To forgive or not to forgive
Confession. Absolution. Forgiveness of the highest order. What is the point of such ritual? How does forgiveness change us? These issues and others will be addressed during a “Forgiveness Conference” sponsored by Roseville Lutheran Church, Roseville, Minnesota, on April 6.
“In a discussion about having an adult forum about the nature of forgiveness, I suggested Steve Sandage, a professor of marriage and family studies at Bethel [University in St. Paul],” explained Pete Sherry, director of LIFE ministries at Roseville. “The more we talked, the more we realized that a one-day conference might be [a better] venue for addressing the subject matter.”
Sandage is the co-author of three books, To Forgive is Human, The Faces of Forgiveness: Searching for Wholeness and Salvation, and Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. He will consider psychological and theological perspectives that lead people to become better forgivers.
When considering a colleague to fill out the program, Sandage suggested Luther Seminary professor Lois Malcolm as the person best able to offer theological insights regarding forgiveness. “Malcolm takes an integrative approach to theology and psychology,” explained Sherry. Malcolm is an associate professor of systematic theology at Luther, where she has taught since 1994. She will challenge popular misconceptions of forgiveness that have led to unhelpful strategies for living with “those who trespass against us.”
Sherry believes the timing of the conference topic might be right. “So many cultural indicators — high divorce rates and strained relationships with family and friends — show signs of pain and brokenness,” he explained. “But it is always relevant to talk about hope for Christians, and forgiveness is a way to realize hope.”
Researching an act of grace
Loren Toussaint, associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, has added research data to support the value in forgiving others. In a study published in the January issue of Psychology Today, Toussaint investigated relationships among forgiveness, religiousness, spirituality, health, and mortality in a sample of 1,500 adults age 66 and older.
After controlling for religiosity, social class, and health-related behaviors (such as smoking and drinking), the research demonstrated that people who require that certain conditions are met, for example an apology, before they can forgive tend to die sooner than those who forgive unconditionally.
“Though several studies have linked forgiveness to health, this is one of the first studies that specifically connects any aspect of forgiveness to mortality and it does so using a large, nationally representative sample of United States adults. So these findings should be reliable and generalizable to the older adult population,” Toussaint said.
In addition to his position at Luther College, Toussaint is the associate director of the Sierra Leone Forgiveness Project.
The quality of forgiveness
Sherry said he emphasizes the better quality of life that one experiences if successful at forgiving another, or being forgiven by another. “I am interested in the data about quantity of life, but I think the quality of the spirit is even more valuable.”
Roseville Lutheran is located at 1215 West Roselawn Avenue, Roseville.
For more information, or to pre-register for the conference, go to www.rosevillelutheran.org. The pre-registered conference cost is $10; registration at the door will be $15. Lunch is included in the cost.