If you’ve been reading me long enough you might recall my Feb. 2012 post, Must I forgive the brother who serially molested me for seven years?, in which I answered a woman who wrote me to ask if, as her parents were pressuring her to do, she, a Christian, needed to forgive her brother for serially sexually molesting her from the time she was five to twelve years old.
Part of what she wrote to me was:
My brother, seven years my senior, started molesting me when I was very young. My first memory of it is when I was about five years old. I believe it went on until I was about twelve. I know he raped me multiple times. … Now my brother is begging my family to talk me into sitting down with him. My family (who for years has known about what he did to me—and who allowed the abuse to occur) insists that now I’ve not only opened a can of worms, but that I “owe it” to my brother to meet and talk with him. They say I owe my brother because I am a Christian, and so must forgive him. … Do I really need to forgive him?
Part of my answer to her was:
… You do not need to forgive your brother. “Forgive and forget” sounds spiritually enlightened, but the fact is that it’s simply not possible for any person to forget an egregious violation against them. Your brother did do what he did. You literally cannot forget that. And you’re under no moral obligation whatsoever to make him feel better about it. His conscience is his responsibility, not yours. …
Open up a Gmail account you can shut down whenever you want; tell your parents and your brother that they are fee to contact you there and in no other way; ignore from them any emails that aren’t positively ringing with the unmistakable tone of true contrition. …
You don’t belong to [your family] anymore. You belong to you, you belong to the God who saved you, and you belong to those of us out here who, like you, finally decided to claim for ourselves an identity grown and nurtured in the ground of truth, not lies.
I published my response, and that was the last I heard from her.
But then, two days ago, I received this email:
I wrote to you a few years back. I believe it was 2012 or so. I wrote to you because my family was insisting that I need to forgive my brother who sexually abused me as a child. Your response was very helpful and in that response you also encouraged me to break ties with my family who continued to dismiss my feelings.
Fast forward to today, more than 2 years later. I did it. I finally did it. I finally broke off my relationship with my family. It took a long time to do it. I was stuck even after your post. Now I’m not. Why the change?
They turned on me (not that they were ever on my side), and now, rather than their encouragement that I should forgive my brother, they just don’t believe me at all, and have told me that I’m tearing the family apart.And what did I do to cause the tearing apart of my family? I refused to be around my abuser or allow my daughter around him during the holiday season.
I want to thank you for your words of encouragement over 2 years ago. It may have taken a long time for me to finally do what I needed to do, but I did it. It just took a long time to find the courage. By the way, I’ve also had counselor’s for at least 15 years tell me exactly what you did in your response to my email. I was just so scared and questioned myself so much.
Anyways, thank you for your input 2+ years ago. I know it took awhile but I finally found the courage to walk away from that toxic environment.
I’m sharing this (with permission, of course) because, in the same way this woman thanked me, I wanted to thank all of you who do so much to help heal the people whose letters I answer on this blog.
When one year ago I moved my blog over here to Patheos, a lot of the comments left by readers on posts I’d published up to that point didn’t make the transfer; in the case of the original post in which I answered this woman, 208 comments didn’t make it.
But I remember them. They were fantastic. As happens time and time again here, so many of you opened your hearts and gave of yourselves, and through your sharing, sensitivity, and intelligence helped this then-lost soul to know that she was not alone—that you had heard her story, listened to her pain, felt her struggle. You let her know that, because of your own life experiences, you knew what she was going through.
It’s a blog, sure. And obviously there’s only so much we can do here. But words matter. And I just wanted to thank those of you who use your words here to help make life just a little bit easier for myself and others to bear.
Do not on this blog dare to suggest that any victim of sexual abuse is required to forgive their abuser. See today’s 6 truths about “forgiving” sexual abuse.
I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question: