Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Community Sanctification of Forgiveness

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Community Sanctification of Forgiveness

Article excerpt

Previous research has yielded mixed findings regarding the relationship between religion/spirituality (R/S) and forgiveness. This study examined the degree to which victims view forgiveness as spiritually valuable within their R/S community. We developed the Community Sanctification of Forgiveness (CSF) scale to assess this construct. We divided the sample (N = 307) into two subsamplcs (n = 157; n =150, respectively) in order to conduct exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses. We then examined whether CSF was related to forgiveness in the combined sample (N = 307). We found that religious commitment moderated the relationship between CR: and forgiveness, such that greater community expectations for forgiveness were positively related to forgiveness only for individuals high on religious commitment. Implications for R/S, forgiveness, and the measurement of these constructs are discussed.

As positive psychology has gained popularity in recent years, the study of virtues such as forgiveness has flourished. Forgiveness is defined as a prosocial change toward a perceived transgressor, and includes the reduction of negative (and in some cases the increase of positive) thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors towards the offender (Worthington, 2005). Forgiveness has been linked with various benefits to physical and mental health, relationships, and spirituality (for a review, see Fehr, Gelfand, & Nag, 2010). Given the aforementioned benefits of forgiveness, it is important to understand ways to foster or facilitate this virtue. Because most world religions promote forgiveness (Rye et al., 2000), it seems likely that religion/ spirituality (R/S) may be associated with an increased propensity to forgive.

Empirical research on the relationship between R/S and forgiveness, however, is equivocal and inconsistent. R/S has consistently shown a moderate, positive relationship with trait forgiveness (i.e., one's propensity forgiveness across relationships and situations). Davis, Worthington, Hook, and Hill (2013) reviewed this literature and found a moderate effect size of r = .29 for the relationship between R/S and trait forgiveness. In these studies, trait forgiveness has been measured with self-report items or scenarios that are susceptible to social desirability bias (see Barnes 8c Brown, 2010). Conversely, R/S has been inconsistently related to state forgiveness (i.e., one's current degree of forgiveness towards a specific offense; for reviews, see McCullough 8c Worthington, 1999; Davis, Worthington et al., in press; Fehr et al., 2010). For example, Davis et al. (2013) estimated a small effect size of .15 for state forgiveness. Together, these findings suggest that although R/S individuals often view themselves as relatively more forgiving than less R/S individuals, they may not be much more forgiving in actual practice.

Given the inconsistent effect of R/S on forgiveness, Davis, Hook, Van Tongeren, Gartner, and Worthington (2012) elucidated five pathways by which R/S may promote forgiveness under certain conditions. For the purposes of this study, we focus on two pathways, both of which address the possible role of R/S communities in helping individuals forgive.

First, R/S may make forgiveness interpersonally efficient. According to Davis, Hook, Van Tongeren, Gartner et al. (2012), one aspect of forgiving well in ongoing relationships is the ability to decrease the likelihood of future transgressions (e.g., McNulty, 2010). Namely, forgiving well requires that victims accompany forgiveness with appropriate boundaries that protect the victim from exploitation in a way that allows the relationship ample opportunity to repair. R/S communities may provide victims and offenders with established norms and rituals concerning forgiveness and repair of trust in relationships. Thus, when offenders fail to conform to such norms (e.g., refusing to apologize as prescribed within the community) this signals to the victim and others in the community that the offender is not contrite. …

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