DR. J EDWIN ORR – THE ROLE OF PRAYER IN SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
National Prayer Congress in Dallas, TX, October 26-29, 1976.
Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution, there was a moral slump. Drunkenness was epidemic. Out of a population of five million, three hundred thousand were confirmed drunkards. They were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind.
For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence. The largest denomination at that time was the Methodists, and they were losing more members than they were gaining. The second largest was the Baptists. They said that "they had their most wintry season." The Presbyterians met in general assembly to deplore the ungodliness of the country. The Congregationalists were strongest in New England. Take a typical church—the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennox, Massachusetts said, "In sixteen years they had not taken one young person into fellowship."
The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians, who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning. He had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.
The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, Bishop Madison, that "the Church is too far gone ever to be redeemed." Voltaire said, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years time.” And Thomas Paine preached this cheerfully all over America.
In case you think it was the hysteria of the moment, Kenneth Scott Latourette, the great church historian said, “It seemed as if Christianity were about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.” The churches had their backs to the wall—it seemed as if they were about to be wiped out. How did God change that situation? It came through the concert of prayer.
I must go back a little: There was a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh called John Erskine. He wrote a memorial. He called it, "Pleading with the People of Scotland and Elsewhere to Unite in Prayer for a Revival of Religion."
He sent a copy of his little book to Jonathan Edwards in New England. That great theologian was so moved, he wrote a response, which got longer than a letter, and finally he published it as a book. If my memory serves me right, the title of the book was as follows: “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of All God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”
Now this moment began in England through William Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe and others. They started what the British call the Union of Prayer. The year after John Wesley died, the Second Great Awakening began and swept Great Britain. There isn't time to give you the details of that. But, in New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor. In 1794, when conditions were at their worst, he sent out a plea for prayer.
Take the colleges at that time.
Isaac Backus addressed his pleas for prayer to ministers of every Christian denomination in the United States. The churches knew that their backs were to the wall. The Presbyterians of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania adopted it for all their churches. Bishop Francis Asbury adopted it for all the Methodists. The Baptist Associations and the Congregationalists, the Reformed, and the Moravians all adopted it until America, like Britain was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray.
It was not long before revival came. It broke out first of all in Connecticut, then it spread to Massachusetts, entirely without extravagance or outcry. Every report mentions this.
However, there were some differences. When the movement reached the frontier in Kentucky, those people were really wild and irreligious. Congress had discovered that in Kentucky there had not been more than one court of justice held in five years. Peter Cartwright, Methodist evangelist, wrote that when his father had settled in Logan County, it was known as Rogue's Harbor.
If someone committed a murder in Massachusetts or a robbery in Rhode Island, all they need to do was to get across the Alleghenies. The decent people in Kentucky formed regiments of vigilantes to fight for law and order, then fought a pitched battle with outlaws and lost.
There was a Scottish-Irish Presbyterian minister called James McGready whose chief claim to fame was that he was so ugly that he attracted attention. Nowadays, you have to be good looking to get attention. But McGready was so ugly that people stopped in the street and said, "What does he do." They said, "He's a preacher." Then they reacted and said, "A man with a face like that must have something to say." McGready settled in Logan County, pastor of three little churches. He wrote in his diary that "the winter of 1799 for the most part was weeping and mourning with the people of God." It was like Sodom and Gomorrah.
McGready was such a man of prayer that not only did he promote the concert of prayer every first Monday of the month, but he got his people to pray for him at sunset on Saturday evening and sunrise Sunday morning. In the summer of 1800 came the great Kentucky Revival. Eleven thousand people came to a communion service. McGready hollered loud and long, "Anyone come and help me." So Baptists and Methodists came, and the great Camp Meeting Revivals began and swept Kentucky and Tennessee, and then burst over North Carolina and South Carolina, and swept the frontier.
That was the turning point. Out of that Second Great Awakening—after the death of Wesley—came:
Now conditions deteriorated in the middle of the 19th Century. Why? Sounds familiar: the county was seriously divided over the issue of slavery, just like the Vietnam War. Second, people were making money hand over fist. When they do, they turn their backs upon God.
A man of prayer, Jeremiah Lanphier, started a businessmen's prayer meeting in the upper room of the North Dutch Reformed Church Consistory Building in Manhattan. Only six people out of a population of a million showed up. But the following week there were fourteen, and then twenty-three when they decided to meet everyday for prayer.
Then they filled the Dutch Reformed Church, then the Methodist Church on John Street, then Trinity Episcopal Church on Broadway at Wall Street. In February and 1858, every church and public hall in downtown New York was filled.
Horace Greeley, the famous editor, sent a reporter with horse and buggy racing round the prayer meetings to see how many men were praying. In one hour he could get to only twelve meetings, but he counted 6,100 men. And then the landslide of prayer began.
