AHA, Forgiveness, and Unity

Every once in awhile there is something that I feel like I have to write. I will have an enormous burden on my heart until I get these thoughts and ideas out. This is such an article. I am also publishing this on my own personal site because, well, it is deeply personal. I will name some names, and if you do not know them, that is fine. This post is not for many people, and that is also okay. 

I recently watched a video featuring Free The States and Abolish Human Abortion’s T. Russell Hunter and Operation Save America’s Rusty Thomas. Though there was some joking, there was also a call for unity and forgiveness. I have many thoughts on this.

Many confusing, conflicting, messy, and difficult thoughts on this.

I have been an abolitionist for seven years. I have published articles on the main “AHA”1 blog, published dozens of posts on the main page as an admin, edited various AHA Gear Store print materials, and stood side by side with all “major” AHA leaders. I am not a distant observer or speculator. I fellowshipped at the infamous Norman “Door of Hope” church for years. I lived with founding “AHA” members, babysat for them, helped out late at night when one founder’s house was flooding, tithed towards the fellowship and abolitionist work, cried with them, helped them, and loved them. No. Not “loved.” Just love. I love them still. And I am also not driven by an anti-abolitionist prolifism. I am an enthusiastic abolitionist. I am a regular defender of abolitionism, the primary author and designer of abolition101.com, and a co-author of the Statement on Abolitionist Orthodoxy

There is a lot of history, baggage, trauma, and wounds. Yet, God be praised; he used this time for his glory. Readers should know where I am coming from. 

Several months ago, I published an article describing my time with the Norman, OK abolitionists. To be sure, the article is not very flattering to this particular group of abolitionists. I will not get into the details yet again. The article did not fabricate any stories or situations, but I did speak more confidently on the intentions of some than I had a right to. I may have been right with my sharp condemnation, but I do not know. I hope I was not right. 

Before I wrote “The Norman AHA Church” article (the before mentioned article), I was harboring resentments and anger towards this group (including Hunter). One thing about me is that writing helps me organize not only my thoughts but also my feelings. My first draft was angry, harsh, and scornful. Some of these feelings were justified; some were not. While reading this first draft, I saw my heart and felt a deep conviction. After many prayers and conversations with my pastor, I made my edits and produced a second draft. And then I did not publish. I waited; almost a month. I then made another edit and finally released it. 

I was labeled a “hater.” To be fair, I really would have been a “hater” if I released the first draft, and even my final draft said too much. However, I released the final draft with tears and heartache, but also a deep feeling of duty. 

There are many different nuanced thoughts on forgiveness. Some teach that we should forgive no matter the circumstances, others will say that the wrongdoer should ask for forgiveness. Frankly, I’m uncertain. But what is clear to me is that you should not be scornful or bitter. Whatever is the correct position on forgiveness, I forgave the Norman AHA group in the writing of my “The Norman AHA Church” article and came to love them again. I love and forgive them. I love and forgive Russell, Alan, Josh, Aaron, Jeremy, Matt, and Grant. I also love and forgive their families (when applicable). Sometimes, I’m still forgiving them. 

Now, several months after I published my previous article explaining my experiences, I see the video of Russell and Rusty, and my mind can not stop thinking about forgiveness and its relationship to trust and unity. 

So, does this mean I trust or have unity with these men? No. It does not. 

One of the most harmful and dangerous ideas to sink its abusive teeth into the church is the idea that forgiveness must necessitate a relationship returning to its previous status of trust and unity. This needs to be said very loudly and clearly. 

  • Forgiveness does not mean a return of trust.
  • Forgiveness does not mean a healed relationship or reconciliation (though sometimes it can lead to reconciliation).
  • Forgiveness does not mean the sin was justified or not a sin.
  • Forgiveness does not mean that repentance (sometimes publicly) is not needed.
  • Forgiveness does not mean that the sin should not have earthly consequences.
  • Forgiveness does not mean the pain and damage is gone.
  • Forgiveness does not mean future forgiving will no longer be needed. It is not always (or often) a one-time event. 

Conflating forgiveness with trust and unity has been a longtime tool of abuse and injustice. Mistreated women and children are told to return to their violent husbands and fathers because of “forgiveness.” After a shallow apology with no substantial consequences, abusive and power-hungry church leaders are to be submitted to without qualification. 

Forgiveness is turned into a tool of abusers and unrepentant sinners. If you do not trust the abuser, then you’re said to be in sin because of a lack of forgiveness. If you ever mention the past sin, you are said to be in sin because of a lack of forgiveness. If you do not endorse the sinner, you are said to be in sin because of a lack of forgiveness. In short, a twisted and false idea of forgiveness is used as a rhetorical bludgeon to manipulate, coerce, and cover up sin. Those who do not blindly return absolute trust are said to be sinfully divisive, contentious, bitter, quarrelsome, and hateful. 

Especially when there have been repeated breaches of trust, earning back trust is a slow process. This renewed trust can only happen after repentance, and this renewed trust is not an obligation of the innocent party. Unity is similar. Unity in ministry is not something that is taken for granted or a “right.” Those who have betrayed your trust and acted sinfully toward you are not entitled to your trust, your ministerial endorsement, or your cooperation. 

These principles aptly explain where I am with the Norman sect of abolitionists and some of their closest supporters. There has not been repentance from them, and they have not asked for my forgiveness. I do forgive them, regardless. But I do not trust them. 

However, I greatly desire to see abolition in Oklahoma and it seems as if the people who are leading the abolition charge in Oklahoma are also the men I do not trust. It is a dilemma I have prayed about, discussed with my elders, and long considered. What is the proper level of unity, if any, and what is the Biblical position? 

After, once again, weeks of prayer and internal conflict, this is where I’ve landed and am landing. 

  • Though I forgave over half a year ago, I want to make this forgiveness public. Also, there are times where I need to forgive them yet again. 
  • In addition to this forgiveness, I also want to ask for forgiveness. In various conversations I was quick to speak, angry, and unnecessarily contentious. I could easily justify myself by appealing to the harshness of Jesus or various prophets, but I know my heart was not always pure even though the content of my words was truthful. I have privately reached out to those who I was most sinful toward, and they know who they are. 
  • There will be no unity with the Norman “AHA” men until there is earned trust, assurances of orthodoxy, and repentance. As I have done with others, I am willing and open to starting down the path of reconciliation and understanding. The beginning of that path is true repentance. Further, when applicable, unity can only be had alongside an orthodox confession of faith. Even then, I am cautious. 
  • When there is true unity in Christ (see the Statement on Abolitionist Orthodoxy), I commit to going to great lengths to offer charity on even important secondary matters such as ecclesiology, political theory, or (to at least a reasonable degree) views related to gender and authority. When I speak or write on these issues, I will be honest, but I will not make it about men and personalities. In so far as I am able, it will be about ideas. 
  • Even though there can be no formal unity or trust (at this time), I do encourage all abolitionists to support any legitimate legislative measure, no matter the primary lobbying group or authors. If an abolitionist bill is genuinely an abolitionist bill, then it should be supported and encouraged
  • Support for righteous legislative measures within a corrupt system is not an endorsement of the corrupt system any more than Daniel working justly in Babylon under Cyrus an endorsement of autocratic pagan rulership. This support also comes with a duty to be careful of some potential abuses and strive for clarity and justice for those who could be under unrighteous judgment due to a twisting of abolition legislation. Ultimately, however, we can never guarantee that the application of even the most just law will always be faithful. 
  • The level of support is a matter of private judgment. Some may not feel comfortable linking to groups they do not trust, while others may feel more comfortable. Some may feel comfortable attending rallies, handing out literature, etc., but may not endorse the lobbying group responsible for those events and materials fully. Some may be at peace with speaking at these events without publicly supporting all the ideas or actions of the “AHA” leaders or Free the States leaders, but would draw the line at ministering together on the street. I am uncertain where I land, but I do know that I cannot in good conscience pretend to have trust and unity where I do not.
  • Sometimes a false peace with unrepentant men, teachers with false views of authority, or outright false teachers can lead to and perpetuate abuse and significant harm, especially for those who are weaker or less able to defend themselves. Because of this, we should all be cautious about endorsing teachers even when they are abortion immediatists. Again, this takes discernment and must be a deliberate and level headed decision. There could be some cooperation without carte blanche endorsements made, but that would be situational, and often no cooperation is best. 
  • I am fully aware that some will see this as woefully insufficient, manipulative, or disingenuous in one way or another. While others may see this as being weak, desiring a false peace, or being driven by ulterior motives. I only pray and hope that this mere desire for peace (not trust at this point, or ever), does not cause more division. That’s all I’ll say about this.
  • I buried the hatchet. If anyone wants to know the truth of my experience, I’d be happy to discuss it with them and I will not sugarcoat the past. My previous article, however, is in need of revision and needs to stay down for now. When there is an error within the abolitionist community, I may correct it. When there is heresy, I will not compromise. When there is compromise, I will call a spade a spade. But it is not (and has not been for several months), a mission of mine to war with those who have hurt me, the movement, or others. 
  • No matter intentions, lack of repentance, and lack of trust, I am fervently praying that all commendable efforts of the Norman Abolitionist Society and Free the States will come to fruition and serve in the building of the Kingdom and making our Lord’s name great. 

I do not have clear answers for every hypothetical situation, and so much of this depends on discernment and private judgment. But this is where I’m at right now. I could add more nuance and thoughts, but there is little need to die the death of a thousand caveats. I am happy and willing to discuss things further. 

We are called to have peace with all, but also in so far as we are able and in so far as it depends on us. 

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18


Notes:

  1. I understand that “AHA” technically represents the “abolitionist ideology” or abolitionism. However, because of natural and unavoidable sociological forces, when symbols are adopted by particular ideological groups or subsets of ideological groups, the symbols can become representative of the particular subset or sect as opposed to, or alongside, representing the ideology itself. Therefore, when I say “AHA”, I mean the particular sect of abortion abolitionists that have rallied around that symbol and have primarily centered its movement under the leadership of abolitionists from Norman, OK.  Specifically, I am speaking to the Norman group, though much of this may be applicable to the larger movement. 

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