At Work

Forgiveness and Trust in the Wake of Workplace Offenses

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Over the last two months and especially in the last week, we’ve seen a wave of sexual misconduct accusations in the workplace and subsequent firings, including broadcast giants Garrison Keillor of NPR and Matt Lauer of NBC. It’s important to pray for those involved and those who have been hurt—for healing and for justice.

The circumstances bring to mind the important discussion regarding forgiveness and trust, both for individuals and institutions. Believers involved in such abusive situations are called to seek forgiveness from those they’ve offended. And, with God’s help, those who are hurt are called to forgive their offender. Trusting the forgiven offender, however, is another thing altogether.

Exploitation of Power and the Loss of Trust

Because of my background in dealing with religious cults (I spent five years on the board of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley), I was called to go to a city where a church leader had abused a small group of followers.

After years of exploiting his position in order to get money, sex, and power, he was finally found out.

This leader’s little flock was in dismay. How could their trusted leader have been so abusive in manipulating people, having many adulterous affairs and mishandling finances?

He pleaded with them to forgive him and trust him again. As I worked with the group, together we came to this conclusion: Forgiveness? Yes. Trust? No!

Biblical Truths about Forgiveness and Trust

Christ calls on us to forgive anyone who asks. Matthew 6:14-15 is emphatic:

If you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

It is necessary to forgive. This would ideally be a transaction where, for instance, I could ask forgiveness for what I had done to you, hear the pain it caused you and the consequences of that pain, and hear the words, “I forgive you.”

In other words, I would ask for forgiveness, and it would be granted.

If the transaction was impossible or inappropriate, then, at least, you need to let go of the offense committed against you and turn it over to God. Romans 12:17 says,

Never pay back evil for evil…If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Note that we can afford to let go of anger and resentment over our offense because vengeance is not ours. It is in the Lord’s hands. He will inevitably repay.

You need to let go of your anger to God and allow him to take care of justice, or turn it over to the state who, as a “minister of God” exercises “wrath on the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:1-7). You are not to seek revenge, but give it to God and/or the state to exercise it.

Forgiveness and Trust at Work

In a work situation, hopefully, there can be an asking for forgiveness and receiving it, especially if the two involved in conflict are believers. At least, it is important that anger and bitterness not be nurtured but turned over to God if the transactional forgiveness is impossible. There are situations so serious that they need to be brought up to corporate officers (or the courts), i.e., sexual abuse, harassment, theft, etc.

But even if forgiveness is sought and received from another, does that mean that we ought to trust again? Not necessarily.

Christ does not call us to trust everyone equally. He did not. Although many were initially impressed with the signs Jesus was doing and “believed” in him, scripture says that he “did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25).

For the wounded members of the group with whom I met, it would not be wise to trust that leader again until he had demonstrated over time that he had changed his ways.

Forgiveness and Trust in Action

Often believers assume that a person claiming to be a believer in Christ should be trusted more than another person: If only it were true!

But it is not.

Believers are forgiven for their sins, but we all come to Christ with various character deficiencies. Our faults do not automatically disappear.

I have a friend, a pastor, who wanted to do a large renovation on a church. A contractor was recommended who was a Christian and had several glowing references that all checked out.

The contractor walked out after only a few months on the job, leaving about $50,000 worth of work undone.

When the church went to the courts to try to get their money back, they found out that they were the sixth client in line trying to get reimbursed. The contractor didn’t keep his word.

Just because someone claims to be a believer doesn’t mean that they are without fault, or even that they really are regenerate or a true believer.

One of the most important elements in business is trust. When I was at a conference in Williamsburg a couple years ago, I had significant car problems. Some locals recommended American Pride Automotive (APA).

The people at APA make it their motto that theirs is a place you can “trust” in an industry where it is hard to know who you can trust. I met the owner, Charlie Marcotte, who told me about their commitment to honesty and service (even at their own expense), and fixing problems the right way and communicating clearly to customers.

APA also provides a Family Service Day every couple months when single-parent families and military families with a deployed spouse can get an oil change, servicing, and even vehicle repair, all for free.

I experienced an entirely different feeling in this repair shop, which started from and is sustained by the owner’s faith in Christ. I had the sense (borne out by the many testimonials on their website) that this was “Finally a car repair shop I can trust.”

Trust is important in the automotive repair industry, but it is also crucial to business in general.

Gaining a reputation for honesty, both as an individual and as an institution, is not only a witness to the gospel, but it’s the best way to do business. You can only give trust in proportion to the evidence that someone, or a company, is trustworthy.

It remains to be seen what will be the result of this new awareness and admissions of sexual abuse in the workplace. Perhaps with exposure of the problem and the damage it can cause in the workplace, employers will intentionally seek to establish new policy, those in power can be more thoughtful about the temptation to sin, and men and women can venture to restore trust.

 

Editor’s Note: Living and working in a fallen world can be discouraging without knowing the big picture plan of God’s redemption. Read more in All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel.

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