since no one else would want me.  He would harp on what a bad person I was  - he would cite me scriptures saying how I would be damned if I didn’t obey him as head of the household.  He would promise to keep on working with me because that was his Christian duty.

            He would go into rages, more and more easily as time went on.  Once he even jerked my arm while I was steering a car on the freeway and we spun off the freeway into a ditch.  It’s a miracle no one was hurt!  Then he progressed to pushing me, and sticking his finger hard into my chest.  Once when there was no one at home, he refused to let me leave the house or even the room, and took the phone out of the wall so I couldn’t call anyone.  He was trying to get me to agree to something, I can’t even remember what now.  I don’t know why I married him -- I think I believed I was someone no one could love because my first husband had left me.  And I really wanted my children to have a father figure in their lives.

            After we were married, things got really scary.  He would follow me in his car if I tried to leave the house, or he would lock me in.  He would wake me up in the middle of the night and interrogate me about some insignificant thing.  I thought he was going to kill me in my sleep, and I began to sleep with a steak knife under my pillow just in case.  He would throw things at me, and if I tried to stand up to him and protect myself, he would threaten to call the police and tell them I was physically abusing him!  And then he said he would make sure the children were taken away from me.  So I couldn’t even protect myself from him for fear that he would lie to the police and my children would be taken away.  The last straw was when he told my children that I was crazy and he would try to see to it that they were safe from me!  It finally hit home what this relationship was doing to my children.  Even if I never got married again, even if my kids never had a father figure, it would be worth it just to get them away from this horrible abuser.

            I managed to get a restraining order, and since we had only been married for 19 days, I filed for an annulment and got it!  He didn’t even show up in court, and he moved out of state.  The day I heard he was gone it was like being released from Auschwitz -- I was so happy just to be alive!  To not live under the fear of death!  I have never been so grateful in my whole life.  But I also realize God couldn’t have helped me unless I was willing to throw the bum out myself.  But once I took action, God could help me and protect me.

            Sure, I can say I’ve forgiven him -- I don’t hate him, and am happy to let God decide what to do with him.  But reconciliation?  Forget it!  I KNOW God does not want me or my children anywhere near this guy.  I know for sure that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.

            The last I heard, he had married another woman within a year of our annulment, and that she left him after four months, claiming he hit her.  And he told a friend of his that a woman had the Christian duty to stay with her “head” even if he beat her.  What a piece of work!

IV.  The Voice of R., survivor of betrayal and abandonment by her husband.

            (R.’s husband J. had overcome alcohol and drug addiction before they married.  After several years, he went back to his addictions and also committed adultery while R. was pregnant with their last child.  J. left his wife and children for this other woman, who later left him.)

            I am having a hard time feeling comfortable in my relationships with J.’s family over the last year.  I had a series of discussions with them in which they were defending their involvement and support of him as “what the brethren have counselled families to do with their wayward children.” I felt very unsettled . . . and decided I should speak with them.  The gist of my discussion with the family was that sometimes in our pursuit of righteousness and our devotion to God, we have to be at odds with people.  I read the scripture about “he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I think it’s difficult for people to reconcile the Christ of these verses with the Christ of the story of the lost sheep and the story of the prodigal son, etc.  How can a God who is all about peace not always be about maintaining peace, love, and reconciliation?  My answer was that sometimes the fastest and best route to peace, love, and reconciliation was to be “at variance against” the person.  Sometimes that is the best way to love and help the person -- as loving as leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one and as loving as killing the fatted calf for the brother who “comes to himself” and turns again to the bosom of his family.  I don’t know if it will be in this life or the next but I believe with all my heart that, at some point, it will be the desire of J’s heart to do whatever is required to be reconciled to us, to his own family, and to the family of God.  Having this view of eternity has helped me to let go of J.  It has helped me to “be still and know that I am (he is) God” and to know that J’s life, my life, and the lives of my children are/have always been in his hands.  I shared this belief with J’s family.  It was my hope that if they believe in that day, as I do, that they will also be able to let go of saving J (past a righteous balance) and make room for the Savior to fight for him.  These are some of the things I said to them:

