When someone hurts you, and never owns his sin, or apologizes for what he did, are you obligated to forgive? This week on The Roys Report, Pastor Chris Brauns, author of “Unpacking Forgiveness,” will join me to discuss what forgiveness is—and what it isn’t. Brauns wrote his book after a devastating church planting experience with Harvest Bible Chapel. And forgiveness is something he not only teaches—but something he’s wrestled with and applied. I really hope you can join us for The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life and on Sunday night at 7 on AM 560 The Answer!
Pastor Chris Brauns
Rev. Dr. Chris Brauns is a pastor, author, and ministry consultant. He has served for 14 years at Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley. Chris earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary studying under Dr. Haddon Robinson. Chris is the author of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep, When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search andBound Together: How We are Tied to Others, in Good and Bad Choices.
Chris and his wife Jaime have four children.
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
JULIE ROYS: Well, spiritual abuse. It’s become a popular buzz word following the recent scandals in the church. But what is it? And how can you tell if you’re a victim of spiritual abuse? Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re going to be exploring a topic that rarely gets discussed in Christian circles. And yet spiritual abuse has become this huge issue, with some Christian leaders abusing their power. But they often cloak their abuse in spiritual language. And they take Scripture out of context. And many of us, instead of being able to name what’s happening, we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual and relational vertigo. We’re confused, we’re hurt, manipulated. And by the time we figure out what’s going on, we’re in so deep, that we don’t know how to get out. Well, some of you right now are probably thinking, “Hey, that’s me.” I know a little bit about this because I’ve spent the past 12 to 18 months reporting about spiritually abusive churches and megachurch pastors who have engaged in spiritual abuse. And yet, spiritual abuse really can happen at churches and Christian institutions of any size. And I truly believe, that the best way to battle it is education—not just for lay people like me. But also, for pastors, and Christian leaders. Some of us may resort spiritual abuse without even knowing it. And that’s why I’m so excited about today’s program. And I’m thrilled that Dr. Wade Mullen, the head of the D-Min program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is joining me. Wade is a passionate abuse advocate. And he’s someone who actually did his entire doctoral thesis on how evangelical organizations use impression management strategies—often spiritually abusive strategies—when they’re faced with a crisis. Wade also will be a keynote speaker at a conference I’m hosting Saturday, November 2nd, at Judson University called Restore Chicago. And I’ll be talking more about that later—but Wade, welcome! I’m just so glad that you could join us this morning!
DR. WADE MULLEN: Thank you, Julie. It’s great to be on the show.
JULIE ROYS: So, Wade, let’s just start with a definition. Because I think a lot of people have maybe heard, maybe, spiritual abuse. But they’re not really sure what it is. And some of you listening have probably never heard this term. So, what is Spiritual abuse?
DR. WADE MULLEN: I define it as an attempt by a person to use all that encompasses another person’s spiritual life—their beliefs, their faith, their experiences, their hopes—the person uses that to coerce and control, manipulate that other person, their victim, so that that person ends up serving the abusers agenda.
JULIE ROYS: And this is something that isn’t just an academic issue to you. Although it is an academic issue. You’ve done incredible research on this. But this is personal to isn’t it?
DR. WADE MULLEN: It is. Yeah, I went through a very difficult period of time in which I found myself surrounded by those who were using spiritual abuse to control me. And the nature of spiritual abuse is such that you often don’t see it. I use the image of a garden. That the abusive person often will build a garden and then invite people into that Garden to explore and to enjoy it. And then once they settle down—once trust has been established—all of a sudden, the flowery surface is released. And below that surface is a pit the abuser has built below that garden. And so, in that moment, you find yourself suddenly confused. You know, “What’s happening? What’s happening to the world around me?” And at the same time, you find yourself trapped. And this sense of captivity suddenly envelops you. And so we often think the abusive person, perhaps as, you know, carrying around chains. And dragging people into those pits. But more often the case is, especially with spiritual abuse, is that that religious leader—that spiritual abuser—has created a garden, has laid a foundation of trust. And then, before you know it you look up and you’re surrounded by walls. And so, I went through that. And it’s very difficult. And the leaders in my life were attempting to control my behavior. I remember once sitting across from someone who had power over me. And I was attempting to shine a light on some behavior. And I was asked the question, “When did this root of bitterness begin in you? Where did this anger come from?” And I recall speaking to this individual in the way that I’m speaking to you now. And so, that was a very confusing moment for me because that person was using something that I believe in. I do believe that we need to guard our language and guard our heart and to speak with a gentleness and a love. And so, I went back thinking to myself, “Am I this angry person? And am I acting out of out of anger?” And so, I decided, I remember, that night leaving that meeting to write down all of the things that have angered me over the course of 7 years. And I didn’t realize how much was there. And I spent an entire night writing simply the words, “I was angry when . . .” and then I listed it. “I was angry when . . .” And 7 pages later, I realized that I had every right to be angry. But there are so many people that were being mistreated. So many people who were trapped who were being victimized by this oppressive and abusive power. But I was a target of that spiritual abuse myself. So yes, I approached this as a researcher, but also as someone who has experienced many of these tactics myself.
JULIE ROYS: And you mentioned just now, and this is one of the main hallmarks of spiritual abuse, as I understand it, is that if you highlight a problem if you raise a problem then either says, “There is no problem. You’re the problem,” right? And I think that’s why it becomes just something where we feel sort of this spiritual vertigo, like we don’t know which way is up. Or like, “is it me?” And as Christians, I mean, if you’re a conscientious Christian, and this is what I think is so insidious about it, if you’re a conscientious Christian, you always know that you need to examine your heart first, right? You take the plank out of your own eye before you can remove the speck in somebody else’s. And so the more conscientious you are, the more you want to please Jesus. Almost in some ways the more susceptible you are to being abused and manipulated by somebody who knows how to take those scriptures and use them against you and you’re like, “wait is there sin in my heart? Well I mean who of us is without sin?” Right? And so, it does kind of get this does vertigo. How do you know when you’re in this? I mean it sounds like you did this exercise I think would be healthy for a lot of people. But how do you know when you’re in this if it’s you or somebody else or, you know, maybe it’s both of you?
DR. WADE MULLEN: I think one of the questions that you can ask yourself is, “What is true?” I’m hearing this message and I want to ask this question, “Is this message true?” And also tune into your own response to that. So often, the abusive person—the person who has dark secrets to hide, sees truth as a threat—is going to immediately react with defensiveness, often with intimidation. What you described earlier, you know, when you speak up and you name a concern.
And you often, you become the problem. That’s a tactic called condemning the condemner. And so, if you respond in that way, then perhaps there is something there. But you’re somebody say to say to you, “I’ve noticed this in you.” I think the authentic normal response is to ask the question, “Is that true? Are there other people who see this in me?” And to even go before the Lord and say, “Lord, search my heart.” And so it often requires going through this process of talking to the Lord, talking to other people, and asking the question, “Is what this person said about me true?”
JULIE ROYS: And even if it is about that person isn’t true too and needs to be addressed.
DR. WADE MULLEN: Oh, exactly. And what’s happening then is that person is using something against you in order to silence you or to harm you in some way. Whereas you might be bringing your concern because you actually care about that person you care about the effects that behavior is having on other people.
JULIE ROYS: Well that’s Dr. Wade Mullen, head of the D-Min program at Capital Seminary and graduate school. We’re talking about spiritual abuse today. And coming up next, what we’re going to do is sort of a case study on spiritual abuse concerning a leader and an organization that I wrote about this week. It concerns preserving the image of a Christian football coach after he’s been embroiled in a sex scandal. True story. You’re going to want to stay tuned. I think it’s going to be really instructive. We’ll be right back after short break.
