This is our truth, tell us yours
Carter has already written excellently about the issues surrounding the release of Ched Evans from prison this week. It has been interesting from a perspective of forgiveness and repentance. As a Christian we are taught that forgiveness is a vital part of our practice, for as God forgives us our sins, so we must follow that model and forgive others.
Firstly we need to look at the issue of corporate versus individual forgiveness. As a Christian am I called to forgive those who have sinned against others, not against me? It is not just an academic question, for it is often assumed that Christians are called to forgive any sin, perpetrated by anyone, anywhere. In my opinion this is a huge misunderstanding, a confusion of forgiveness and absolution.Individual forgiveness is a purely personal process, it is a letting go, saying you harmed me and I acknowledge that but I will no longer carry it with me. Forgiveness does not rely on the other accepting the harm they did, or repenting, it is about how we relate to the harm we did.
Corporate forgiveness does exist however, I grew up a Catholic, and we had the advantage of the whole process being clearly set out with an order and set of rituals. First comes confession, the act of realising that you have harmed others, that wrong was done.You confess your sins, and in doing so receive your penance. However there is no absolution until you have made the Act of contrition. As a 6 year old, like so many others I memorized The Act of Contrition, ready to confess my non sins to a priest who would provide corporate forgiveness. It went like this
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven, and the pains of hell;
but most of all because they offend Thee, my God,
Who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen
Or to put it in a secular context, I know I fucked up, this is how I fucked up, and I will try not to fuck up this way again.
In the context of Evans, he does not accept that sex with a woman too drunk to consent is rape, he does not confess. Without confessions (I know I fucked up and this is how I fucked up) there cannot be repentance, and without repentance there cannot be absolution. Absolution is the act of corporate forgiveness, it allows us to forgive those who have not personally sinned against us and accept them back into society. Some disagree that this should happen, they see sex offenders as beyond the pale. This view of the world is, for me, a cold, inhumane, and yes, unChristian one. No one is beyond redemption. It is also impractical, people are more likely to reoffend if they are excluded from those support networks which model non harmful behaviour. However absolution can only be granted if the person fully understands, and accepts what they have done. In the case of Ched Evans it is clear this is not the case, and so that final step, that acceptance must be with held.