            “When J finally decided he wanted the divorce and I learned about the other woman, I was truly lost in pain.  I will never know how I kept walking and breathing through it, let alone working full time and carrying the baby to term.  I thought the pain would kill me and often wished J had killed me, instead.  J would have come back to me and our children, but only on his own terms. . . I know it was against Father in Heaven’s will for me to accept J. back into the marriage (after the other woman) without true repentance.  I know J. feels that if I had just developed unconditional love (which in his minds means there would be no consequences for bad behavior), we could have stayed married.  This lack of quality in me, as J sees it, stripped him of everything.  I’m the reason he couldn’t finish school, he lost his family, his house, relationships with friends and family, a stable financial situation, and respect.  Almost every encounter with me reminds J of these losses, and it is always unpleasant.  As J’s family, you made a few expressions of disapproval in the beginning, but most of your feeling about the choices J has made have been conveyed to me -- not to him.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been assured in secret that you are supportive of me -- “but please don’t tell J what I said . . . “ If he had killed me, I wonder if you would have invited him back into the family as quickly.  It still makes me want to vomit to remember how J behaved towards me at your cousin’s wedding (two days after our divorce was final) when in front of his seven-months pregnant ex-wife he was asking one of your aunts to set him up with some 'hot single women.'

            “The latest problem is that J wants me to let the children sleep at his new house with his brother.  In theory, I’m sure most of you would agree that the bachelor pad of two alcoholics who think nothing of drinking while caring for and driving children is not a safe place for them.  But to J, I will be the only crazy person that thinks this is a bad idea (because I’m a “vindictive, selfish (w)itch.”). . . Yes, I do respond to these things with great anxiety and force.  If I “overreacted,” then it is a response to the colossal under-reaction of this family to J’s behavior for years.

            “I believe with all my heart that the best way to love J right now is to cut him off.  I believe our sad efforts to save and enable J are only getting in the way of the Savior’s plan for him. . . Your efforts to avoid conflict and build relationships with him and his brother are only continuing this process.  You are teaching them that their behavior is acceptable.  This could be because you have been conditioned to accept behavior that is unacceptable.  That is sometimes the impact of the disease of alcoholism on families.  Some of you have told me how “nice” J has been lately.  J is a thirty-three year old man who until recently was living at home, ignoring huge personal debt, living on insurance money, not working, taking expensive vacations whenever he wants, making no regular commitments to his children, and blaming all of his problems on me.  J was really nice to me, too, when I had the sense not to disturb his delicate balance of life!  I do think that if you are focussed on saving J and his brother, or fearful of conflict with them, then you won’t always make the best choices for our children.  I know because I have made those mistakes myself.  I feel like I need to disengage myself from close relationship with you right now.  I need to surround myself with people who want to share the burden of J’s anger with me.  I deserve that.  I do not harbor any resentment toward any of you and hope that you can understand my position.  I feel sure that one day Heavenly Father will help us work out all of our relationships.”

            Well, that is what I communicated to J’s family.  It isn’t that I don’t understand his family’s feelings -- I do!  I have great compassion for their position and desire to do the best for J.  It’s just that I have come to see my own feelings and behavior toward J (after the adultery and divorce) were totally inappropriate given the severity of his crimes, the total lack of remorse, and the continuation of abusive behavior.  It was truly like wanting to invite a “ravening wolf” into my home to want to be close to him and reconcile with him.  My will was to reconcile my marriage at any cost.  I thought if I was meek and quiet and tried to be a good example that I could save my family.  I said this was in the name of Christianity, but now I believe it was born of guilt, and fear, and horrible, torturous grief.  I would have followed through with this desire had I not been repeatedly told by the Spirit that it was against the will of Father in Heaven for me to do so.  It has taken two years for my will to finally be aligned with God’s.  It is no longer my will to be with J at any price.  I am no longer willing to place my children or myself in darkness to try to save J.  I know that God forgives me for this detour.  I know he has compassion on me for the righteous (but misguided) desires of my heart.  Interestingly, it has only been recently (in this letting go of J) that I have felt the power of the atonement wash through me -- the meeting of justice and mercy that is described in this book.  The nature of my on-going relationship with J requires frequent recommitment to my beliefs, though.

            I believe the way that J’s family has chosen to interact with him is equally misguided and destructive.  There is hard work that families can do for abusive and unrepentant family members.  My brother has exercised faith, fasted, and prayed over J like nothing else in his life.  I know God won’t ignore the beauty of his sacrifices on J’s behalf.  I believe when there are opportunities for God to intervene in J’s life, he will, partially because of my brother’s faith.  I am grateful to my brother for this example.  I wish I had been anxiously engaged in the same kinds of activities rather than trying to maintain a relationship with a “heathen.” I think, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved, trying to maintain a close relationship with an abusive person is “casting pearls before swine.” I don’t mean to suggest that his family hasn’t fasted and prayed for him, I just think that if they (and I) had focused on exercising faith in God’s ability to save rather than trying to keep the peace and reach out to him ourselves, we would all be in a better place in our respective journeys -- especially J!