People began to be converted, ten thousand a week in New York City alone. The movement spread throughout New England, the church bells bringing people to prayer at eight in the morning, twelve noon, and six in the evening. The revival went up the Hudson and down the Mohawk. For example, the Baptists had so many people to baptize they couldn’t get them into their churches. They went down to the river, cut a big hole in the ice, and baptized them in the cold water. When Baptists do that, they are really on fire!
More than a million people converted to God out of a population of thirty million in one year. And that revival jumped Atlantic, broke out in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, South Africa, and South India. Anywhere there was an evangelical cause, its effect was felt for forty years. It began in a movement of prayer, it was sustained by a movement of prayer.
That movement lasted for a generation, but at the turn of the 20th century, there was need of revival again. There were special prayer meetings at Moody Bible Institute, at Keswick Conventions in England, in Melbourne, in the Nilgiri Hills of India, in Wonsan of Korea. All around the world people were praying that there might be another great awakening in the twentieth century.
As far as churches were concerned, the ministers of Atlantic City reported that of a population of fifty thousand there were only fifty adults left unconverted. Take Portland in Oregon: two hundred and forty department stores closed from 11 to 2 each day for prayer, signing an agreement so that no one would cheat and stay open. That is what was happening in the United States in 1905. But how did it begin?
Most people have heard of the Welsh Revival which started in 1904. It began as a movement of prayer.
Seth Joshua, the Presbyterian evangelist, came to Newcastle Emlyn College where Evan Roberts was studying for the ministry. Evan Roberts was twenty-six. He had been a coal miner. The students were so moved that they asked if they could go to Joshua's next campaign. So they cancelled classes to go to Blaenanerch where Seth Joshua prayed, “O God, bend us.” Evan Roberts went forward, and he prayed with great agony, “O God, bend me.”
He couldn't concentrate on his studies. He went to Principal Phillips, the principal of his college and said, "I hear a voice that tells me I must go home and speak to our young people in my own home church. Mr. Phillips, is that the voice of the devil or the voice of the Spirit?” Principal Phillips answered wisely, “The devil never gives orders like that. You can have a week off.”
So he went back home to Loughor and announced to the pastor, “I've come to preach.” The pastor was not at all convinced, but asked, “How about speaking at the prayer meeting on Monday?” He did not even let him speak to the prayer meeting, but said to the praying people, “Our young brother, Evan Roberts, feels he has a message for you if you care to wait.” Seventeen people waited.
Evan Roberts said to them, “I have a message for you from God. You must confess any known sin to God and put any wrong done to man right. Second, you must put away any doubtful habit promptly. Third, you must obey the Spirit promptly. Finally, you must confess your faith in Christ publicly."
By ten o'clock all seventeen had responded. The pastor was so pleased that he asked, “How about your speaking at the mission service tomorrow night? Midweek service Wednesday night?” He preached all week, and they asked him to stay another week. Then the break came.
The main road between Llanelli and Swansea on which the church was situated was packed from wall to wall with people trying to get into the church. People were closing shops early to find a place in the church.
Now the news was out. They sent a reporter, and he described what he saw. He said it "was a strange meeting which closed at 4:25 in the morning, and then people did not seem to be willing to go home." Then a very British summary, he said, “I felt that this was no ordinary gathering.” The news was out the next day, every grocery store in that industrial valley was packed out, people buying groceries who had come to the meetings. On Sunday, every church filled. It went like a tidal wave over Wales.
I could tell you so much about it. There were a hundred thousand people converted in that movement.Five years later, Dr J. V. Morgan wrote a book to debunk the revival, his main criticism was, "of a hundred thousand joining the churches in five months of excitement of the revival, after five years only eighty thousand still stood." Only eighty thousand.
But the social impact was astounding. For example,
In fact, they sent for the sergeant of the police and asked, “What do you do with your time?”
He said, “Before the revival, we had two main jobs, one was to prevent crime and the other to control crowds, as at football games. Since the revival started there is practically no crime. So we just go with the crowds.”
A councilor asked, “What does that mean?”
He replied, “You know where the crowds are. They are packing out the churches.”
“But how does that affect the police?”
He said, “We have three quartets, and if any church wants a quartet to sing, they simply call the police station.”
You say, how can a revival cause a strike? It didn't cause a strike, just a slowdown. So many Welsh coal miners were converted and stopped using bad language that the horses that dragged the coal trucks in the mines could not understand what was being said to them. Transportation slowed for awhile, until they learned the language. When I first heard that story, I thought it was a tall tale, but I can document it even from Westminster Abbey.
I had discovered through the figures given by British government experts that in Radnorshire and Merionethshire the illegitimate birth rate dropped 44% within a year of the beginning of the revival. So great was the impact of that movement.
That revival swept Great Britain. It broke out in Norway. It so moved in Norway that Norwegian Parliament passed special legislation to permit laymen to conduct Holy Communion because the clergy couldn't keep up with the number of converts who wanted to take Holy Communion. It swept Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Canada from coast to coast, all of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, North Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Chile.
So what's the lesson we can learn? It's a very simple one. It's that familiar text. “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
What's involved in this? God expects us to pray.
But we must not forget what Jonathan Edwards said, when he said to promote explicit agreement and visible union of all God's people in extraordinary prayer. What do you mean by extraordinary prayer?
When you find people getting up at six o’clock in the morning to pray, or having a half-night prayer till midnight, that’s extraordinary prayer. When they give up their lunchtime and go and pray at a noonday prayer meeting, that’s extraordinary prayer. But it must be united and concerted.
It doesn't mean that a Baptist becomes any less of a Baptist, or an Episcopalian less loyal to the thirty-nine articles, or a Presbyterian turns his back to the Westminster Confession. Not at all. But they recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, and they're prepared to pray together in concerted prayer that God may hear an answer. We haven’t reached that stage yet.
Now some people say, then that means it's up to us. No, you can't say that either. Matthew Henry said, “When God intends great mercy for his people, He first of all set them a-praying.” Even God is sovereign in this matter. But we must respond. He has chosen never to work without our cooperation. So whether your interpretation of revival is Calvinistic or Armenian, it's a very simple thing: You must pray and God will work. May God help us so to pray,
The goal of this exercise is simply to help you more clearly and lovingly share with others what Jesus has done and is currently doing in your life. You sharing your Jesus story is one of the best ways to begin sharing the gospel with those far from God. There are some resources below to help you get better at sharing your story. To some people this comes naturally, to others a bit of practice is needed. Remember, many people today will not listen to a prepared speech or a monologue. This is why we encourage you to be able to share in 2 minutes, the essence of what Jesus has done in your life.
HOMEWORK FOR TNT THIS WEEK
Write down your "personal testimony" with just enough of your story that takes you about 2 minutes to tell. There are many formats you can use. We have included a short article by pastor Rick Warren that can guide your thinking as you prepare. Then below that is a video of a young man that is also helpful as you prepare your story. At TNT this week we will have several of you share. Practice a few times to see if you can be about 2 minutes. We are not asking for perfect people (ain't gonna happen lol). We do ask that you pray and give it a try!
The THREE KEY COMPONENTS you will want to share are listed below. Also, please read the document and watch the video below. In the document, Rick Warren shares 4 parts to a testimony. Don't let that throw you. 1 and 2 are usually shared together. Choose whichever way feels more natural to you.
1. What was your life before Jesus became real to you? (sins, struggles you faced, doubts, fear, etc.) If you grew up in church - when did you discover that Jesus was more than what your parents or church told you. When did He become a real person to you? Now, this may not have happened yet so you may not be able to share that yet. We encourage you to talk with your group leaders about where you are and how you might take some next steps in discovering a closer walk with Jesus.
2. What happened? How in the world did you become a follower of Jesus? At some point in this part of your story is an opportunity to share with them a key verse from scripture that helped your faith journey. Let God speak directly to them through His Word!
3. What is your life like now as a follower of Jesus? How does He make a real difference in your daily life? What makes you different that those that do not follow Jesus? You may want to share one fresh way that Jesus impacted your week!
2 Resources: how to share your story (video/article)
At our Tuesday night Bible study we talked about Loving Enemies. I wanted to share with you two early Christmas presents:
GIFT NUMBER ONE...
Your first present is to notice what Jesus says about LOVING ENEMIES in His sermon on the mount:
Notice how Jesus tells us to love our enemies AND pray for those that persecute you. Is that your typical response to pray for the person that hurts you? I have a hunch that praying for those that hurt you is going to take a little bit of work! How's this for a next step for this week... to begin praying by name for those folks that tick you off. Pray for the Lord's work in their life, pray asking God to help you deal with your anger. Think good thoughts for these individuals. PRAY different types of prayers as the Lord leads. Pray for them in the morning that they would have a good day. Pray in the evening that the Lord might speak to them. Try praying through some scriptures on their behalf! We talked about doing something practical for them (cup of Starbucks, a card, etc), but the very first thing we do may best be going to the Lord in prayer!
GIFT NUMBER TWO...
Certainly part of loving someone will at some point involve forgiveness. The following is a good article that I urge you to plough through! Then would you leave some comments below after reading it. I think the few minutes it will take you to read it is worth it. Let me know your thoughts... you have to read the following to unwrap your 2nd present! --->
Giving up the Grudge: Social Scientists Discover the Healing Power of Forgiveness by Gary Thomas
In Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s documentary on the Holocaust, a leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising talks about the bitterness that remains in his soul over how he and his countrymen were treated by the Nazis: “If you could lick my heart,” he says, “it would poison you.” Researchers are finding that this Holocaust survivor’s sentiment is not necessarily metaphorical.
