Forgiveness in Churches and Nonprofits Everett Worthington, Jr.
A few special considerations are needed to promote forgiveness in churches and nonprofits. American churches are voluntary organizations that are highly dependent on beliefs and values, existing in a market where people usually have many choices.Those choices can be circumscribed in small towns or, for denominationally committed believers, in geographical areas that are not represented by many denominations. Nonprofits usually pay employees for their work, thus tying people economically to the organization. It is often harder to leave a nonprofit than for most people to leave a church. Still, boundaries are less confining than in most for-profit businesses.Nonprofits also tend to be more cause-driven than most for-profit businesses, making beliefs and values more important than in typical businesses. Voluntary membership and greater salience of beliefs and values matter.Ease of dissolving one’s church or work identity makes it important for leaders and members to treat people more gently, invite more participation, respect individual contributions, let people know their contributions are respected, and seek to repair breeches in relationships quickly before an offended person leaves. Greater salience of beliefs and values means that organizational goals, priorities, missions, beliefs and values must be couched more toward inclusiveness than in other organizations. Social psychology tells us that people who are similar to each other tend to focus on small differences. In dissimilar out-groups,
wrestle through their resentments to achieve emotional forgiveness. • Establish a culture of reconciliation so that people will engage parties with whom they have differences and try to work out hurts, conflicts, and differences. • Help people know the differences among forgiveness (an internal act putting aside future negative behavior, emotions, and motives), communicating forgiveness (people can say, “I forgive you” and not forgive), and reconciliation (a process of rebuilding trust). • Don’t treat forgiveness as strictly will- power. It is a skill. • Help people build their ability to exercise that skill. • Provide resources that can promote self- forgiveness (forgiveself.com ) , forgiveness of others (EvWorthington-forgiveness. com), and reconciliation. Just because they share similar pro-forgiveness and pro-reconciliation beliefs and values, people in churches or nonprofits are not immune to offending or misunderstanding each other. Just because they value forgiveness and reconciliation does not mean that they are experts at each. As a leader, you can help. Everett L. Worthington, Jr., PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Director of Training in Counseling Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. He studied forgiveness in secular and religious populations for over 20 years, and for 7 years he directed A Campaign for Forgiveness Research, a nonprofit raising money to support research in forgiveness.
people tend not to perceive small differences in beliefs and values between themselves and others. Thus, more conflict happens over smaller differences in beliefs and values in cause-driven nonprofits and churches than in larger for-profit businesses. People most often leave jobs and churches because of interpersonal conflict or offense, rather than continually experiencing negative emotions. The lack of forgiveness and reconciliation make the work environment unpleasant. Thus, in churches and nonprofits, forgiveness is doubly important. Here are some forgiveness-relevant guidelines for leaders and members. • Frequently solicit ideas, opinions, participation, and feedback, and treat them respectfully. • When rejecting suggestions or contributions, let people know (effusively) that they are respected, loved, and included. Search for something to accept while you reject the idea or contribution, so the person feels valued. • Be proactive. Anticipate potential controversial contributions, and provide your own suggestions of what would be acceptable. Avoid, if possible, saying what would not be acceptable. • Establish a culture of forgiveness. Help people make decisions to forgive and