All of us have done things to others for which we want forgiveness, but finding it can be difficult for those working in a hyper-competitive environment like Capitol Hill where “what have you done for me today” is heard far more often than “I forgive you.”
This will likely come as a shock to those steeped in the stereotype of Christians as judgmental, overbearing and narrow-minded, but guess who finds it easier to forgive? Married Christian couples, at least according to the results of a recent survey by the Barna Group, one of the nation’s pre-eminent social science research groups.
“For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. Whatever the wording of a couple’s wedding vows, there’s generally an acknowledgment that tough times will come.
“This will require mediating tension or giving and receiving forgiveness, and this study indicates married practicing Christians are following through—or, at least, they report doing so,” Barna says of the results of its “The Mercy Journey” that was done in conjunction with The Reimagine Group.
The purpose of the study was to examine “the role of forgiveness and mercy in the lives of Christian adults in the U.S. The data suggest family relationships may heighten or shape forgiving attitudes in significant ways.”
Of course, as Ephesians 4:23 makes clear, forgiveness is supposed to be a distinguishing feature among all Christians, especially as we know we all fail in this area as we do others.
But think about it this way: If you ever worked with an unforgiving boss or colleague, you know how tough that can be. Such a situation for many is more than sufficient reason to find a new job.
Or consider this: How much better would America be if, just to cite one example that comes instantly to mind, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives approached their political differences with a more forgiving spirit? How much more quickly would they be able to reach legitimate compromises?
So check out some of Barna’s main findings:
“First, married couples often start with a different definition of forgiveness. When asked which outcomes characterize real forgiveness, married individuals are significantly more likely than others to prioritize peacemaking.
“Six out of 10 married respondents (61 percent) say that not seeking punishment or retribution is a key element of forgiveness, while half of those who have never been married (51 percent) agree.
“Nearly three-quarters of married individuals (72 percent) say forgiveness is about repaired relationships, plain and simple. Those who have never married are 10 percentage points less likely to agree with this statement (62 percent).
“Meanwhile, these single practicing Christians have a different boundary in mind; they are more likely than married practicing Christians to say forgiveness may mean restoring a relationship without forgetting the offense (30 percent vs. 22 percent).”
Even compared to never-married individual Christians, believing couples are more accustomed to being forgiving, according to Barna.
“With a priority set on moving past offenses, couples appear to encounter fewer barriers to giving forgiveness. A third of never-married practicing Christians (33 percent) says there is someone they don’t want to forgive. This contrasts with less than a quarter of married practicing Christians (24 percent) who say the same.
“Similarly, three in 10 never-married singles (28 percent) also say there’s someone they just can’t forgive, while only one-fifth of married individuals (21 percent) agrees with this statement.
“Married couples likely are well rehearsed in needing forgiveness, too. When asked if there was something for which a person had yet to accept forgiveness, 19 percent of married practicing Christians, compared to 30 percent of singles, say yes.”
The study’s findings on parents and forgiveness are perhaps equally surprising for some. For one thing, single fathers are the least forgiving, while single mothers are the most. And take a look at who struggles the most to accept forgiveness:
For those curious about how this study was conducted, here’s the methodological explainer from Barna:
“This study is based on quantitative surveys of 1,007 U.S. adults, 1,502 U.S. practicing Christian adults and 600 U.S. senior pastors of Protestant churches. Among pastors, Barna oversampled to include more perspectives of black pastors (100 respondents total).
“Interviews were completed online and by telephone between April and August 2018. The rate of error is +/- 2.3 percent for practicing Christians, 3.9 percent for pastors and 2.9 percent for the general population, at the 95 percent confidence level.”