JULIE ROYS: What do you do when someone has done something absolutely reprehensible—and he gets up and says, “Hey, we all make mistakes. I’m sorry for mine. Will you forgive me and welcome me back into leadership?” Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing spiritual abuse—and how Christian leaders can sometimes use good-sounding phrases and even scripture to cover their sin and manipulate others. And sometimes get us to overlook the reprehensible things that they do. Joining me today to discuss this issue of spiritual abuse is Dr. Wade Mullen, head of the M-Div program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School. And you can join our discussion online by going to Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. Or on Twitter, my handle is @ReachJulieRoys.
So, Wade, we’re going to do sort of a case study of spiritual abuse. And actually, this is how I became aware of your work. You published something shortly after I published my WORLD Magazine exposé on Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald. Harvest responded with a statement to my WORLD Magazine piece. And then you published something really exposing the manipulative tactics that were in that statement. And that was just, I mean, I read that. And it was one of those things, Wade, where you kind of sensed things but you don’t really get it until you see it in print. And you just so brilliantly exposed those tactics. So, what I wanted to do—and by the way, you can read on my website JulieRoys.com. I have that piece that Wade wrote up on the website. But rather than go to that, which is kind of old news, I just wrote a story this week that’s an incredible example of what we’re talking about. And it involves a coach—Hugh Freeze. Now, Freeze is the head football coach at Liberty University. But two years ago, he resigned as the football coach at Ole Miss in disgrace after it was discovered that he had repeatedly called escort services on his university-issued phone. Now Freeze is an outspoken Christian who was constantly tweeting Scripture and praying with his team. So, this was just a horrible scandal. And as Freeze, how do you come back from something like that? Well, Freeze actually went dark for about six months. And then suddenly, he appears as the featured speaker at a convocation service at Liberty University. And he gets up, and after alluding cryptically to “a private sin” that Freeze claimed he had confessed to his wife and two others before it became public, Freeze told the audience that he was sorry. And he asked them for forgiveness.
The student body audibly responds with, “We forgive you.” And then, sort of cast as a model of contrition, Freeze gets hired a few months later by Liberty as their new head coach. Now, there are a lot of things about this story that raise red flags for me. Some of it stems from my conversation with Freeze this week. I had a DM conversation with him on Twitter. And I write about that in the article I published. And during that conversation, I pressed Freeze about some of the details concerning the scandal he was involved in. And there were things that he said that simply don’t match the facts. And again, you can read that at JulieRoys.com. But what I want to do right now is unpack what happened at this Liberty convocation service. Because there’s so much here that appears—at least as I’m hearing it—seems to be some spiritual manipulation there. And I think it’s instructive for us. And I want to start by playing a clip from the convocation. And what you’re going to hear is David Nasser. He’s the senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty. And he’s introducing Hugh Freeze, this college coach who has again, been disgraced, 6 months he’s gone dark, this is the first time we hear publicly from him. And this is how David Nasser introduces him:
DAVID NASSER: (Playback from Youtube Video at 10:04) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
If you are a football fan, especially a college football fan, you are no stranger to what most people believe is one of the great offensive minds of the game, Coach Hugh Freeze. And I want to say this to you. I’ve had an opportunity in the last month and a half to get to know the Freeze family a little bit, not just in a couple of meals that we’ve had together, but just conversations. And I’ve been so impressed with their authentic love for the Lord and their passion, their, honestly, commitment to see God glorified through every bit of their story.
JULIE ROYS: Okay, again, that’s David Nasser of Liberty University introducing Hugh Freeze, who’s speaking for the first time after resigning from Ole Miss in disgrace. Wade, you’re the expert. What do you hear in that introduction?
DR. WADE MULLEN: Yeah, I hear at least two things, listening to it. First, I hear what is called in the research exemplification, where a spokesperson is speaking to establish somebody else as an exemplar. You know, so Hugh is one of the brightest minds, one of the best offensive minds in all of college football. And then the second is an attempt to polish the positive attributes of Hugh. So, he’s saying, hey, you know, I’ve gotten to know this guy. We’ve had a couple meals together. And so, I can vouch for his commitment to the Lord, the strength of his faith. And so, that’s a tactic that I call polishing. Here’s somebody that we might be associated with. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to spotlight what the audience might perceive as positive attributes in order to strengthen the endorsement of that’s happening right here. So that’s what’s happening at a broad level. What’s happening before Hugh is about to get up and speak is David is serving as an endorser of Hugh. And so that’s one of the steps in an attempt to come back from a scandal is to receive endorsements from other people.
JULIE ROYS: And these are, you talk about macro-level and sort of micro-level of spiritual abuse. Part of the macro-level is defining the narrative. So, all of this is sort of defining the narrative. But then you talk about sort of using excuses to manage perception. And there is a clip I want to play. And this is where Hugh is speaking. And he’s talking about what happened with this whole scandal that happened at Ole Miss.
HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 17:24) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
And then my world got rocked in 2017. And all the walls came crumbling down. When what I thought was a private sin that I had struggled with, confessed to my wife, to two of my friends in 2016, what I thought was private and I was dealing with and was in my rear view mirror in the past, when it became public knowledge in July of 2017, and my world crumbled, and the questions started being asked, “Man, Is his faith real? Is his faith genuine?” I began to ask, “Is it possible that you can have a genuine faith and also have a season in your life that you struggle with a sin?” And I start studying scripture. And I find out that it’s true for every single believer. Every single one of us are broken.
JULIE ROYS: “Every single one of us are broken.” Okay, so Wade, what are you hearing there with Hugh Freeze speaking?
DR. WADE MULLEN: It’s an ongoing attempt to define the situation for the audience. And that’s one of the primary goals of somebody who’s trying to control what people are thinking is to define a scandal, something wrong, some kind of offense, for them so they don’t define it themselves. And so, then they can go back to the macro-level of what happens after a scandal. Typically, the first step is the person will seek to distance themselves from the details that might disrupt that definition. And so, calling it a “mistake,” calling it something vague, something ambiguous. There’s a strategic ambiguity that has taken place. Once that definition is established, then the second step is to manage people’s impressions of that. And so, there’s this on-going need to offer up excuses and justifications anytime that definition is challenged, to manage people’s perceptions. And then the third step is to claim some kind of forgiveness or status that person now feels entitled to. And the last step is to receive endorsements from other people. And that’s sort of the macro-level of those steps that we’re seeing here. The micro level here is just an example regarding this clip is of an attempt to blur those lines of reality. And so, this isn’t something that he’s, from my perspective, that he’s speaking with great, not naming specifically what happened. And so you . . .
JULIE ROYS: And that for me is the big issue. Here he’s been a part of this huge scandal. He’s never spoken publicly. Here, he gets up for the first time to speak publicly. I’m expecting him to own publicly. Not say some private sin and vaguely put it out there and say, “hey, we all make mistakes.” Well, we don’t all call escort services. And we don’t all say when we’re confronted about the escort services, “Oh, I must have misdialed. That’s how that number got on my phone records.” I’m Julie Roys. I’m talking with Dr. Wade Mullen. We’ll be right back. We need to go to a break. But when we do, we’ll be discussing more spiritual abuse, the language of abuse, and how you can detect it. We will be right back after a short break.
JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing spiritual abuse, which is just abuse, an abuse of power by someone in spiritual authority. And often that power is expressed through spiritual language. Even Scripture. But instead of using Scripture in context to edify someone, it’s often used to manipulate or even victimize. It’s horribly insidious. And often, it’s quite difficult to identify when it’s happening. And that’s why I’m thrilled to have Dr. Wade Mullen with me today. Wade is an expert on spiritual abuse and the head of the M-Div. program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School. He’s also a keynote speaker at a conference I’m hosting on Saturday, November 2nd, at Judson University called RESTORE Chicago. This entire conference is designed to be a time of healing and restoration for people who have been victims of toxic spiritual systems. It’s also a time of gathering people together who are passionate about restoring the purity of God’s church. So, I hope you’ll consider joining us. For more information on that, just go to RESTOREChicagoConference.com. Also, I want to mention, if you’re just joining the program and want to listen to the entire broadcast, or just want to share it with friends—the entire audio will be available shortly after this broadcast at JulieRoys.com. Well Wade, before the break, you mentioned that one of the tactics used in spiritual abuse is claiming entitlement. And we were playing some clips from a convocation message that Hugh Freeze, who is this disgraced former Ole Miss football coach who was caught contacting escort services. And here he is, an outspoken Christian. But he comes to Liberty University and is the main speaker at the convocation service, and gives a message that’s very compelling, but has some of these elements that we’ve been looking at. And after sort of vaguely talking, referring to a private sin in his life, then he asks for forgiveness. Listen up.
HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 23:05) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
In this room we’re gathered from all different cultures, backgrounds, religions and man, it’s different. You put a team in a room, it’s different. And love is the ability to handle all of those inconveniences. And there’s two sides to that coin. And I found myself on one side where I had to say to the people that I love, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” And today’s really the first day that I can tell the faith family I am sorry. Please forgive me.
JULIE ROYS: Again, that’s Hugh Freeze. And Wade, I’m just going to throw that to you. What are you hearing there in what Hugh says?
DR. WADE MULLEN: Well, this is such a typical moment for anybody who is on the receiving end of a request for forgiveness or a demand for forgiveness. And what I tell people is that you have to go back to the definition itself. Has this person named the wrong? Healing is impossible until the person who has committed the offense is willing and able to rightly name what that offense is. And so, forgiveness is often exploited in an effort to prevent people from going back to that definition or to ask questions about that definition. Because the next step is, once you’re forgiven, is to then say, “Let’s move on. Let’s forget about this. Forgiveness has been granted.” So, I call this the forgiveness credit. So, any time someone that brings something like this up, the person claims that credit. “Forgiveness has been credited to me from God, therefore, you ought to accept that as well.” And it’s such a powerful tactic. And what often people miss is that fact that the wrong has not yet been defined. That truth has not yet been revealed and confessed and discovered. And many times, forgiveness is being used to prevent that discovery of truth. Or to rush past the acknowledgement of that truth that forgiveness is being exploited.
JULIE ROYS: And that was my issue here. And it was interesting. I went back just this week and had a DM conversation with Hugh Freeze. And asking him—because he’s never said what he exactly did—and he said, for example, he said “I didn’t call escort services. It was something else.” Well, what was it? “Well it was a massage service.” Well that’s interesting, ‘cause all the news reports say, “these are escort services.” And then also asking him, “Why, when you were first confronted for this, why did you say, ‘Oh, I must have misdialed?’” You know, you’re saying that you confessed it. In fact, he does, during this convocation, say that he confessed it actually a year and a half before it became public. Well, if that’s the case, why, when you’re confronted, do you tell reporters something that’s misleading? Why do you tell your own administration something that’s misleading? So, real problem with this. And these poor students at Liberty. They have no idea, probably. I mean, some of them are football fans. But this happened at Ole Miss, you know, in Mississippi. We’re in Virginia. Lynchburg, Virginia. And he’s asking them for forgiveness. They’re not even the ones that he offended. It just seemed like a bizarre setup. Let me go to another clip where he says, well, let me just play it and I’ll have you comment on it.
HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 28:07) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
I cannot control what people say, what people think, nor can you. But I can make up my mind. And my mind is set. It is settled. My eyes are clear. My heart is full. My feet are pointed forward. And I am looking forward with thanksgiving to what God has for me and my family next because of His great love. And His great forgiveness.
JULIE ROYS: Wow. I mean, he sounds like a preacher. What’s happening there?
DR. WADE MULLEN: Well, what might be happening, and I see this all the time where somebody is trying to, what he’s trying to do is draw this positive connection to God so that people see him as being positively associated with God. The spiritually abusive person becomes a masterful at drawing these connections. So, I’m connected to God. And often, at the same time they’re saying, you, or those who are talking about me or those who are tweeting about me, those who are raising concerns, they’re connected to something negative. Perhaps evil intent or hatred or even demonic forces. And so, that’s not necessarily what Hugh is doing here, but what he’s doing is he’s drawing these connections to the supernatural. And he’s saying, “I am a recipient of God’s grace, of His forgiveness, I’m a messenger of God to your life.” You know, so this is a powerful tactic within spiritual abuse that’s often used to control people. So, he’s using these different connections. And even shortly after that, he draws a connection between himself and David and Paul. See, what he’s attempting to do is he’s attempting to align himself with those that the audience, he knows that the audience perceives in a positive light.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and I’m sure as you’re listening right now, you’re thinking, “Wow, I’ve heard that before. I’ve seen Christian leaders do that before.” Maybe somebody you know right now who’s in spiritual authority over you is doing that right now. And so, that’s part of the reason why we’re playing these—why we’re going through it—is so that you can identify these things when it happens to you. But this is just an incredible example of what happened, of spiritual abuse, I think. But you’ve gotta stay tuned. Coming up next, you’re going to hear what Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, gets up and says after Hugh Freeze talks. Absolutely stunning. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys speaking today with Wade Mullen. We’ll be right back.
JULIE ROYS: What do you do when you’ve been the victim of spiritual abuse? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing abuse from those in spiritual authority—and the devastating impact it has on people. And sadly, there are those who love Jesus, but have vowed never to darken the doors of a church again because a pastor, or a priest, somebody who is a Christian leader has abused or manipulated them. And that’s why this is so damaging. And I’m so glad to have joining me today Dr. Wade Mullen, an expert in spiritual abuse, and the head of the MDiv program at Capital University and Graduate school. Wade also is a keynote speaker at my upcoming conference, RESTORE Chicago. And I urge you, if you haven’t already, think about registering for this event. It’s going to be a powerful day of encouragement, education, and just Holy Spirit-anointed worship. I’m so excited Josh Caterer, someone who used to be a worship leader at Harvest Bible Chapel—this guy knows about spiritual abuse first-hand—he’s going to be joining us and leading worship along with Anne Green, who’s a former worship leader at Harvest as well. She bravely spoke up about some of the abuse happening by pastor, or former Pastor James MacDonald. Also, joining me, Nancy Beach, former teaching pastor at Willow Creek, who was one of several women who spoke out about some of the stuff that was happening with Bill Hybels. It’s just going to be a unique, one-of-a-kind gathering. And I really, really hope that you’re going to be there. It’s incredibly needed right now. So, to get more information, just go to RestoreChicagoConference.com.
But Wade, before the break, I said I was going to play a clip by Jerry Falwell Jr. And Jerry Falwell got up after Hugh Freeze, again, this disgraced former coach at Ole Miss, who had been found calling escort, multiple escort services, over several years, has to resign because of that. Also, was involved in recruiting violations. He goes dark for six months, gets up and speaks at a Liberty convocation. And you’ve just so beautifully, Wade, outlined what he did and how he did it—to kind of set himself up as a very sympathetic figure that everybody should forgive even though he never names the sin that he did. Never specifically names anything. But at the end of this, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty, gets up and makes what I think is just a stunning statement. So, let me play that and then I’ll allow you to comment on it.
