Culture At Large

People Want More Forgiveness But Don't Easily Give It

Jerod Clark

Americans want more forgiveness but are willing to give less of it, according to a survey from the Fetzer Institute. Some of the findings:

  • 62 percent want more forgiveness in their personal lives.
  • 94 percent want more forgiveness in the country.
  • More than half of Americans said there should never be forgiveness those who commit sexual crimes, murder and other intentional crimes.
  • 60 percent said "forgiving someone would first depend on the offender apologizing and making changes."

In addition, researchers found that most Americans (whatever that means) aren’t turning to the church for answers on forgiveness--even though 60 percent say they are more spiritual now than they were five years ago.

All of this gets me thinking about why it’s so hard for people to forgive even though they want more of it in their lives.  That seems to be a major disconnect in this survey.  People want forgiveness, but are unwilling to give it to harsh criminals or are unwilling to give it unless an offender apologizes to them first.  Sure it can be tough to truly forgive someone, especially in extreme circumstances, but you’d think the craving people have for more forgiveness would help them be more forgiving.

While I don't understand that disconnect, I can understand why people aren’t necessarily turning to the church for answers.  We can be bad examples of forgivers--not only as an institution but as individuals as well.  There are plenty of churches in bad shape today because of anger, bitterness and pride related to being unforgiving.

Beyond that, when someone asks a churchgoer about forgiveness we can often launch right into Jesus dying on the cross.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s the core of our faith, but I think the language we use and the metaphor of blood leading to forgiveness can be tough for people new in faith to readily accept.  I'd suggest we’re better off initially taking about personal experiences of forgiveness based on our faith.  Or could it be better to use other examples of Jesus’ forgiveness?

How about you?  What would you say to someone who wants more forgiveness but is less willing to give it themselves?  How can the church, which has great insight on forgiveness, be a better part of the conversation?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, Evangelism