‘My husband hired a hitman to kill me - but I forgive him' by Lucy Wallis, is a recent story shared online through the BBC World Service and can be found here .
This story outlines how a Christian woman, Nancy, was shot by a hitman hired by her Christian husband who was having an affair, who embezzled over $30million and wanted to get rid of his wife. She was shot in the head, lost an eye, underwent many surgeries to rebuild her face and still has a bullet lodged in her lung. Her husband was sentenced to life in prison for attempted capital murder. Wallis' article seems to romanticise forgiveness and reconciliation by asking us to be impressed by the fact that Nancy was easily able to forgive her husband, as if he had forgotten to buy bread at the shops, and would have taken him back if he had been acquitted.
This type of article, which subtly wants us to collude in the cycle of abuse by lauding a domestic violence victim who was able to get to a point of forgiving and wanting to reconcile with her abuser, who tried to kill her. This is extremely disturbing on many levels and shows a shocking lack of insight by both the victim and the author into the trajectory and traps of domestic violence. To indirectly imply that forgiving and reconciling with a perpetrator of abuse as the standard to achieve, completely omits the discussion on the need for justice, the long term consequences for the victim and the duty to protect the victim and potential future victims.
This article does a disservice to all victims of domestic abuse by valuing the ability to forgive ever more heinous crimes over and above the need to uphold the safety, sanity and dignity of the women involved. And it does a disservice to the discourse on forgiveness and reconciliation by not addressing the dangers of reconciling with a violent abuser and by emphasizing the misinterpretation of the Biblical concept of forgiveness.
The Victim Takes All Responsibility for her Husband’s Actions.
Nancy states, ‘He really had no option but to have me shot" because, she explained, that her faith would preclude a divorce. As is common for domestic abuse victims, Nancy takes responsibility for her husband’s actions. However, his choice wasn’t between divorce and murder. It seems ridiculous to point out that husbands can choose not to hire a hitman to kill their wives, this was not a forced option she had pushed on him.
Nancy says in this article, “I have forgiven him," "The Bible says that if we don't forgive those who have harmed us then we are unable to be forgiven and I couldn't afford not to forgive him because I couldn't live with bitterness."
This statement again, reinforces two erroneous assumptions. First, it highlights the false dichotomy between forgiveness and bitterness as if these two experiences are at either ends of a spectrum. That is, if one doesn’t forgive they will always remain bitter. And if one is struggling due to their abuse, it is because they have not forgiven. Both of these assumptions are unhelpful and unhealthy.
Secondly, the Bible does not state that if we don’t forgive those who have harmed us then we are unable to be forgiven. This assumption is largely attributed to an incorrect interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. However, the Lord’s Prayer is just that, a prayer, not a magic formula that allows us to determine how God decides to forgive. Rather, it is a communal prayer asking God to help us to be a forgiving people. (Cocksworth, 2017) Forgiveness cannot and should not be distilled down to an impersonal transaction with God, which leaves no room for grace and love.
When reading articles like this we must question its message and the implication for unhealthy and unhelpful responses to domestic abuse.
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