JERRY FALWELL, JR.: (Playback from Youtube Video at 50:50) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
Dave, I don’t usually chime in. I’m not a pastor on things like this. But I just want to say convocations like this is what makes me so proud of Liberty students. Because so many Christians today, or so-called Christians, read Twitter comments, read any, they’re the most judgmental, unforgiving group of people in the world. And Jesus, Jesus said that, when the crowd wanted to stone the sinner, He said, “Let he who was without sin cast the first stone.” And He said, he said-uh, when He talked about the religious elite, those were the ones that he wasn’t so charitable towards. He said, “they’re a generation of vipers. They’re hypocrites. They may clean the outside of the platter, but inside are ravenous wolves.” And he said, “all of us are sinners.” And he said that if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as if you’ve committed adultery. So, none of us can claim to be any better than the other. But so many so-called Christians, and it get so m- I get so mad reading those comments on Twitter.
JULIE ROYS: So, Wade, I mean, it sounds to me like if you don’t forgive Hugh Freeze for what he did, even though he hasn’t really offered any specific confession, you’re a brood of viper, right?
DR. WADE MULLEN: Yes. And if you do forgive, then you’re like Jesus.
JULIE ROYS: (Laughter)
DR. WADE MULLEN: Yeah, and that’s where these connections are happening. And so, it’s not just that he’s going after those who might go online and voice their concerns. But he’s also addressing the students there. The students are the audience. So, you have to remember the setting here. So, the students are the audience. So, there’s something that they want from that student body. They want, what I’m hearing, is their support. They want their endorsements. So, this is about endorsement. They want the endorsement of the student body. Hugh is about to become the football coach. They need their endorsement. And so, what they’re putting on is what Erving Goffman, the late Canadian sociologist calls, a team performance. So, you have multiple voice here, which is interesting. So now Jerry Falwell is lending his voice. And so together, they are putting forth a definition. And he’s really now putting the students into one of two camps. And they have, there’s no middle ground. There’s no room for critical thinking even—ironically—in a place of higher learning. And you must either forgive and extend love and grace—and if you do, then you’re the object of my pride, I’m proud of you, you are like Jesus—and if you don’t, you are like the religious leaders who wanted to pick up a stone and kill the woman who was caught in adultery. And this is a powerful, powerful attempt to draw these connections. Again, this is what’s happening. What often people don’t see are these threads. You’ll see, think of the whole thing as like a spider web. And people are weaving this thread, this web. And people find themselves caught in these threads as these connections are being established. Connecting those who are on their side to God, to Jesus, to all the things they might view as positive. And then viewing everybody who might be still uncomfortable with it—is on defense, is still wanting to ask questions—it connects them to everything that is perceived to be wrong in that. And in fact, they might not even be Christians. And so, this is just very effective. And imagine being in that room. Imagine being a student. Imagine being an employee, even, hearing this. What do you do if you have a problem with this?
JULIE ROYS: You can’t do anything!
DR. WADE MULLEN: You can’t say anything. It’s a setup. Yeah. It’s a setup. So, if you say anything, then you are immediately associated with the religious leaders. Or perhaps even not really a Christian. Someone who’s unforgiving. Someone who has a stone in their hand and simply wants to punish this person.
JULIE ROYS: Well, and I see this on social media anytime I publish a story that, you know, reveals something negative about a Christian leader or institution. I get this stuff all the time. I’m so used to it now. It doesn’t really have any impact. When I heard this to, it reminded me of James MacDonald, the former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. Back in 2013 he excommunicated a whole bunch of elders for the “sin” of actually coming to the elder board and saying James MacDonald has 12 different characteristics that disqualify him from ministry. And for that, within 24 hours, they were excommunicated. James MacDonald, after a year of trying to do damage control for excommunicating them and calling them, you know, “Satanic to the core,” you know, the things the elders said were just unbelievable. And it’s not working. So, a year later, he gets up and he does what was sort of, as I talked to the 3 elders that he had kind of negotiated this apology, and for them to accept. And he gets up and he does a faux apology. He says, you know, we were kind of wrong, we were kind of too harsh on them when we had discipline, but you know, it was necessary, but the way we did it was wrong. It’s kind of like we were wrong in the way we were right. But then when he was done, it was like, okay, I’m done, I’ve asked for forgiveness and it’s all good now. And it’s the same thing, you know, I’ve see this happen with disgraced pastor after disgraced pastor who should be disqualified for what they did. But instead they come out, they cry crocodile tears, or they say some—and now, we’re supposed to allow them back into ministry. And that’s not biblical, is it Wade?
DR. WADE MULLEN: No, it isn’t. Because, because again, you go back to the definition here. I would say, go back to the definition. And when you look at the details, the details often disrupt that definition. And so, what is often revealed is that this isn’t simply a personal matter. This is a community matter. And so, it’s not just about what this person deserves or what even would be good for this person. It’s about what the community needs and what is good for the protection of this group of people. And so often, we miss some of that because the abuse of people are defining everything for us.
JULIE ROYS: Hmm. I want to spend our last few minutes talking about how to recover from this. Because I know that there are people listening who have been on the receiving end of this. And maybe they’re still at the church, or Christian organization. They’re still under it. But some of them have left. And now they’re—and I’ve heard this from so many people who say, “Man, I just feel so stupid. Like, I don’t even trust my spiritual discernment anymore. I was for years at this place where somebody was lying to me where somebody was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I didn’t even get it. So, I don’t even trust myself to go back to a church, to pick a church.” And a lot of them choose—and ad this is what’s so sad—they choose isolation. And I get it. But that’s not a place of healing either, is it?
DR. WADE MULLEN: It’s not. And to go back to the image that I used at the beginning of our time together of the garden, it would be very normal and natural for someone who’s experienced that pit open up and eat them, to never want to enter into a garden again. Not every garden has a pit below it, so to speak. And however, there are places, there are people, there are communities that are healthy, that are life-giving, that are for your good. And how do you enter back into that? And at the same time, you’re wrestling with the memory of what happened when you last did that. And so, I think we need to give space for that and appreciate how difficult that is. But it’s helping people begin to see the signs. And so often, evil is going to use language, words of coercion. And sometimes that shows up as flattery. Sometimes that shows up in offers to help. Sometimes that shows up in favors and gifts. So, and sometimes we call these kinds of behaviors, “grooming behaviors.” And so, you can learn to identify these signs and be wary of what is happening when you see that. And one of my favorite quotes to help us understand this comes from a man named Joseph Brodsky who was exiled by the Soviet Union. And I don’t have the quote in front of me, but he said something of the effect—to a group of students—that we think evil is going to come through our doors wearing big black boots. He says it doesn’t come like that—it shows up on the language—look at the language. And so, I think people can learn to identify indicators of abusive behavior (inaudible) in other people’s language, through charming behavior, through flattering speech, that kind of thing. And can listen to that, when you hear that, and wonder, “Is something off here?” And so, I think somebody can enter into a new community and have eyes to see. And they can use that as a way to protect them. But hopefully, they’ll find that there are people out there who aren’t objectifying them, aren’t seeing them as a target to be used, but actually want to love them in a sacrificial way. And so, as a person begins to trust again and begins to experience that, I think that can have a powerful healing effect on them.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah, absolutely. And Wade, I want to thank you for helping us do that today—identify the language and be able to identify what’s going on. And I just want to remind us Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” And I know it’s so hard when someone in spiritual authority abuses us. Because for many of us, that person was a father figure—or even represented Christ and the church to us. And now, we’re left reeling and alienated from the very people and institutions that can help us. And even though God’s heart, it breaks for us, sometimes we’re afraid to trust again. We’re afraid to even trust God. I think God gets that. And I think He says today He wants to gather you into His arms. I hope you’ll be open to that. Again, thanks again to Dr. Wade Mullen for joining me today. And just a reminder, if you missed any part of this show, you can get the full audio at JulieRoys.com. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless!
Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.
ANNOUNCER: In the midst of all of today’s noise and confusion, we need a voice that cuts through the chaos to bring wisdom and clarity. Welcome to the Roys report with Julie Roys. an hour-long show exploring critical issues related to faith and culture from a uniquely Christian perspective. Now, here’s your host, Julie Roys.
