In my trial to keep my license as a minister, a focus of the questions was about whether or not I had forgiven my ex-wife. This is a fair question to ask a minister. Bitterness in the pulpit is a dangerous thing. And we are commanded to forgive.
However, the accompanying piece was conspicuously absent.
They did not ask whether my adulterous former spouse had repented. In fact, I am unaware of any effort on the denomination’s part to confront my ex-wife with her adultery as was their duty as Christian leaders correcting someone who professed to be a Christian. One official and friend even told me that he saw this as a major oversight in the whole process (hence, that is one of several reasons that we are still friends).
This brings me to the heart of the post today:
Forgiveness from faithful spouses seems to be demanded upfront. However–like in my case–repentance from adulterous spouses seems to be ignored or treated on a long-term, small installment plan.
At least, this is what I’ve observed from online resources (see this post), my experience, and stories that I’ve read or heard. Forgiveness seems to be demanded up front on the spot for faithful spouses. It’s the focus. If the faithful spouse dares to show pain after the initial adultery confession, the faithful spouse is quick to get labelled “bitter” and “unforgiving.”
Contrast with how adulterous spouses are treated*:
They give a partial confession.
Response: That’s a step in the right direction. (The whole partial-truth-being-a-lie thing is usually ignored here.)
They still go to the bar even though that’s what got them in trouble in the first place.
Response: Well, repentance takes time. We all make mistakes. At least, he didn’t sleep with anyone this time. That’s progress.
They come back to counseling yet continue to lie about adulterous relationships that happened or are ongoing.
Response: Well, at least they are here. That’s something to work with.
You get the drift…
This is SO backwards!
The faithful spouse needs time to forgive because they are grieving major losses. Forgiveness is not a one-time thing. It takes time like healing a deep physical wound. One can choose to embark on the journey with one decision, but one does not arrive in China overnight on foot from Europe. The same goes for forgiving soul rape and all its accompanied sins against the faithful spouse. (Personally, I think the focus on forgiveness first for faithful spouses is cruel and misguided. Grief comes primarily to play here, and forgiveness is only a part of that healing process–even if it is important, which it is.)
It seems so strange that we extend patience and empathy primarily to the perpetrator of adultery while we harshly make demands from his or her victim. This is not God’s heart on these matters. He is close to the powerless and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). And He resists the proud (James 4:6)–i.e. the unrepentant, rebellious adulterer or adulteress.
It is past time we reverse this treatment.
We need to be firm with adulterous spouses and gentle with faithful spouses.
Demanding of repentance from the adulterous spouse on the spot, and patient with the faithful spouse as he starts the forgiveness process.
An adulterous person running headlong into the abyss of Hell needs a firm response. A call to stop. She does not need a helping hand along her way over the top of the cliff.
A faithful person crushed by the sins committed against him and his family does not need further burdens of guilt and condemnation heaped upon him. He needs a kind word and patience extended to him in his healing process.
As pastors and Christian leaders, let’s get this right for a change!
*Chump Lady talks about this treatment of cheaters in her article entitled “Cheaters Are Timid Forest Creatures.”