Education Week: Latter-day Saint therapist outlines myths of forgiveness

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By Samantha Birrell

Education Week participants attend a presentation on Monday. At another presentation on Tuesday, clinical social worker Steven Eastmond focused on misconceptions about forgiveness. (Addie Blacker)

Editor’s note: Education Week coverage can be found in this section of the website.

Forgiveness is a largely misunderstood commandment; many assumptions and misunderstandings keep people locked into toxicity and trauma unnecessarily, according to a Pleasant Grove therapist.

Church members are taught their whole lives that forgiveness is a commandment, “but have you ever been taught how to do it?” asked Steven Eastmond, a licensed clinical social worker, during a Tuesday Education Week session.

Eastmond addressed, “What Forgiveness Is and What It Is Not” by listing the most common myths propagated in Latter-day Saint culture. He then corrected those myths with the Lord’s actual requirements when He commanded everyone “to forgive all.”

In Doctrine and Covenants 64, the Lord says,  “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

One misconception is that forgiveness requires condoning the offender’s actions and trusting them with continued access into one’s life. The fact is, forgiveness is meant to be a release of oneself from the situation, allowing God to step in to heal the soul and to judge, Eastmond said.

“While repentance is the tool by which the perpetrator obtains peace, forgiveness is the tool by which those of us who have been offended obtain peace,” Eastmond said.

The myth above includes another confusion — that forgiveness and trust are the same. The fact is, “Forgiveness is not synonymous with trust,” Eastmond said. Trust is so intertwined with forgiveness in Latter-day Saint culture that many forget the Savior never required it. 

But forgiveness cannot be earned, only given. Trust cannot be given; it can only be earned, Eastmond said. In this dichotomy forgiveness is shown as the abused separating themselves from the abuser, so the abused can let go and heal. Meanwhile, the abuser is held accountable to repent and work to gain back the trust they broke.

The clarification that trust and forgiveness are not linked was a revelation to some in the audience. 

Danae Smith, 17, from Fruitland, Idaho, said she has felt the cultural pressure to link the two. “Especially in the Church, when we forgive someone, we feel we have to reinstate all the trust, otherwise you’re a bad person.”

After Eastmond’s speech, Smith said she believes “protecting ourselves is not a sin.” 

“Forgiveness is a process not an event. Sometimes we think we’re supposed to do it right now, but God never commanded us to do it right now,” Eastmond said.

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