JULIE ROYS: Do you have to forgive someone who’s wronged you no matter what? Is forgiveness primarily an emotional virtue or a moral agenda? And do we forgive for our own sake, the community sake or the sake of the offender? Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re going to be discussing forgiveness. What it is and what it is not. And after researching this issue in preparation for this show, I can promise you one thing. Forgiveness is not a simple equation. It’s complex. And at times, gut wrenching. And sadly, something that’s often exploited by ruthless people to extract what they want out of innocent victims. Forgiveness is also something that I think many of us are wrestling with because of the recent scandals involved in this Christian community. We have rampant sexual abuse being reported in the Southern Baptist Church. We have the abuse of power and control by former pastors at both Willow Creek Community Church and Harvest Bible Chapel. And just last week on this show, we discussed a situation at Liberty University. The school hired a coach who had repeatedly patronized escort services. But the coach said he was sorry. So, it’s all good, right? Well, my guest today is going to challenge some of these notions. And he’s going to confront what he calls therapeutic forgiveness. He says this is a perversion of biblical forgiveness and it’s promoting a so-called cheap grace. Yet it’s increasingly popular both in the world and in the church. My guest today is Chris Brauns. He’s pastor of the Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, Illinois, and the author of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. Chris has an M-Div. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. And Chris is actually joining me in studio today. So, Chris, thanks so much for joining me and making the trip here.
CHRIS BRAUNS: It’s good to be here. Julie. Thank you so much for having me.
JULIE ROYS: So, Chris, we actually did a radio show several years ago, when I had my former radio show called Up For Debate. And we were debating this idea of whether or not forgiveness is conditional or unconditional. And I didn’t know at that time that you had a context that actually made this issue come to the surface for you. And it was actually in the midst of my reporting, you send me an email. And you’re like, “Oh, by the way, here’s a little bit of the context.” So, you didn’t write this book in a vacuum. People aren’t listening right now in a vacuum. All of us have a context. And we have—when we hear forgiveness—there’s people that we might be having a difficult time with forgiving. And so, I would love if you would tell us just a little bit of the context that made you write this book Unpacking Forgiveness.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Sure, yeah. Well, in a fallen world, we all have a lot of context for broken relationships and the opportunity to unpack forgiveness. In my instance, I came from a broken home, my parents were divorced. And so, had a lot to work through that way. Really complicated. And then being a pastor. Started as a pastor in 1993. And as soon as you’re in pastoral ministry, you realize that one of the things you’re going to come back to over and over again, is forgiveness. But more to the point here, in your reference, in 2002, my wife and I relocate our young family. At that time, we were a lot younger. Hair was darker. Relocated our family to Northern Illinois. And we planted a church with Harvest Bible Chapel. And my tenure there was just a couple years. And it went very well. The church went well. And it was off and going. But we had a really tumultuous time at the end. And suddenly, sort of out of nowhere, we found out that we were no longer welcome. We were dismissed just in a period, a short period of time. And it wasn’t anything about a biblical qualification for ministry. It was just sort of a vague divisiveness. Those sorts of things. And so, we, I mean, it was devastating for our family.
JULIE ROYS: Divisiveness. Does that mean that you actually confronted some things that you thought weren’t right?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah. You stand up to some things and point some things out. And you find out very quickly that that’s not well received. And so, our family at the time, I think our oldest had just started junior high at that time, and so, all of a sudden, you find out, you’re gonna have to change schools. You’ve invested everything. Of the stress of that, you know, a lot of people have talked on the show, the stress that you go through physically, of standing up to things, is difficult. So that was tough. And, you know, I haven’t, I didn’t write a word about that in Unpacking Forgiveness. We didn’t choose to work it out in that context. But I think it’s, it’s important here to say, and part of the reason I drove in to do the show, is because I know there’s some people really hurting, really struggling with how to view the church. Really struggling if they want to go on. And I would say to those people who are listening, “Listen, I know where you’re coming from. Our family has gone through this. We’ve had to address that.” And I just want to encourage them, that the invitation Jesus Christ extends, is in the context of the church. And He says, “Come to me all you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And so, to those people who are hurting, I would say, “Don’t decline the invitation of Christ that can be received in the church.” The Church is as much God’s plan for this age as the ark was for Noah’s. And it’s a leaky boat at times. It’s a messy boat at times, but it beats being out in the rain. And I would encourage people, don’t turn your back on what you need the most.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah, and I appreciate that. That’s the whole reason we’re doing a conference coming up November 2, RESTORE Chicago, is because we know that there’s so many people, and rightly so, alienated from the church. I mean, it’s been hard for them. And yet at the same time, like you said, being out in the rain, that’s not really a place of healing. So, let’s wrestle with this. Because this is the situation I’m sure you found yourself in. You have an offense against you. And you have someone that is not repentant for it. Doesn’t even see it. In fact, they think you’re the problem. And I know there’s a lot of people listening right now that they’re probably never going to hear what they want to hear from the person who offended them. And I think there’s a popular notion today that says, “You know what, you forgive them. And then it’s on them.” But you’ve got to release the bitterness, obviously. But is that exactly right, this whole idea of, “forgive them whether or not they’re repentant, whether or not they ever apologize?” You challenge that. And I appreciate what you have to say, because it really makes us wrestle with this issue. So why do you think it’s not right, just to say, “okay, I forgive you,” even though
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah. No, that’s great. Listen, the listeners, they go out and they look on the internet about forgiveness and Christian forgiveness, right away, they’re going to find out that there’s a huge discussion. And there’s all kinds of really interesting things out there. If you go to UnpackingForgiveness.com and take my little forgiveness quiz, you’ll see some of the sorts of questions that come up. You have people counseling things like, “It’s okay to forgive God. We should forgive God.” Or, “You should forgive people, even if they haven’t done anything to offend you.” Or, “The person you need to forgive the most is yourself.” And there’s all this sort of weirdness going on about forgiveness. But the situation you bring up in particular is this one: a grave offense and an unrepentant offender. What do you do when the offense is grave and the offender is unrepentant? I mean, if the offense is not grave, Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience. It’s to his glory to overlook an offense.” Or Peter says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” But what do you do with 9/11? Or what do you do in a church situation if the offender isn’t repentant? And that’s where in Unpacking Forgiveness, I talk about three things that need to be done. Number one, we need to proactively show up. That’s what God shows us. God demonstrates His own love for us and this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. So that’s the first thing. And anybody who’s been watching the news and seeing the example, of Brandt, this this man who forgave his brother’s killer, has been challenged by that love and that grace. And the second thing is no revenge. You know, the Bible is explicit. We ought never to be vindictive and take revenge. But the third thing that Christians do when the offense is grave, and the offender is unrepentant, is the Bible says leave room for the wrath of God. Because vengeance is Mine. I will repay says the Lord. And I think that’s something that’s not getting talked about enough in the context of these situations. Paul says in First Timothy, he says, or second Timothy rather, “Alexander, the metalworker did me a great deal of harm.” Then he doesn’t say, “I forgive him. Forget about it. I let it go.” Paul says, ‘God will pay him back for it. And you two should be on your guard against him.” So, he doesn’t dismiss it.
JULIE ROYS: Yeah, absolutely. Well, again, this is Chris Brauns. He’s the author of Unpacking Forgiveness. And we’re talking about what does it mean to forgive someone? And do you forgive someone who’s unrepentant? We’ll continue our discussion on the other side of the break. But for right now, we do need to just take a quick break. But we’ll be right back.
