The Limits of Zero Tolerance

This is an excerpt from my longer piece on #metoo and reconciliation.

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The limits of zero-tolerance

Those who champion or implement a zero-tolerance response to Norman Hardie, or those who are similarly guilty of sexual misconduct, have offered little or nothing in terms of what his repentance might mean for the judgment against him. Few have asked what a change in Hardie’s person, behaviour, or business operations should mean for his role as a winemaker and for his public presence. If his open letter is genuine and if his commitment to change is real, what difference might this make? The failure to address this question, or to event countenance this possibility, represents a significant problem from the point of view of reconciliation, which orients us toward both judgment and of grace.

We might also ask: If zero tolerance doesn’t work as a response to bullying, and if zero tolerance hasn’t work in relation to marijuana or drug policy, then why do we think that a policy of zero tolerance (admittedly loosely defined, here) will work for those who have engaged in sexual misconduct or harassment? Why do we think that the disappearance of a winemaker and winery from public will finally make a difference for the renewal of a culture, and of sub-cultures, that have contributed to disempowerment and abuse of women? It seems unlikely that it will. Continue reading

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#MeToo and the way of Reconciliation

The #MeToo movement is having an unsettling effect in Canada—we might even go so far as to say that it has been a source of some turmoil across the country.

To use the word “turmoil” is not to criticize the unfolding of this movement, or to undermine its importance. Very often, social disruption is necessary for cultural transformation; such disruption can sometimes get us moving in the direction of renewal in our lives and institutions. In this sense we can only be grateful to those women who have wrestled with the question whether to publicly disclose the sexual abuse or harassment they have experienced—and who have walked through the turmoil that may have resulted from their decision to do so. Their willingness to take this step has been in the service of cultural changes that we hope will make a difference in many lives.

The goal of the #MeToo movement is to overturn those features of western culture that have allowed men freely to objectify, sexually harass, and abuse women. Its purpose is to help us realize that abusive men have used their relative power to both exploit and silence women. The goal of the movement, further, is to establish levels of transparency, openness, and respect that will prevent further instances of sexual abuse, harassment, and pain.

In all of this, the #MeToo movement is an inherently public movement. The acts of disclosure, judgment, and punishment that constitute the movement take place before the public eye. On a nearly daily basis, from various media outlets, we read stories of inappropriate or abusive behavior, along with commentary on related institutions and issues. The movement is also public in the sense that our social media feeds overflow with comment and debate around each new revelation. Continue reading

Canada. A country of reconciliation?

My latest column for the Christian Courier.

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What would be an honest answer to the question posed by the title of this column? Some might offer a half-hearted “We are trying?” in reply to that question. Others would say that even such a half-hearted answer gives us too much credit – that the correct answer is closer to a flat-out “No.” For my part, I would venture that we have taken some baby steps in the direction of reconciliation, but that we still have a very long way to go.

Now this is not a resoundingly positive note on which to begin a column marking Canada’s 150th birthday. Couldn’t another question have been asked? Perhaps one that would invite more celebratory reflection on our national identity? Perhaps, yes. But I must confess my uneasiness with the Canadian predilection for national self-congratulation, and so my reflections here will not trend in that direction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has now come and gone, and much meaningful work was done within the seven years of its mandate. Most important, survivors of the residential schools came with grace and courage to share their stories – reminding the nation and its churches of the violence that was done to them and their communities in the name of Christian faith and of civilization. Stories of abuse. Stories of loneliness. Stories of language lost. Stories of families torn apart. Continue reading

forgiveness – beyond the therapeutic

The word forgiveness is a difficult word. It’s a word we come across in novels and in biographies – it’s a word we will hear others using – it’s a word we ourselves will use from time to time. But it’s a slippery word. The meaning of the word often changes from one situation to the next. The meaning of the word often changes from one person to the next. Two different people may use exactly the same phrase: “I forgive her.”  But they might each mean something quite different when they use those words.