            Betrayal of spouse and abandonment of children are serious forms of abuse.  I suppose I could be wrong but I don’t believe it could have hurt any worse if J had cut me into tiny pieces -- only I had to go on breathing, walking, working, caring for children, and giving birth through the pain of it.  Adultery is next to the sin of murder in seriousness because it is a kind of spiritual killing of one’s spouse and children.  I think the prophet Jacob speaks to the seriousness of these actions when he says, “Behold, ye have done greater iniquities . . . Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you.  And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” Many precious years of my life have been devoted to grieving and healing from J’s actions that should have been devoted to my children and other worthwhile pursuits.  I think a father’s failure to nurture and protect, care for finanacially and emotionally, and spiritually guide their children is also one of the worst kinds of abuse.  My little daughter is very torn, confused, and greatly burdened by these circumstances.  I see her struggling and trying to reconcile herself to a situation that can only lead to one terrible conclusion -- something else is more important to daddy than she is.  Sadly, many children blame themselves for not being good enough or lovable enough to keep their family together.  I believe my daughter will ultimately work through these issues but it is still her cross to bear and it didn’t have to be.  This is terrible abuse inflicted on her by her father -- I think to our Savior, the worst kind of abuse.  The Savior is always comparing his relationship to the church with a husband’s relationship to his wife or a parent to their child.  These are sacred relationships.  Violating these relationships is the most unthinkable crime.  I believe the Savior expresses this when he says, “But behold, Zion hath said: The Lord hat forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me -- but he will show that he hath not.  For can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?  Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold, I have graven thee on the palm of my hands; they walls are continually before me.” The most unthinkable thing in the world might happen -- a mother might forget, abuse, neglect, etc. her child.  Even so, he will not forget us or betray us.

            Just because certain crimes go unpunished by laws of the land, the church, even the family, they are heinous crimes, nonetheless, and will be swallowed up in the “perfect Justice” of the atonement.  It is our Christian duty to sever or greatly distance ourselves from relationships with abusive people.  And this duty is not just for those sinned against.  I believe that anyone who has knowledge of that abuse has the same obligation.  Other than the moral rightness of this action, there are several practical reasons why this is important.  In my experience, the way my in-laws have tried to hang onto a relationship with J has created an unfair focus of his anger at me/my family.  If all the people in an abusive person’s life were sending him the same message, it would have a much greater impact and whatever anger resulted would be more fairly dispersed.  I also think it’s confusing to children to see the adults they trust handling problems in such different ways.  For example, my daughter might wonder why her dad can’t live with us if he can live at grandma’s.  If the reason is because the abusive person has had a change of heart, that can be explained to a child.  If the reason is because daddy’s choices can’t be tolerated by mommy but can be tolerated by grandma and grandpa, then I think that is a problem.  I think this makes gray the moral lines for my daughter and, once again, puts an unfair burden on me to explain myself to my children.  One day I know I’ll have to make an accounting of my actions to my children.  If the moral rightness of my decisions were clear to everyone and supported by everyone my children trust, this will be much easier.  If they are supported in secret, but not in the open, it doesn’t help!

            It is so important to tell the truth.  Dealing with an abusive person is so unpleasant that I think people get worn down.  Victims and bystanders are afraid of confronting abusers with the truth because it will anger and alienate them.  I think this goes back to the idea of the fastest route to true reconciliation.  The “appearance of peace” is just that -- there is nothing truly peaceful or conciliatory about it.  What we really long for when we are making those mistakes (like lying to abusers to keep the peace, sending our children into bad situations to avoid a confrontation, etc.) is that true loving, peaceful reconciliation.  It’s so true that we cannot have that without the cooperation of the abuser.  We can’t lie/ignore the truth and experience true reconciliation, we can’t love unconditionally and experience it, and we can’t become a perfect, Christ-like person and experience it.  We can’t be reconciled until the abuser is ready and willing to join the circle.  Trying to get there before that happens is just a lie.


Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2015) "Forgiveness of Abuse and Atrocity: What It Is, and What It Is Not (A Guide for the Perplexed Christian Woman)," SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No. 1 (Spring 2015), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerForgivenessAbuse.html, accessed <give access date>.

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