JULIE ROYS: As Christians, we must forgive everybody or only those who asked for forgiveness? And do we forgive for our own benefit or for the benefit of the offender? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing forgiveness: what it is and what it isn’t. And joining me today to explore forgiveness is Chris Brauns author of the book Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. If you’d like a copy of Chris’s book, I encourage you to enter our giveaway today. I have five copies of Unpacking Forgiveness to give away. And if you’d like to enter to win one of those, just go to JulieRoys.com/Giveaway. Also, I like this book so much I actually made Unpacking Forgiveness, our premium giveaway this month. So, if you’d like to give a donation to this ministry, we’ll be happy to send you a copy of Chris’s book as well. To do that, you just click on the donate button at my website, super easy. And all gifts are tax deductible. So again, just go to JulieRoys.com. So, Chris, before the break, you talked about some steps that we take if we want to do biblical forgiveness. And one of the first things you said is that we proactively show love. And you were talking about this situation with Brandt Jean where he said to his brother’s killer, I hope you’ll look for answers. And he sort-of offered this package of forgiveness. “I hope you’re sorry. And if you are, I will be so happy to forgive you.” But he didn’t actually say I forgive you at that point?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, it’s interesting. And I have the quote right in front of me. He said, “If you’re truly sorry, I can speak for myself. I forgive. And I know if you go to God and ask Him, He will forgive you.” Now listen, I think that’s a beautiful answer. And what he did was beautiful and Christ like. If forgiveness is a package, if it’s a gift, a Christian always wraps the package. We always put it out on the table. We always extend that offer to the other party. But biblical forgiveness is something that happens between two parties. It’s not a private event, any more than a hug is a private event. And if we wrap the package of forgiveness, and offer it to someone, if they don’t unwrap it by repentance, then biblical forgiveness has not taken place in its full sense. So, I thought what he did yesterday was open up his arms, literally, he literally did that and offer forgiveness. And then this lady, this woman who had shot his brother–it’s impossible, it’s just impossible to imagine–she came over and received his hug. I think that’s, that’s a gospel picture. That’s a picture full of grace. So much of what’s taught about forgiveness, now it’s taught like–if you’ll forgive the expression, but here we go–it’s like, it’s a moral laxative for the individual. It’s not something I do for us, between the two of us. It’s just this sort of “let it go” business. By the way, that’s why some people say it’s legitimate to forgive God. They say, “well, forgiveness, is this something you do for yourself. So, if you feel anger and bitter towards God, then it’s legitimate to forgive Him.” And of course, that’s eviscerating a biblical concept, forgiveness, of its real content.
JULIE ROYS: I’m glad that you brought up that one thing about, as you said, it’s psychological equivalent of a laxative. You quote this in your book. It’s Wilford McClay, I think, in his essay, The Strange Persistence of Guilt. He writes, “When we pardon those who trespass against us because we have been told that it’s good for our physical or mental health, we’re doing something other than forgive. We are acting not for our benefit,” or, “not for the benefit of the offender, but for our sake. We confuse a freely offered transcendent act of love with the psychological equivalent of a laxative.” I mean, that’s powerful. I’m, I’ll be honest, before we started having this conversation, before I became aware of your book, that’s kind of what I thought. Like somebody does something bad against you, you know, we’re not supposed to harbor bitterness towards them. So, we need to forgive them whether they’re repenting or not. You’re pushing back and saying, “no.” I’m sure there’s an awful lot of people right now who are listening who are saying, “Well, wait, does that mean that then you’re holding on to bitterness, because you’re on your unforgiving in your heart?” So, respond to that. Because I know that probably a majority of the audience might be thinking that right now.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah. So, Christians ought always to have an attitude of forgiveness. We are always do, again, I use the word-picture, “wrap the package and hold it out.” But if the other party doesn’t receive the gift, by repentance, then fullness of forgiveness hasn’t fully taken place. And by the way, this goes back to the gospel. This goes back to what God demonstrates His own love for us in this while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. But if you don’t bow your knee to Christ, and put your faith and trust in Him, you are not forgiven by God. It’s interesting. A way back to when I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness, I remember reading that Rob Bell, he had written, “Hell is full of forgiven people.” And I thought, “What can that possibly mean?” You’re holding out this teaching, that you could be forgiven by God and still go to hell? And I thought at the time and wrote something to the effect, that this is on a trajectory of universalism, when and
JULIE ROYS: Which is where it went.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, which is, which is where it went. And so, but I mean, then we get books published by evangelical publishers, RT Kendall wrote a book called Totally Forgiving God, in which he encourages people to forgive God. Lewis Smedes years before that said, “Is it really such a big thing if we let God off the hook for what he did?” I’m paraphrasing. And of course, the answer is, “Yeah, that’s a big thing, because it implies moral culpability.” But so, I think Christians always make the offer. We always have the attitude of forgiveness. But we can’t diminish the central place of repentance in this.
JULIE ROYS: So, this is an issue, for me, I was thinking, just in this past week, there are several instances where forgiveness became an issue. One of them, Chris, was a woman I interviewed. I had a three-hour interview last night. One of the most gut-wrenching interviews I’ve done with a woman who was raped repeatedly by a man. And then when she complained, because this man was employed by a Christian institution, they said they’d look into it, talk to him, and said, “You know what, he’s sorry, you need to forgive them.” And that was it. They wanted her to drop it, not go to authorities, not do anything. And I mean, I was just so dumbfounded, listening to this. I was actually viscerally upset. But when something like that happens, when they say, “Well, look, they’ve asked for forgiveness. You need to forgive?” What would you say?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Well, listen, I, that grieves my heart (pause—inaudible) I’m so grieved as a pastor, to hear this. And to hear that Christian leaders would say this. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the elimination of consequences. I’ve said that before to our flock. And people kind of push back on it. And I say no, wait a minute. Stillman Valley, great town in Northern Illinois. If I robbed the bank in Stillman Valley, which I have not done, but if I did, I’ve said our people before, and I was repentant, “Would you forgive me?” And they say, “Yes, of course.” And then I say, “Could I be a pastor in Stillman Valley, Illinois if I robbed the bank?” And the answer is, “Obviously not.” I wouldn’t be above reproach. Likewise, yesterday, when this man offered forgiveness to his brother’s killer, she was still sentenced to prison. She—and I don’t know sentencing well enough to debate that sentence, but forgiveness doesn’t mean that she should not suffer the consequences of, for taking another life.
JULIE ROYS: I mean, eternally in the book of life, when we ask for forgiveness, and we’re truly repentant, that’s wiped clean. But we still have to have some consequences in the natural.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Sure. It’s wiped clean. And it’s wiped clean because the Lord Jesus Christ, bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. And so, because He has paid the price, yeah, we’re justified. We’re declared righteous. And then we spend eternity with Him. But in this fallen world, David, David, of course, was forgiven. We have Psalm 51 our great Psalm of repentance. But David faced terrible consequences because of the decisions that he had made. And they haunted his family and plagued this family, really, you know, the rest of his life.
JULIE ROYS: So, I have another issue I would love to bring up to you. I did, this is kind of a therapeutic show for me, though, because I get to get my questions answered. Although we’re dealing with biblical solutions to these issues. Not just psychological ones, which I love. And so, I’ll ask it. And we’ll get to it on the other side of the break. But here’s the other situation. I got called this week from a former elder at Harvest Bible Chapel. And he said, you know, “I want to talk to you off the record.” And then he said, “I’d like to privately apologize to you.” Privately apologize to you. Now, again, the things that he said about me that were a part of these press releases that were put out about me when I was investigating were very public. But he wanted to apologize privately. I’ll tell you what I said, I want to hear what you think about that. When we come back from break. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. I’m here with Pastor Chris Brauns author of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. We’ll be right back.
JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to the Roys report Brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing forgiveness. What do you do when someone hurts you but isn’t repentant? As a Christian? Are you obligated to forgive that person or as my guest today argues, is this unconditional forgiveness a perversion of biblical forgiveness and harmful to those who engage in it? I’d love to hear your thoughts about our topic today. The best way to do that is to join the online conversation on both Facebook and Twitter. To get to us on Facebook, just go to Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. And on Twitter my handle is @ReachJulieRoys. Again, joining me today is Chris Brauns, pastor of the Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, Illinois, and author of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. And just a reminder, I’m giving away 5 copies of Chris’s book today. If you’d like to enter that giveaway, just go to JulieRoys.com/giveaway. Also, unpacking forgiveness is our premium for donors this month. So, if you want to be sure that you get this book and also support this program, just click on the donate button while you’re at my website. Again, the address is JulieRoys.com. So, Chris, before the break, I mentioned that I got a call this week, and it was from a former elder at Harvest Bible Chapel. And for those of you who aren’t familiar with this story, you probably haven’t listened to this show much because we’ve talked about it quite a bit. But I was a part of an investigation that exposed wrongdoing there. James MacDonald ended up getting fired—the senior pastor—has been a lot of change there. But during that whole process of investigating, some really nasty things were said about me. Somewhat similar, I think to Chris, what was said about you, when you raised issues. That you were sowing discord, that you were gossiping. I don’t know if that was said about you. It was said about me. And that, essentially, we were doing not the work of God, but of the evil one. And so, this elder came to me and said, “Hey, I’d like to talk to you off the record. And, Julie, I want to know, you know, if you would forgive me for what happened and what we did to you?” And so I’ll tell you what I said, I said, “You know, I’m not holding any bitterness in my heart towards you at all.” And I said, “I don’t think about this on a daily basis at all. But since you’re bringing it up, this isn’t the appropriate way to apologize. What you did was public. And you said things about me in public. And so, if you want to rectify that, the way to do that is for you to publicly state that.” And he said, I mean, I could tell he was all, “well, you know.” And, “I’ll think about that.” So, he’s still thinking about it. So maybe if you’re listening, keep thinking about it. But I’d like to hear what you have to say.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, I know, I think the principle that you point to is the right one. The circle of confession needs to go as wide as the circle of the offense. The circle of confession needs to be as wide as a circle of offence. And so, the nature of those discussions was so public, that now it has to, repentance should be done in that arena. And I think that’s part of why again, I didn’t say anything about my situation in Unpacking Forgiveness. And I haven’t said much over the years about it on my website, or in any articles or anything like that. But I think when this was all, some of this became so public, it’s time for Christian leaders to really take a stand about this. And the independent nature of evangelical ministries is such that it’s easy for pastors like me, just to keep our distance and say, well, it’s not my deal. I’m doing my separate thing out there. But I think we’re at a point now where whether it’s James MacDonald or Bill Hybels, they accepted the invitation to be on a big platform. They accepted the invitation, a call, they would say, to have a big influence. And now that some of these things have come out, I think of some of the video recordings or whatever. One where they were were
JULIE ROYS: the hot mic, you mean?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, and a lady who’s a Christian leader, a fine Christian leader was being mocked or something. Now that that’s out, it has to, you have to stand up and say, “listen,” publicly, “This was wrong. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” You know,
JULIE ROYS: And how about walking away from ministry? I mean, this has been a big question is, okay, we forgive but as you said, there are consequences. Can somebody be in ministry after this sort of an offense?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Well, Titus 1:5-9 lays out the qualifications, 6-9, for an elder: blameless, not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he has to be self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. And so. you look at that list of qualifications and this idea of being above reproach. And you can say now, at this point, where a lot of things, “above reproach” isn’t one of them. Yeah. And is there on path to be above reproach again? You know, that would have to be reflected on for a long time. But step one is taking responsibility. And asking forgiveness. I think as widely again, as the nature of the offense, of course, talking about Willow, which I didn’t have any direct experience in, with at all. I didn’t work with them or anything like that. But their influence has been huge. It has been vast. And because of that, now, this is going to play out in a very, very public way. And likewise, repentance needs to be public.
JULIE ROYS: A lot of people listening right now, I’m sure are thinking, Okay, I get that. So, my offender hasn’t come to me. I see what you’re saying. I need to sort of offer this package of forgiveness. But if they don’t unwrap it, then forgiveness hasn’t really occurred. We haven’t had this transaction, which biblically, I mean, it does say, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. It doesn’t say that Jesus just forgives everyone. They’re probably thinking and feeling. And I know because I’ve talked to an awful lot, “Man, it just hurts.” And I don’t know how I’m, you know, we’ve talked a little bit about this therapeutic forgiveness, where we forgive the person. We release that bitterness, whatever. That’s not necessarily biblical forgiveness. But still, how do you deal with these feelings of just anger? And this wasn’t right, and I’ll never hear from them what I want to hear. We’ve only got like a minute, so we can just sort of touch on the surface. What do we do with it?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Well, I’ll give you today’s vocabulary word. Here’s today’s vocabulary word. The vocabulary word is eschatology. Eschatology, which is the final redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the reminder that our King has ascended to the right hand of the Father, and He has promised that He is coming again. And though He came humbly in his first advent, as a servant, and as a baby in Bethlehem, when He comes back again, He’s coming on a white horse. And scripture is explicit. Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord. You look at Psalm 73, where the psalmist is disillusioned. And he said, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me untill I entered the sanctuary of the Lord. Then I understood their final destiny.”
JULIE ROYS: Glad you brought it to this. When we come back from break, we’ll continue it again. Julie Roys. You’re listening to the Roys report. I’ll be right back with Chris Brauns.
JULIE ROYS: Scripture says that believers are to be kind-hearted towards one another forgiving one another as Christ forgave us. But what does that mean exactly? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today we’re discussing forgiveness with Pastor Chris Brauns author of Unpacking Forgiveness, Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds. And if you’re just joining us, and you want to hear what you’ve missed, will have the full audio of this program posted to my website within the next hour. So, you just go to JulieRoys.com and click on the podcast tab. Also, I want to give you a personal invitation to the upcoming RESTORE Chicago conference on November 2nd at Judson University. This is a one of a kind conference. It’s designed to restore faith in God, in the church, in the wake of a lot of these church scandals that we’ve experienced and abuse. Joining me is going to be Nancy Beach, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, and also one of several women who bravely confronted abuse by former pastor, Bill Hybels. Also Wade Mullen, an expert on abuse who was on my show last week. And also, Josh Caterer will be leading worship. So, if you’ve been hurt, and maybe you feel really disillusioned in the church, I really want to encourage you to come. And I know, you probably know others who feel this way. And I want to encourage you to invite them to come. That’s why we’ve put this together. It’s designed to be a safe place. And I know somebody said, “Are you going to be live streaming the event?” And my first reaction was, “Can download the Holy Spirit online?” Because—and I’m not saying that you can’t live stream events and the Holy Spirit can’t work through that. But I really do believe in presence, and incarnational ministry, and God being there present with us. And I think we need some face-to-face together to work through some of these things. So, I hope you’ll consider coming, it’s RESTOREChicagoconference.com if you want to get more information on that. Well, again, joining me today to discuss forgiveness is author and pastor Chris Brauns. And Chris, I loved before the break, we were talking about dealing with anger, and bitterness, and the frustration that people feel when their offender has not owned it. And so, so painful, and even this woman that I said, I interviewed last night who was raped repeatedly and it happened over 20 years ago, and she still, she could barely talk about it, I mean, would tear up and I just could hear the angst, on the other side of the phone. And I’m thinking about her. And yet you said, “we need to think about the big picture, the eternal perspective.” There is a day when God will come back. And he will set all wrongs right. And there will be justice. And as you said that I immediately thought of Joseph, because of what he says when his brothers come to him, “What you meant for evil. God intended for good.”