Of course it’s possible through discussion and study to get some clarity about what the word forgiveness means. We don’t have to remain forever in a fog of misunderstanding. But even when we arrive at some point of clarity about the meaning of forgiveness, we run into quite a different challenge. As I mentioned last week, the idea of forgiveness is not only a slippery idea, but it is a contested idea. There is disagreement in our society about what forgive should look like – there is disagreement about what forgiveness is.

And this morning I want to focus on one particular disagreement about forgiveness – a disagreement about what forgiveness is. But in order to explore this particular disagreement, we aren’t going to start with the disagreement itself. In fact, we are going to leave aside the whole question of forgiveness for the moment. Continue reading

forgiveness (and repentance?)

Forgiveness is always a challenging topic to talk about or preach about. At one level forgiveness is a challenging topic because when we talk about forgiveness we are talking about our very personal and sometimes painful experiences.

Beyond the personal nature of the topic, forgiveness is also challenging subject because in our culture there is disagreement about forgiveness. There is disagreement about what should be involved in the process of forgiveness – there is disagreement about the goal or purpose of forgiveness – there is disagreement about when we should forgive. The idea of forgiveness is a contested idea.

Beyond the personal nature of the subject, and beyond the fact that there is disagreement about what forgiveness should look like – beyond all of that there is also the fact that forgiveness always draws us into a particular story – and our stories are always complicated. Our stories always involve unique personalities and a unique set of actions and unique set of words spoken, and a unique context of relationships. Our stories can always be looked at from different perspectives. And this richness and complexity means there is no simple way to describe forgiveness. In one situation forgiveness might unfold in this way. In another situation, forgiveness might unfold in that way.

So the only thing we can do in exploring forgiveness is to try and describe one little piece of the puzzle at a time. That’s what we are doing for just a few weeks these Sunday mornings. We’re kind of circling around the subject of forgiveness, looking at it from a different perspective each time. Continue reading

gospel and the gazette – remembering

Last Saturday’s Montreal Gazette carried a news story about the Berlin Wall. In fact, over the past week or so, newspapers from the London Telegraph to the New York Times to der Spiegel have carried stories about the Berlin Wall. The reason is that August the 13th marked the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. It was 50 years ago this summer, on the night of August 12th to 13th 1961, that Berliners heard the sounds of heavy equipment moving in their city. And when they woke in the morning a barbed wire fence had been thrown around West Berlin. The city of Berlin, of course was located completely within communist, East Germany – and so the construction of that barbed wire fence had the effect of completely cutting off surrounding East Germany from West Berlin, that part of the city controlled by the Americans, the British, and the French.

Over the years, that wall first thrown up in 1961 took on a number of forms. It began as that barbed wire fence put up in the middle of the night. A few years later it became a concrete block wall – and still later, in the 1970’s and 80’s the wall was reconstructed out of reinforced concrete.

But why was the wall constructed to begin with? What was it that drove the East German government to cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany? The fundamental reason for the construction of the wall was to prevent East Germans from leaving or escaping East Germany.  Earlier, in 1952 already, the border dividing East Germany and West Germany had been closed – this prevented East Germans from simply crossing the border into the West – and it meant that in the period between 1952 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, the only way East Germans could escape life under the communist regime was within the city of Berlin – by crossing into West Berlin. Continue reading

Forgiving Others

A sermon in our continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. The story about Father Chacour is taken from Jones’ book Embodying Forgiveness. I have followed Jones in some of what follows. Also, I have built upon insights taken from Paul Wadell’ book on friendship – one chapter of which is dedicated to the question of forgiveness.

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I believe in the forgiveness of sins. 

You might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the first section of the creed – after all, it is God who forgives our sin.

Or you might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the second section of the creed – after all, it is through Jesus that our sins are forgiven.

But no – we only arrive at the forgiveness of sins in the third section of the creed. We confess our belief in the forgiveness of sins with the same breath that we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit – the one who forms us the church, who binds us together in one Body.

The fact that the forgiveness of sins is found in the third section reminds us that forgiveness is bound up with our identity as the church. Because God forgives, we as the church know forgiveness – we bear witness to God’s forgiving love. Even more, however, the church is a community in which we extend forgiveness to each other.  

Continue reading