While the biblical practice of forgiveness is usually preached as a Christian obligation, social scientists are discovering that forgiveness may help lead to victims’ emotional and even physical healing and wholeness. Academic interest in person-to-person forgiveness is relatively new. As recently as the early eighties, Dr. Glen Mack Harnden went to the University of Kansas library and looked up the word ‘forgiveness’ in Psychological Abstracts. He couldn’t find a single reference. This earlier neglect is being remedied at a startling pace. Former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot, among others, are co-chairing a $10 million “Campaign for Forgiveness Research,” established as a non-profit corporation to attract donations to support forgiveness research proposals.
In May of 1998, the John Templeton Foundation awarded research grants for the study of forgiveness to twenty-nine scientists. Some of the projects now being funded include Forgiveness After Organizational Downsizing; Forgiveness in Family Relationships; Secular and Spiritual Forgiveness Interventions for Recovering Alcoholics; The Effects of Forgiveness on the Physical and Psychological Development of Severely Traumatized Females; Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being in the Lives of Post-Collegiate Young Adults; Challenges to Forgiveness in Marriage; and Healing, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation in Rwanda.
Through these and other studies, researchers are trying to determine the parameters of how the spiritual act of forgiveness can promote personal, interrelational, and social well-being. Dr. Harnden is enthusiastic about the personal benefits of forgiveness. “It not only heightens the potential for reconciliation,” he says, “but also releases the offender from prolonged anger, rage, and stress that have been linked to physiological problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, hypertension, cancer, and other psychosomatic illness.”
Robert Enright, professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is president of the International Forgiveness Institute and thus at the forefront of interpersonal forgiveness research. Together with philosopher Joanna North, Enright writes about forgiveness’ benefits to society. “It is an obvious fact that we live in a world where violence, hatred, and animosity surround us on all sides….We hear much about the ‘social’ causes of crime–poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy, for example. We sometimes hear about the need for tolerance and cooperation, compassion and understanding. But almost never do we hear public leaders declaring their belief that forgiveness can bring people together, heal their wounds, and alleviate the bitterness and resentment caused by wrongdoing.”
Enright and North believe that “forgiveness might be useful in helping those who have been affected by cruelty, crime, and violence, and…might play a valuable role in reconciling warring parties and restoring harmony between people.”
In 1990, a young mother of three pled for her life after being confronted by an assailant wearing combat fatigues. “Please don’t shoot me,” she whimpered. The murderer cold-heartedly fired anyway, fatally killing the woman. The assailant made so many mistakes in covering up her crime that had the situation not been so tragic, it would have been comic. She sloppily disposed of her clothing and weapon. Colorado Springs police had her in custody within twenty-four hours. Shortly thereafter, they also arrested the victim’s husband after determining that the two had been having an affair.
Sydna Masse lived behind the murdered woman. When she heard about the killing, she responded with hate and rage. “I had a dead friend and now lived behind three motherless kids. I felt I had every right to hate the murderer who caused this.” Sydna grew “physically hot” when the murderer’s name–Jennifer–was even mentioned or her picture was flashed on television. “For awhile, I couldn’t even read the newspaper articles,” she admits. Sydna’s hate wasn’t a solitary affair. “The whole city and state hated her,” she says. Jennifer’s life sentence did little to ameliorate Sydna’s passion. “There was no relief in her sentencing.
That’s the thing with hatred and bitterness–it eats you alive. Every time I passed the house, I missed Diane and became angry all over again.” Shortly after Jennifer received her sentence, Sydna began going through a Bible study which included a chapter on forgiveness. Sydna prayerfully asked God who she needed to forgive, and in her words, “Jennifer’s name came right to my head. I literally did a whiplash and protested, ‘No way I can forgive her. She killed my friend! She killed a mother of three!”
In spite of her reluctance, Sydna finally acquiesced and wrote a carefully crafted letter to Jennifer, expressing her forgiveness. She was caught by surprise by what happened inside her. As soon as Sydna dropped the letter into the mail, “a weight lifted. I felt like I was losing twenty pounds. That’s when I learned that anger, bitterness and unforgiveness keeps you from experiencing the depths of joy.” Sydna’s experience is right in line with what researchers are finding for a wide range of demographics.
In Drs. Coyle’s and Enright’s 1997 study (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on forgiveness as an intervention goal with post-abortion men, researchers sought to determine whether men who identify themselves as having been hurt by an abortion can benefit from a “structured psychological intervention designed to facilitate forgiveness.” The psychological processes involve twenty delineated steps, including confronting anger, a willingness to consider forgiveness as an option, acceptance of the pain, and the participant realizing that he has needed others’ forgiveness in the past. After leading subjects through this process, researchers found significant decreases in clients’ anxiety, anger, and grief.
Al-Mabuk, Enright, and Cardis published a study in 1995 (Journal of Moral Education, Vol. 24, No. 4) examining forgiveness education with college students who judged themselves to be parentally love-deprived. The college students who underwent the more rigorous program had “improved psychological health,” including improved self-esteem, hope, and lowered trait anxiety.
In a study among elderly females, Hebl and Enright found that there was a significant decrease in depression and anxiety among those who participated in their forgiveness program (although the control group experienced some of the same benefits). Furthermore, the researchers found that the elderly women who participated in their study not only used forgiveness skills to reconcile with a single person, but “also to consider more deliberately forgiveness as a social problem-solving strategy.”
Numerous other studies are in progress, many of them headquartered at the unlikely address of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW).
The Father of Forgiveness Research
Dr. Bob Enright of UW is the undisputed father of forgiveness research. He was raised a Roman Catholic, “fell away” from the faith, entered it once again through Methodism, took a journey through evangelicalism, and now is back in Catholicism. He describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic, if there is such a thing.”
In 1985, Enright had finally climbed to the top rung of his profession. He was a full tenured professor, “sitting at the top of the heap,” he says, but getting bored with the mainstream of research on which he focused. “The field of moral development was not going anywhere,” he says. At that time he was bringing in the customary one or two grants a year, but finding nothing that was exciting enough to keep him sufficiently engaged.
“I was enduring a tremendous dissatisfaction with the way I thought my field was going. We were not reaching out to every-day people the way I hoped we would. I wanted to find something in the area of morals that could be of tremendous benefit to others. I took it so seriously that after a sabbatical in 1984, I dumped all my research over a cliff, so to speak, and boy am I glad I did.”
As Enright wrestled with how moral research could actually benefit others, his Christian background ignited a small fire. “I kept asking myself, ‘if the social sciences are supposed to be part of the helping profession, and if the wisdom of the ages–the Hebrew-Christian Bible–is replete with wonderful stories about the success of person-to-person forgiveness, why haven’t the social sciences never thought to study forgiveness as a primary investigation?'” It was his academic “aha!” moment.
When Enright looked into the research literature, he was shocked at the complete absence of any empirical studies examining such a practice. “I was very naive,” he remembers. “I thought there would be something, but there literally was not one study published on the topic [of person-to-person forgiveness] in the social sciences. I would occasionally see the word, but no study focused on it.”
As soon as Enright embarked on his new field of endeavor, he was struck by the dichotomy of his work’s reception. “Everyday people” were intrigued and delighted when he raised the topic. But the academic world was entirely a different matter. “Academic eyes would glaze over ninety percent of the time. Nine percent had hate-filled eyes. One percent was delighted.” The gatekeeper of research is funding, so Enright began applying for grants. His first idea was to go into prisons and help prisoners learn how to forgive others who had wronged them, with the long-term view that by doing this, prisoners might experience empathy for their victims. It was sort of a back-door approach to help prisoners understand how their actions can plague others. The response couldn’t have been less encouraging.
“During one interview, I had a wonderful, hour-long talk with a man who held an editorship from a major psychology journal. Afterwards, he confided to me, ‘This is so creative and important, I’m going to rate this number one.'” Three months later, however, the rejection letter arrived. Enright called the editor, who was “rather embarrassed and very hesitant.” When pressed, the editor admitted, “Bob, once I got into the group meeting, they completely and thoroughly trashed your idea.”
“What did they say?” Bob asked. “People were angry. ‘You should never give money for research with prisoners to teach them how to forgive!’ they said. ‘If anything, prisoners should ask forgiveness of us!'” Enright was discouraged. “I thought, that’s been the problem. We’ve never tried it the other way. I wanted to prime the pump by having prisoners learn to forgive first and then maybe they’d ask for forgiveness themselves.”
The next year, Enright applied for the same grant with essentially the same project. This time, the interview with the preeminent psychologist took all of ten minutes. “Bob,” he warned, “you do know you’re going to have trouble for the rest of your career with this study of forgiveness, don’t you?” For nearly a decade, Enright endured the academic equivalent of a “shunning.” He didn’t receive a single dollar of grant money, which is academia’s way of saying, “Whatever this man is doing isn’t very important.” “It was very embarrassing,” Enright admits. It is even more surprising that Enright stayed with it, considering that the school at which he teaches isn’t particularly interested in the Christian tradition.
“There isn’t a single course on Christianity, per se, at the university,” Enright points out. ” You can major in various religious beliefs, but as far as I know, you can’t take a course on Christianity.”
A fellow believer found out what Enright was doing and exclaimed, “How could you study a topic like forgiveness at the UWM, of all places? You’re either stubborn as a mule or you’re Holy Spirit inspired.”
“I think it’s probably both,” Enright laughs today. “Without tenacity, you couldn’t do this sort of thing.”
After Enright worked for a decade receiving little attention and no money, The Chicago Tribune catapulted him and his brainchild–the International Forgiveness Institute–into the public’s awareness (just as the Los Angeles Times broke the story on Billy Graham over fifty years ago). A reporter wrote an article on Enright and his institute (which at that time was more an idea than a reality), placing the story in the women’s section. The article elicited over 300 calls. “My wife [Nancy] wanted to put the phone out in the woods!” Enright quips. “We realized we were on to something, and [the calls] forced our hand to get the institute going.”
Enright started publishing a newsletter, set up a web site, and kept publishing findings in his field. Finally, the funding caught up to the public’s interest, and with the aforementioned grants, forgiveness research is now a relatively lucrative field of endeavor. “God has a sense of humor,” Enright explains of the grants freely flowing to his fellow academics.
In fact, just recently, the Mendota Mental Health Center, a world-renowned mental health institute, approached Enright about an intriguing idea to help rehabilitate criminals. “Perhaps we could teach them how to forgive first, and then see if that builds empathy for them to seek forgiveness?” Enright responded that he thought the idea was definitely worth exploring.
The Spiritual Father of Forgiveness Research
A book that caught Enright’s attention early on was Lewis Smedes’ 1984 publication Forgive and Forget. “Prior to Lewis Smedes in 1984,” Enright says, “if you collected every theological book about person-to-person forgiveness [as opposed to divine-human forgiveness], you could hold them all in one hand.”
Dr. Mack Harnden was also motivated by Smedes’ seminal work. Fifteen years later, he still can pinpoint the day. “On April 20, 1985, I heard Lewis Smedes speak in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the topic of forgiveness. That speech directed the future course of my life because I felt that forgiveness is the core, most significant factor in both spiritual and psychological healing.”
Initially, Dr. Smedes set out to write a general book on the theological aspect of forgiveness, but soon discovered that “almost everything that was written about forgiveness was about how God forgives sinful people and how they can experience his forgiveness.” As he reflected on the Gospel, it occurred to Smedes that “forgiving fellow human beings for wrongs done to them was close to the quintessence of Christian experience. And, more, that the inability to forgive other people was a cause of added misery to the one who was wronged in the first place.” Wanting, then, to focus on person-to-person forgiveness, Smedes felt he might receive some help from “the literature of psychology,” but soon discovered that psychologists were apparently even less interested in the topic than theologians had been.
The questions Smedes went into his writing with were: “How does forgiveness work? What goes on in one’s mind and spirit when she sets out to forgive someone? What happens after forgiveness? What good comes of it?” He found that in the past, “Human forgiveness had been seen as a religious obligation of love that we owe to the person who has offended us. The discovery that I made was the important benefit that forgiving is to the forgiver. And this is where I think the link between the psychological research and my book is.”
This is precisely the thought that has captured the imagination of social scientists. Smedes presents a real-world view of forgiveness. Rather than seeing the aim of forgiveness as exclusively reconciliation, it becomes a matter of self-preservation. “Ideally,” Smedes says, “forgiving brings reconciliation, but not always. Reconciliation depends on the response of the person who injured someone and is forgiven. But that person may tell the forgiver to take his forgiveness and shove it down the toilet. Indeed, there is never a real reconciliation unless the wronged person first heals herself by forgiving the person who wronged her. “Does that render forgiveness invalid? Not at all.
The first person who gains from forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving and the first person injured by the refusal to forgive is the one who was wronged in the first place.” The same element of forgiveness that seized the attention of social scientists elicited criticism from some theologians. “Some theologians have said my book is an example of egoistic faith,” Smedes admits. “They refer to it as ‘therapeutic forgiveness.’ Yet the very thing that some theologians have criticized in my approach has been taken up by the healing community as a highly significant and promising mode of healing, perhaps the most important element of all.”
Smedes believes that “untold pain is brought about in the world by people’s unwillingness to forgive and the corresponding passion to get even. All you have to do is look at Yugoslavia today and you know that that’s true.”
The Process of Forgiveness
Though Sydna Masse forgave Diane for murdering her friend, she did so initially out of a sense of obligation. “What I didn’t expect was what I got in return,” she says today. Just days after mailing her letter to Jennifer, Sydna received a response. “I’m sorry for killing your friend,” Jennifer wrote. When Sydna read these words, “It hit me like a thunderbolt. I didn’t realize I needed to hear that.” But she did.
As a pen-pal relationship grew, Sydna realized that what she once viewed as an obligation–forgiving Jennifer–ended up ministering to her in some profound ways. She admits that if she hadn’t forgiven first, Jennifer never could have repented to her, as Jennifer didn’t even know Sydna existed. Ironically, Jennifer began ministering to Sydna through her letters. “For some reason, her letters always came on dark days for me. Jennifer became one of my greatest encouragers.”
Over time, Sydna began to consider Jennifer a friend “just as much as I had considered Diane a friend.” Though Sydna’s process was undertaken without the assistance of a psychological model, the results she experienced are what many researchers are after, though there are real problems to overcome. For instance, how can you measure that forgiveness has really taken place–which you need to do to establish that its attainment produces concrete benefits?
This is the concern of Dr. L. Gregory Jones, Dean of the Divinity School and Professor of Theology at Duke University. While encouraged by the appearance of forgiveness as a topic of research, Dr. Jones has some concerns.
He has seen some studies that are very well done, but he has also seen others that use “a largely disembodied therapeutic model of forgiveness that focuses on isolated individuals–the kind of self help discussion that may have made forgiveness a fad in contemporary culture but will lack the staying power, conceptually and theologically, for it to last over time.” Jones adds, “Forgiveness studies need to focus on people in relationship, both on the need to forgive and on the need to be forgiven.
This is, I think, one of the major features of Christian forgiveness that is lacking in a lot of popular descriptions of forgiveness. They focus only on the need to forgive, where Christian forgiveness emphasizes that we need consistently to understand our need for forgiveness.” In the “more problematic” studies, Jones says, “forgiveness is assumed to have happened simply when someone uses words of forgiveness.” He doesn’t believe it’s that simple. “Forgiveness is not an all or nothing affair. It involves the healing of brokenness, and involves words, emotions, and actions.
If persons continue to have feelings of bitterness toward another, there may not be the fullness of forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean there is no forgiveness. Rather, the persons are involved in a timeful process.” The “better studies,” according to Jones, recognize forgiveness as a “complex process.” “There are lots of forgiveness backsliders,” he points out. This brings us to the basic and crucial point. What exactly is forgiveness?
In the study by Al Mabuk, Enright, and Cardis, forgiveness is defined as “one’s merciful response to someone who has unjustly hurt. In forgiving, the person overcomes negative affect (such as resentment), cognition (such as harsh judgments) and behavior (such as revenge-seeking) toward the injurer, and substitutes more positive affect, cognition, and behavior toward him or her.”
Forgiveness is distinguished from justice “in that the latter involves reciprocity of some kind, whereas forgiveness is an unconditional gift given to one who does not deserve it.” Many of the researchers work off a standard twofold definition: forgiveness is releasing the other person from retaliation and wishing the other person well. Smedes prefers a tripartite definition. “The first thing one does in forgiving is surrender the right to get even with the person who wronged us,” he says. “Secondly, we must reinterpret the person who wronged us in a larger format.”
This, Smedes says, is to help us avoid creating a “caricature” of the person who wronged us. “In the act of forgiving, we get a new picture of a needy, weak, complicated, fallible human being like ourselves.” Smedes’ third step is “a gradual desire for the welfare of the person who injured us.” Jones points out the traditional difference between Christian and Jewish notions of forgiveness. “Jesus tells his disciples that they are authorized and sometimes obligated to forgive in his name. For Jews, only victims can forgive.”
Harnden adds that “forgiveness does not preclude the enforcement of healthy and natural consequences on the offender….Whenever an individual offends another, the offender gives up a certain degree of power in determining his or her own destiny with the power being given over to the offended.” This is something with which Smedes would agree. “Some people view forgiveness as a cheap avoidance of justice, a plastering over of wrong, a sentimental make believe. If forgiveness is a whitewashing of wrong, then it is itself wrong. Nothing that whitewashes evil can be good. It can be good only if it is a redemption from the effects of evil, not a make believing that the evil never happened.” It is the element of fighting evil that has some social scientists looking at forgiveness as a political tool, one that was put to good use in Yugoslavia.
Arresting the Violence
“It’s one thing to believe in miracles, it’s another to be part of one,” says Roy Lloyd, a founding board member of the International Forgiveness Institute and the broadcast news director for the National Council of Churches. Lloyd was part of a fifteen-member delegation that traveled to Yugoslavia during April of 1999 in a successful attempt to get three captured American soldiers released. Though the media widely portrayed the “rescue mission” as a Jesse Jackson media stunt, it was actually co-led by Jackson and Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. Some years ago, Lloyd and Campbell had several discussions about the role of forgiveness in healing social wrongs in the wake of church burnings.
One young man, who had been convicted of setting fire to a church, was visited by several pastors during his imprisonment and ultimately made a profession of faith. Upon his release, he returned to the church and publicly asked for their forgiveness. The church members surrounded the man and prayed for God to bless him. Following this experience, both Campbell and Lloyd were eager to apply the principles of forgiveness research to the problems in Yugoslavia. Campbell and Jackson’s delegation transcended religious lines– Mainline Protestant Christians, Roman Catholics, Jews, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims all took part. “A number of our basic premises were very important,” Lloyd says.
“All throughout the trip you heard people from our delegation saying that the cycle of violence needs to be broken and that past injuries shouldn’t dictate the present or the future. Forgiveness is first of all a gift that you give to yourself. You shouldn’t allow something that happened to you or your ancestors long ago to continue injuring you. The most important thing is wishing the best for yourself as well as for others. In that process, you and those with whom you interact are freed from what has been, and can envision what might be.” Lloyd heard both Campbell and Jackson voice these sentiments on several different occasions, but he became slightly disillusioned by a media that he describes as “narrow minded and lazy.”
On one occasion, Jackson urged reporters to pay careful attention to a rabbi within the delegation, but as soon as Jackson stepped away from the microphone, “the television lights went off. They had their soundbite and didn’t want anything more, even though they were missing a major part of the story.”
That “story,” according to Lloyd, is the role forgiveness played in helping to address the problems in Kosovo. “In meetings with the foreign secretary of Yugoslavia and other political leaders, we made points about how the violence needs to stop in Kosovo. We applied the principles of forgiveness research–that people are responsible, but that we shouldn’t look at others as enemies, but rather as friends if we want to break the cycle of violence.
Forgiveness of deeds long past needs to take place rather than repeating them. We need to envision the best for ourselves and for others, and in that everyone will find a peaceful future.” When members of the delegation met with Milosevic, they were well aware that negotiations weren’t really possible. “We had nothing to offer,” Lloyd admits, “other than a religious, spiritual, and humanitarian approach.” Without political leverage, the leaders spoke of the importance of forgiveness and doing the right thing.
“Our delegation told Milosevic that he was treated so poorly in the press because of what he had done. If he wanted to change the press, he had to change his ways.” According to Lloyd, all nine of Milosevic’s top advisors (several of whom had met with the Campbell/Jackson delegation) spoke with one voice: “Let the soldiers go.” Milosevic ultimately agreed with his advisors, but then it was his turn to practice forgiveness.
“On the very day [Milosevic promised the soldiers’ return], a busload of ethnic Albanians was hit by a bomb while crossing a bridge, killing dozens,” Lloyd remembers. “And then [NATO] bombed the ambulance that was going out to help them.” In spite of these events, Milosevic stayed true to his word. Lloyd says that the released soldiers practiced their own brand of forgiveness. “Each of the three young soldiers were very religious,” he points out, “and one of them, Christopher Stone, wouldn’t leave until he was allowed to go back to the soldier who served as his guard and pray for him.”
In spite of the political ramifications surrounding the delegation, according to Lloyd the fifteen members called themselves “the Religious Mission to Belgrade.” When Jackson finally received the news of the soldiers’ impending release, he held off reporters long enough to gather the delegation together for group prayer. While Lloyd advocates forgiveness, he still believes justice needs to be done in Yugoslavia. “Milosevic has done terrible, evil things,” he says. “One can forgive him, but one can also call for him to indeed be tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity.”
Enright is enthusiastic about Lloyd’s work. “I don’t know of any other instance,” he says, “where a social scientific research program has been able to use its findings to break into US history, and in such a positive way.”
Stories such as this one also reinforce Harnden’s belief that forgiveness has great -potential to solve many social problems, including crime. Retaliation or pursuing vengeance, he says, “often leads to the perpetuation of increasingly more severe retaliatory/violent response.” At an American Psychological Association meeting, Harden suggested that forgiveness, not retaliation, “represents the most strategic intervention in reducing violence in our society.”
Harnden points out that other methods have surely failed. Between 1960 and 1990, for instance, welfare spending increased by 631%, but violent crimes also increased–by 564%! Worldwide trends in violence are no more encouraging. Harnden quotes from research conducted by Don Shriver when he says that from the 1500s to 1800s–a period of four centuries–a total of 34.1 million were killed in war. In the last century alone (the 1900s), almost three times that many (107.8 million) have been similarly killed.
“Forgiveness stops the ongoing cycle of repaying vengeance with vengeance that appears to contribute to the perpetuation of an increasingly violent society,” Harnden says.
Thus for international, national, and even personal issues, researchers are finding that a practice taught by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago may be our most effective tool and response. “Forgiveness is a concept, a process, and a technology whose times has come,” Dr. Harnden told the American Psychological Conference in 1996. “It transcends religion and philosophy and will hopefully someday find its rightful place of prominence in the social, political, and healing arts as well as within the biochemical and neuropsychological sciences.”
Jones, for one, is “very encouraged” by the significant increase in forgiveness research. “The more we can find authentic modes for articulating Christian forgiveness beyond the bounds of the church the better off we all will be. We just need to make sure that the forgiveness being described and conceived is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
article source: http://www.garythomas.com/free-resources/giving-up-the-grudge-social-scientists-discover-the-healing-power-of-forgiveness/
SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN?
from Don Williams | ACT Campus Minister @ BGSU
I know that some of you come from churches and/or families that do not practice Halloween. But I do want to offer a refreshing perspective, perhaps one that might just impact your neighborhood in some spooktacular ways! Watch the video below and let's have a conversation about whether Christian's should be known for what we "don't do" more than what we "do do"! Caesar offers practical tips for believers wanting to make the biggest impact.
CAESAR KALINOWSKI'S REFRESHING VIEW OF HALLOWEEN!
Are you stressed out? May I encourage you to grab a friend or two, a notebook, pen, Bible, and carve out about 50 minutes to just sit and listen, taking notes along the way. Share with one another what you just heard. This is one of my favorite messages about anxiety (its causes and solutions) from the book of Philippians 4:4-9 as shared by Tim Keller. You will not be wasting time! I would go as far to say that if you are struggling with anxiety right now - it is killing the life/joy that God wants for you! Let's do something about it today!
Philippians 4:4-9 | New International Version (NIV) | Final Exhortations
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.