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, yeah. I mean, listen, the Joseph and Judah, narrative, Genesis 37 to 50. If someone’s really unpacking forgiveness, I would point them to that passage. Don’t look only at Joseph. Look also at Judah. Because Judah is on the other side of it, and Judah repents. But when Joseph finally confronted his brothers, he said, “Don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now, there’s been famine in the land. For the next five years, there will not be plowing or reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on Earth. Save your lives by a great deliverance.” So, what he had there was the providence of God. And listen, you can’t unpack forgiveness, if you don’t have a big view of God, if you don’t understand who God is, and all His brilliance and beauty, His power. And we can be absolutely confident that God is just. Again, I keep pointing back to that quote, in Romans 12:17-21, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”
JULIE ROYS: The other thing about the Joseph story that I think is fascinating is that when he first discovers his brothers, that these, here they are, and you know, he has every opportunity to wreak vengeance on them. He’s now second in command in Egypt. There’s a famine in the land, they come, they need food, they don’t recognize him. And he basically designs this whole event where he has his servants sneak a goblet into Benjamin’s sack. And Benjamin and he are the only sons of Rebecca, the beloved wife of his father. And then the others are from, you know, his other wives. And he doesn’t, his father doesn’t feel the same way about them. And so, he’s testing, seems to be testing whether that same jealousy and strife, whether they’ve changed. Whether they are repentant.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Well, now, that’s right. He, it’s the only way Joseph can know if they’re really repentant or not. He recreates the same situation. In the first instance, his older brother, Judah suggested that he’d be sold to the Midianites. He creates another situation in which it would be to their advantage to throw Benjamin under the Egyptian bus, if you will. And this time, in the longest discourse, or the longest speech in Genesis is Judah saying, “No, no, no, no, I couldn’t bear to go back and tell my father that Benjamin is not with me.” And Judah says, “My life for his life, my life for his life.” And at that point, Joseph knows they really are repentant. He sends everyone clears everyone, you remember this, he clears everyone out of the room, and he’s weeping so loud, that they hear him. And I think that’s how we know, I mean, Judah’s repentance was genuine. And then it is amazing. You talk about redemption or restoration. Our Lord Jesus Christ comes from that broken world of Judah and Tamar—who had disguised herself as a prostitute—and Judah—who had sold his brother into slavery—out of that, our God graciously offers salvation in our King. So, you turn over to Matthew chapter one, and you read the genealogy, and there’s Tamar’s name. That is amazing. And the thing we know is salvation and forgiveness is all about God and it’s all about grace. It’s all about grace. This is so beautiful.
JULIE ROYS: It is beautiful. And even as you’re saying this, we’re both tearing up here. I think it’s because of that Joseph story to me is, is probably I think, the one with probably the most emotion for me as I read Scripture. And then that that reuniting with his brothers in that picture of forgiveness. And you’re right, it does show us the heart of our Father, and the heart of Jesus is for reconciliation.
CHRIS BRAUNS: And for the listeners, what I would say, here’s what you do with that story. Move into it. Inhabit it. Meditate on it. You can think of that story for 30 years, and you’ll still be learning from it and growing. That’s the power of God’s Word. And you know, Psalm 19 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the word are trustworthy, making wise, the simple the commands of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.” So, listen. If you’re broken inside, if you’re full of anger, if you don’t know how to get past these things, listen. Run to the word and feed your soul there, Genesis 37, start right in 37. Go all the way to 50. And then just think about that the rest of your life. By the way, here’s two easy scriptures to remember Psalm 37 and Psalm 73. Psalm 37, “Fret not because of evil doers. Fret not soon enough, God will take care of this.” So those two Psalms, they’re just transposed, right? 37 and 73. You can remember those references. So God’s word, God’s word, God’s word.
JULIE ROYS: Amen. I want to turn to something because you bring up Christ, on the cross and in when I’ve talked to people about this issue about forgiveness, what they’re often point to is Jesus on the cross says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And I’ve heard that often upheld as, “okay, Jesus forgave his oppressors. They weren’t repentant at that point.”
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, that that question always comes up. “Didn’t Jesus forgive his killers on the cross?” And of course, the answer is, “absolutely he didn’t.” He interceded in their behalf. He prayed that they would be forgiven, but he didn’t grant them absolution. And we know that Jesus could forgive people go in peace. He said to others, “Your sins are forgiven.” But he interceded on their behalf and prayed that they would be forgiven. Very similar to how Stephen prayed for the people who stoned him. And so, we would say the Apostle Paul was a direct answer to Stephen’s prayer that his killers would be forgiven. But if something had happened to Paul, between the stoning of Stephen and the road to Damascus, he was not yet forgiven. So, I think Jesus there embodies what we are to live out. He offers forgiveness. He prays for their forgiveness. He hopes for it. But he doesn’t say, “Your sins are forgiven.”
JULIE ROYS: We’ve spoken a lot to the person who’s been offended. I want to speak for a minute to the person who has offence. You know, Scripture says, “If you go to the altar, and you realize somebody has something against you, you leave your gift at the altar, and you go make it right with that person.” There’s probably a lot of people listening right now who say, maybe the Holy Spirit’s tugging at them and saying, pointing out some things that they need to make right. But it’s absolutely terrifying. Speak to that person. Why is it important that you own this? And how do you own it correctly? When you’ve got somebody that might be really mad at you?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, I think you have to really work on this. And really be sure that you’re not qualifying, that you’re not excusing, that you’re taking ownership and that you’re truly broken. Let’s go back to Judah and Joseph in Genesis. Judah’s repentance incredibly begins in Genesis in Genesis 38, where he said that Tamar is going to be put death for being, you know, pregnant out of wedlock. And then she, you know, puts figuratively speaking his credit card and driver’s license on the table. And at that moment—this is when Judah’s repentance begins—he says, “no let her live. She’s more righteous than I.” And you say, “well, that’s just such a moment. I’m not sure if his repentance is genuine.” But if then if you track it through the rest of the book, he’s willing to give his life too because he’s so repentant. So, practicing, you know, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me” without qualification, I’m not, you know, it’s how I have to—my wife is sitting here—how I have to apologize to for Jamie. I don’t say, “Please forgive me. You were rude to me.” And then, you know, and then make some lame apology or some lame request for forgiveness.
JULIE ROYS: Or, “If I offended you.” My personal favorite.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Or, “Whatever I may have done.” Or “If I did anything.” Right. Exactly. But listen, follow Jesus and look to the cross. And of course, Jesus didn’t have to ask for forgiveness. But he was gracious with all of us who are sinners.
JULIE ROYS: And name it specifically, isn’t that important?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Right.
JULIE ROYS: We can’t vaguely, we need to name specifically what we did. It’s really healthy for our own soul, isn’t it?
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah, that’s right. And I and I have to when I wrote Unpacking Forgiveness, and there’s a picture of a suitcase on the cover. And that’s the picture I had in mind. But now I say it’s not so much like unpacking a suitcase. It’s more like relocating houses. And you move on a particular day and deal with the matter. But then you figure out that you’ve got boxes under the ping-pong table for a long time.
JULIE ROYS: We moved a couple of well, actually only a little over a year ago. So, I know what you’re talking about.
CHRIS BRAUNS: Yeah. And you think you’ve dealt with everything and then you bring out this box of junk that you’ve got to sift through and work through. But I think just do it one day at a time. One situation at a time, take ownership and go on from there.
JULIE ROYS: Amen. Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” And I have to say I agree with him. Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” The Apostle Paul said, “Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out and times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” I think we need a lot more talk of repentance, a lot more talk of biblical forgiveness as opposed to therapeutic forgiveness. And I thank you so much, Chris, for coming and helping us do that. Again, if you’ve missed any part of this show, you can hear the entire audio at JulieRoys.com. We’ll have the post, podcast posted. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless.