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We reply to Gassin's (2001) valuable description of an Eastern Orthodox perspective on interpersonal forgiveness by discussing some socio-cultural issues related to eastern and western construals of forgiveness and humility. Differences in the social function of humility and forgiveness are outlined based on differing cultural contexts. Crysdale's (1999) theological model of the cross and resurrection is utilized for developing an integrative perspective on forgiveness and empowerment.

Gassin (2001) has made an extremely important contribution to integrative literature on interpersonal forgiveness. The growing body of theoretical and empirical research on the psychology of forgiveness has been promising. But integrative dialogue on forgiveness requires more contributions like Gassin's that offer sophisticated theological perspectives on forgiveness rooted in particular traditions, like Eastern Orthodoxy. Furthermore, Gassin has richly described a theological and cultural tradition that has been largely neglected by western Christians, and she has brought that tradition into dialogue with western psychology. We need a diverse array of such contextualized models of forgiveness to deepen our understanding of how constructs like forgiveness can be shaped by theological traditions, spiritual practices, psychological models, and cultural systems.

We also appreciated Gassin's (2001) article because we have personally been so uninformed about Eastern Orthodox theology. This means we lack the expertise to reply to the accuracy of her description of Eastern Orthodoxy. Instead, we will engage some socio-cultural issues related to eastern and western construals of forgiveness. Gassin focused mostly on theological and psychological differences between eastern and western models with some mention of cultural differences. We believe differences in socio-cultural contexts strongly influence the theological and psychological differences in how forgiveness and humility are construed. We will outline some differences in the social function of humility and forgiveness based on differing cultural contexts and conclude by describing Cynthia Crysdale's (1999) integrative theological model of forgiveness and empowerment.


Gassin (2001) pointed out several key differences between Eastern Orthodox and western psychological perspectives on interpersonal forgiveness. For example, she suggested that Eastern Orthodox writers tend to blur the distinction between interpersonal forgiveness and reconciliation, whereas western psychological models of forgiveness tend to emphasize the difference (e.g., Freedman, 1998). She also contrasted Eastern Orthodox emphases on humility, the sinfulness of anger, forgiveness rituals, and relational selfhood with western emphases on self-esteem, the legitimation of anger, self-forgiveness, and personal boundaries. We argue that these differing emphases in the social function of forgiveness reflect core differences between individualistic and collectivistic worldviews. Eastern Orthodoxy is practiced primarily in collectivistic cultural contexts and, of course, western psychology arises from individualistic cultural contexts. We will consider the social function of forgiveness from individualistic and collectivistic worldviews, as well as some of the dynamics related to social justice in those contexts.

Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism and collectivism have been defined in many ways but basically refer to differing cultural or social patterns that are rooted in differing worldviews (Triandis, 1995; on the related constructs of independent and interdependent self-construals, see Markus & Kitayama, 1991). According to Triandis (1995), individualism is a social pattern that: (a) involves individuals perceiving themselves as relatively independent of others; (b) emphasizes individual needs, rights, contracts, and attitudes; (c) gives priority to personal goals and boundaries over group goals and social identity; and, (d) encourage rational cost-benefit analyses of social relationships. In contrast, collectivism is a social pattern that: (a) involves individuals perceiving themselves as interdependent with others; (b) emphasizes social norms, obligations, and duties; (c) gives priority to family or group goals over personal goals; and (d) values social connectedness and commitment even when it is disadvantageous to individuals. Th ese differences in cultural worldviews influence the ways cultural or religious groups construe interpersonal forgiveness.

At the risk of over-simplifying some complex cultural and worldview issues, we will outline the contours of these two contrasting cultural worldviews (i.e., individualism and collectivism) as they might influence models of forgiveness (see Table 1). This is intended to provide a general heuristic that is useful for the discussion of models of forgiveness rather than the depiction of dichotomous categories because there are many versions of individualism and collectivism (Triandis, 1995). Individuals with a bicultural identity might even fluidly shift between facets of both individualistic and collectivistic worldviews depending upon the immediate context. Admittedly, these proposed cultural differences related to forgiveness are mostly hypothetical and based on theory rather than empirical data.

Views of the self. The view of the self from an individualistic worldview is one of a bounded self defined by one's bodily boundaries (Cushman, 1995). The individualistic (or "modern") self is rooted in the Cartesian tradition of self-reflexivity, or the ability to autonomously objectify and reflect on oneself. The individualistic self is understood to need liberation through freedom from social ties or constraints, and the healthy self establishes independence from others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). In contrast, the self from a collectivistic worldview is irreducibly social and relational. From a collectivistic perspective, the healthy self is interdependent. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, loving your "neighbor" and your "self" is the same thing (see Gassin, 2001, p. 20), which is consistent with a collectivistic view of the self.

These differing cultural views of selfhood will obviously influence the relationship between forgiveness and reconciliation, a difference pointed out by Gassin (2001). Western psychological models of forgiveness rend to be more individualistic and make a sharp distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation, with the latter being unnecessary, cautioned against, or simply optional for healing (e.g., see Freedman, 1998; McCullough, Sandage, & Worthington, 1997). In an individualistic culture, forgiveness might frequently be construed as a pathway to self-heal from relational injuries without necessitating the communal reconciliation that is so counter to the prevailing individualistic social scripts. Forgiveness might even be framed as a unilareral method of disembedding oneself from painful relationships (Augsburger, 1997). [2] In collectivistic cultures, forgiveness and reconciliation will be much more closely related (Augsburger, 1992, 1997), as depicted by Gassin in Eastern Orthodoxy's emphasis on recon ciliation. Collectivistic cultures are so strongly oriented toward preserving group and familial cohesion that mutual forgiveness will tend to be viewed as a pathway toward reconciliation (Augsburger, 1997).

People living in the ancient Mediterranean social context of the New Testament would have certainly construed the self in a more collectivistic or interdependent fashion (Malina, 1993a). Forgiveness and reconciliation are, therefore, probably more closely related in the New Testament than in contemporary western psychological models of forgiveness (Jones, 1995). Gassin (2001) makes the point that "the Church" (p. 41) (i.e., presumably the contemporary church) should be communal rather than individualistic in cultural orientation. We would certainly agree that the Church should be a community that embodies many of the interpersonal values of communal or collectivistic worldviews, especially if the goal is correspondence to the New Testament vision. Western psychologists and therapists interested in Christian integration would be wise to give greater attention to connections between forgiveness and reconciliation (Sandage, 1999; Worthington & Drinkard, 2000). However, it seems realistic to acknowledge that the contemporary social context of highly urbanized and industrialized western countries is far different from that of both the New Testament context and many contemporary collectivistic contexts. Moreover, we would argue that extreme forms of both collectivism and individualism have weaknesses. Therefore, the challenge for Christian integration involves developing culturally-conrextualized models of forgiveness that weave together biblical theology and spirituality with quality psychological science.

Social relations. The view of social relations from an individualistic worldview is one of contractual exchange (Bromley & Busching, 1988; Triandis, 1995). Relational commitment is based on a mutually-satisfying contract or exchange that meets one another's felt needs (Bellab, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidiet, & Tipton, 1985). Relationships that do not meet one s personal needs tend to be viewed as unnecessary or expendable.

The view of social relations from a collectivistic worldview is more communal and covenantal than the view of social relations from an individualistic worldview. Collectivistic relationships are based upon making and keeping vows or covenants, which require greater consideration of the needs and wellbeing of the group or community. Forgiveness in collectivistic cultures is more likely to be framed as a social duty that preserves social harmony rather than a personal decision or attitude. The Eastern Orthodox respect for martyr-like attempts at reconciliation only make sense from a collectivistic worldview, not an individualistic one.

Face concern. Interpersonal conflict creates crises of social face. "Social face" refers to a person's sense of social worth or dignity. A "loss of face" involves a shameful or humiliating experience of being dishonored before others (Goffman, 1967). 1967). Efforts to save face can be directed at saving one's own face (i.e., self-face concern) or saving the face of others (i.e., other-face concern) (Triandis, 1995). Individualistic cultures promote self-face concern while collectivistic cultures promote both other- and self-face concern.

Again, Eastern Orthodoxy as described by Gassin (2001) is consistent with a collectivistic worldview by encouraging the practice of "victims" seeking forgiveness from their offenders. In sociological categories, this practice demonstrates a valuing of other-face concern. The tremendous emphasis in contemporary western psychological literature on forgiving others and the relative paucity of literature on seeking forgiveness from others (see Sandage, Worthington, Hight, & Berry, 2000) highlights the western emphasis on self-face concern above other-face concern.

Self-forgiveness. Gassin (2001) suggested that the western concept of self-forgiveness finds "no place in the Orthodox tradition" (p. 19). This is probably related to the differing construals of the self described above with self-forgiveness being potentially vital from an individualistic worldview and potentially implausible from a collectivistic worldview. Some historical context can shed light on these cultural differences regarding self-forgiveness.

Taylor (1989) has traced the historical development of modern western notion of the self, and he emphasizes the pivotal role of Descartes. Descartes considered the exercise of rational control over the material world as the epitome of the human endeavor. The instrumental exercise of control requires a motivational source, and Descartes transformed the seventeenth century virtue of "generosity" into that motivational source. Generosity was the crowning virtue that promoted honor or a willingness to conquer one s fears in order to accomplish heroic military feats or other acts of public service. The meaning of "generosity" could be translated as a sense of dignity, worth, or honor. According to Taylor, Descartes transferred this virtue from the public sphere, where it was conferred by others in honor-shame cultures, to make generosity toward oneself the internalized "motor of virtue" (p.154). This idea of self-generosity may be an ideological root of modern psychological notions of self-esteem, and Descartes c alled this sense of self-worth "the key of all other virtues, and a general remedy for all disorders of the passions" (as quoted in Taylor, 1989, p. 155). This may in part explain the historical development of the uniquely modern and western concept of self-forgiveness.

Taylor (1989) goes on to suggest that the individualistic self of modern western cultures is disembedded from all social identity and social connections and, therefore, lacks internalized "moral sources" of identity. In a similar fashion, Cushman (1995) argues that the modern, individualistic Cartesian self stripped of relational or moral ties to community is really an "empty self" waiting to be filled by a consumer society (also, see McCullough et al., 1997). According to Cushman, the source of moral authority for the modern, individualistic self is the individual's own self-constructed attitudes. In contrast, collectivistic cultures identify the source of moral authority as a spiritual and/or social community. This community is generally responsible for the traditions and narratives that illustrate the moral virtues to which the individual should strive (MacIntyre, 1984). Those living in contemporary individualistic cultures who find themselves disembedded from such communal moral sources and traditions ma y feel the need to engage in radical self-reflexivity to confer forgiveness upon the self. This individualistic self-forgiveness can then be viewed as providing the foundation of self-healing and self-esteem that encourages the generosity to forgive others. Self-forgiveness would seem to be a potentially implausible construct from a collectivistic worldview because forgiveness is mediated through relationships in collectivistic cultures (Augsburger, 1992; Braithwaite, 1989). To "forgive oneself" could imply an inappropriate independence from communal sources or rituals of forgiveness.

Forms of forgiveness. These differing cultural views on self-forgiveness are related to the differing forms of forgiveness. Gassin (2001) described some of the rich Eastern Orthodox rituals for encouraging forgiveness. Collectivistic cultures will be more likely than highly individualistic cultures to retain the cohesiveness of communal rituals, stories, and symbols that narrate forgiveness. Individualistic cultures will tend to rely on what Rieff (1966) called "analytic therapies," which provide individuals with information, skills, or personal insights for privatized healing rather than employing the use of more public rituals or symbols. According to Rieff, most forms of modern western psychotherapy would qualify as "analytic therapies." Western psychological models of "therapeutic forgiveness" (Jones, 1995) might be viewed as a type of analytic therapy that relies upon personal insights or skills rather than communal rituals, narratives, and practices.

This issue of the differing forms of forgiveness is central to some of the critiques of therapeutic forgiveness (Augsburger, 1997; Jones, 1995) and the decontextualizing of forgiveness as simply a "technique" removed from any historical or communal context (McMinn, 1996; Meek & McMinn, 1997). Individualistic models of forgiveness do seem at risk of lacking cultural richness and historical depth. Conversely, Foucault (1993) argued that communal institutions (e.g., churches) are capable of implementing oppressive rituals that subjugate rather than empower members. Communal rituals carry tremendous power for good or evil. Therapeutic approaches to forgiveness might be particularly relevant for individuals who are disconnected or estranged from traditional forms of community. Foucault's analysis also raises questions about the relationship between models of forgiveness and social justice.

Social Justice

The social function of forgiveness involves how a cultural group or society approaches issues of social justice (Braithwaite, 1989). Gassin (2001) points out that western psychologists might strongly object to the Eastern Orthodox practice of encouraging victims to apologize to offenders. This is probably true. Western psychological models of forgiveness have arisen in a professional therapeutic context that has involved grappling with the realities of abuse and the injustice of blaming victims for that abuse (McMinn, 1996). We are curious how Eastern Orthodox clergy and church leaders approach issues of abuse and the dynamics of social justice. Young (2000) described the Eastern Orthodox church as generally maintaining a "very conservative or traditional moral system" (p. 97). This does not imply a lack of concern for social justice in Orthodoxy, but it could translate into less focus on violations of individual rights and individual liberation than promoted by western models of psychotherapy.

These issues of social justice are related to the social function of anger, as well. Gassin (2001) described the general lack of support for interpersonal anger in Eastern Orthodoxy, which is assumed to be a "result of our fallen nature" (p. 9). The Orthodox tradition seems to suggest that anger is better directed against the self. As Gassin suggests, western psychologists do put more emphasis on the legitimacy of interpersonal anger and the dangers of self-directed anger, probably due to many cultural and worldview factors. For example, the social cost of interpersonal anger and confronting abuse might be greater in collectivistic cultures than in individualistic cultures. The theological and spiritual legitimacy of anger involves complex issues beyond the scope of this paper. We do resist an assumption that all interpersonal anger results from our fallen nature (see Jones, 1995; Volf, 1996). Such a view would seem to offer no legitimation for anger against injustice.


Gassin's (2001) article raises important issues about the social function of humility, as well as forgiveness. We will briefly consider biblical and contemporary psychological views on humility.

Biblical Views of Humility

Gassin (2001) provided a helpful challenge to Sandage's (1999) attempt to connect his definition of ego-humility with two biblical passages (Rom 12:3; Phil 2:3). Sandage (1999) defined ego-humility as "a realistic self-orientation that includes a willingness to acknowledge one's strengths and face one's limitations" (p. 261). Building on the work of Roberts (1982), he further suggested that an interpersonal correlate of such humility is a tendency to "view others as one's equal" (p. 261). Gassin pointed out that Paul actually exhorts the readers at Philippi to humility and to "consider others better than yourselves" (Phil 2:3; New International Version), suggesting that Sandage's egalitarian construal of humility might not be fully consistent with this biblical text. Gassin also questioned an egalitarian implication to Paul's exhortation in Romans 12:3 to not think of oneself "more highly than you ought." These are points well-taken and serve to highlight some of the first author's contemporary egalitarian so cial values. This calls for an examination of the New Testament meaning of humility, as well as the social function of humility in that ancient context.

At the same time, we will argue that the context of both passages suggests Paul is primarily concerned with a humility that promotes the unity of the Christian community within the diversity of members. In Romans 12:3-8, Paul moves directly from calling for sober self-assessment to a discussion of the differing gifts within the body of Christ with each member's gifts being important to the overall body. His point is that each member has a place of belonging within the community.

In Philippians 2:1-4, Paul is also calling the community at Philippi to a spirit of unity through humility (e.g., verse 3 says, "in humility consider others better than yourselves"). The Greek word for "humility" in verse 3 [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] implies a "lowliness of mind" (Fee, 1995). Humility was generally not considered a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, which regarded humility as a form of servility and weakness (Bockmuehl, 1998; Fee, 1995). Paul sets humility in contrast to "selfish ambition" and "Vain conceit" (verse 3), giving humility a connotation of unselfishness (Grundmann, 1972) that counters the grandiose temptation to that "strangely addictive and debasing cocktail of vanity and public opinion" (Bockmuehl, 1998, p. 110).

It appears that the Philippian church was at risk for experiencing division due to some "selfish ambition" or what Fee (1995) calls "posturing" (p. 33). It is possible that the social values of the prominent Roman colony of Philippi were influencing some members in this posturing. Paul holds out the sacrificial example of Christ's humility in going to the cross (Phil 2:5-8) as an alternative to selfish ambition and vain conceit. This raises several questions about the meaning of biblical humility. First, does humility mean considering everyone better than oneself? If so, this would seem to create a tremendous burden of social comparison that would be contrary to the values of most contemporary western psychologists and therapists. Second, is self-disparagement or abasement a central feature of humility? Again, this would make humility contradictory to most contemporary western models of healthy human development.

Social comparison. Interpreting Paul's exhortation to "in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil 2:3) requires understanding the occasion of the letter to the Philippians. Paul does not use the more serious language of "division" or "strife" in this letter as he does in First Corinthians (1 Cor 1:10-12). This suggests the tensions Paul has in mind at Philippi, such as that of Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2), are basically between friends within the Christian community (Fee, 1995). Therefore, Paul is not commending an attitude of considering oppressive or abusive people morally better than oneself. In fact, he does not even seem to be encouraging the Philippians to consider everyone better than themselves because he refers to a certain group he considers to be destructive "enemies" (Phil 3:18). Paul seems to be encouraging a capacity to consider some people "better than" oneself while still being able to critique the character and values of some other destructive persons.

Self-disparagement. We must also determine the precise meaning of humility in Philippians 2:3 and whether humility requires self-denigration. Several biblical scholars have argued that the kind of humility Paul is encouraging is not one of self-disparagement, abasement, nor low self-esteem (Bockmuehl, 1998; Fee, 1995; Grundmann, 1972; Hawthorne, 1987). Fee (1995) explains the meaning of humility in Philippians 2:3 in this way:

Humility is not to be confused with false modesty, or with that kind of abject servility that only repulses, wherein the "humble one by obsequiousness gains more self-serving attention than he or she could do otherwise. Rather, it has to do with a proper estimation of oneself, the stance of the creature before the Creator, utterly dependent and trusting. Here one is well aware both of one's weaknesses and of one's glory (we are in his image, after all) but makes neither too much nor too little of either. True humility is therefore not self-focused at all, but rather, defined by Paul in v.4, "looks not to one's own concerns but to those of others." (p. 188)

Rather than social comparison or self-denigration, Paul is encouraging the Philippians to humbly care for others and to put their concerns ahead of their own. The goal is one of mutual love and honoring others in a Mediterranean cultural context where honor and shame were the core social values (Malina, 1993). The Greek word for "better" in verse 3 ([LANGUAGES NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) can also be translated "surpassing" and does not suggest a comparative evaluation of the worth of others (i.e., "consider others more worthy than yourselves") (Fee, 1995). Instead, we concur with Fee's (1995) interpretation that Paul is saying "consider the needs of others in the community as surpassing your own and care for them." Bockmuehl (1998) points out that the central social dynamic that distinguishes the Christian view of humility from the Greek is the "non-hierarchical intent [of Christian humility]: it governs relations between people who are in principle equals, and is not a cliche for excessive deference to super iors" (p. 111). Thus, it appears that the biblical view of humility, at least as developed by Paul in Philippians, is consistent with an egalitarian social ethic. Christian humility involves the willingness to take a humble relational posture (when appropriate) by surrendering the motives of selfish ambition and grandiosity while considering the needs of others above one's own. This is qualitatively different from the false humility of perpetual self-denigration or a need for self-abasement. This understanding counters the position of Nietzsche (1886/1989) who despised both Christianity humility because he believed it did represent a false deference that masked true motives (see Roberts, 1982).

Contemporary Western Psychological Views of Humility

How might contemporary western psychology view this biblical understanding of humility? [1] Gassin is correct that there has been very limited consideration of humility in contemporary western psychology (for reviews, see Exline, Campbell, Baumeister, Joiner, & Krueger, 2000; Emmons, 2000; Tangney, 2000), so there are no well-developed psychological theories of humility. Nevertheless, we will outline a few areas of potential dissonance and rapprochement between Eastern Orthodox and biblical views of humility and contemporary western psychology.

First, contemporary psychologists in the west would probably advocate for more emphasis on self-care and personal boundaries than is evident in either Eastern Orthodoxy or New Testament literature. Even if Paul's exhortation in Philippians 2:3 to consider others better than yourselves" is not universal and does not mean self-denigration, it does run counter to the individualistic cultural values that dominate parts of the United States (U.S.) and some other western nations. Many clinicians in the U. S. could probably quickly think of clients whose problems involve a self-defeating proclivity to view others "as better than themselves." This discrepancy can be mitigated by realizing that Paul is not prohibiting what contemporary psychologists would call "self-care" even if it is given much less emphasis than in our contemporary therapeutic culture. Jesus himself practiced a form of spiritual self-care that placed limits on the amount of service he offered to those in need (Mark 1:35-38). Self-care and humility actually form a healthy dialectic that represents spiritual and emotional maturity. Self-care practices (e.g., prayer, sleep, nutrition, exercise) contribute to the energy needed to humbly care for others, and humility contributes to the dynamics of a healthy community that benefit both self and others.

Second, contemporary western psychologists would probably be eager to have humility distinguished from low self-esteem or shame-proneness (Exline et al., 2000; McMinn, 1996; Means, Wilson, Sturm, Bion, & Bach, 1990; Tangney, 2000). Emmons (2000) explains:

To be humble is nor to have a low opinion of oneself; it is to have an opinion of oneself that is no better or worse than the opinion one holds of others. It is the ability to keep one's talents and accomplishments in perspective ... to have a sense of self-acceptance, an understanding of one's imperfections, and to be free from arrogance and low self-esteem." (pp. 164-165)

Tangney (2000) likewise defines humility as including an accurate self-assessment and relatively low self-focus. Humility involves an ability to view oneself from a broader perspective (Exline ET al., 2000). Conversely, shame and low self-esteem restrict the self, and they can actually increase the kinds of self-consciousness and interpersonal defensiveness that prohibit caring for others (McMinn, 1996; Tangney, 1995). A shame-prone fragile sense of self can lead to defensive narcissism (Sandage, 1999; Tangney, 2000), and narcissism is certainly contrary to humility, empathy, and forgiveness (Emmons, 2000; Exline et al., 2000; Tangney, Fee, Reinsmith, Boone, & Lee, 1999). Empathy may be a vital dimension of humility or at least a closely related virtue (Emmons, 2000; Means et al., 1990; Sandage, 1999). Empathic humility involves the ability to accurately perceive the needs of others (cf. Phil 2:3), as well as the ability to forgive by viewing oneself as morally similar to offenders (Exline et al., 2000).

Contemporary psychologists might also be concerned to distinguish mature humility from the kinds of pathological shame and self-abasement that can become ego-syntonic. Simone Weil (1951/1973), a social philosopher and spiritual writer, described the potential dark side of shame-proneness that differs from genuine humility by suggesting "consciousness of sin gives us the feeling that we are evil, and kind of pride sometimes finds its place in it" (p. 109). Weil succinctly captures the irony of how self-satisfaction in false humility or even one s own need for forgivingness can be a way of assuming "the moral high ground" in relationships.

Millon (1996) describes masochistic personality disorder as involving self-denigration and abasement that is ego-syntonic. Individuals with such self-defeating personalities usually have painful relational histories of abuse or neglect (or both), and Millon suggests that they can be unconsciously motivated toward an excessive self-sacrifice that obligates or shames others. It is important to distinguish humility from such self-destructive masochistic propensities. The Eastern Orthodox practice of encouraging victims to apologize for the sins of their offenders, as described by Gassin, seems highly questionable in this regard. A core fear of many victims of abuse is that they are either culpable for the abuse or capable of becoming abusive themselves. These fears would seem to be exacerbated by a practice of victims apologizing for the sins of their offenders. On the other hand, the cultural context and religious rituals of Eastern Orthodoxy might prevent such practices from producing the same psychological c onsequences as would occur in western individualistic contexts.


Cynthia Crysdale (1999) has developed an integrative theological model of the cross and the resurrection in her book, Embracing Travail: Retrieving the Cross Today, which weaves together feminist, evangelical, and liberationist theological perspectives. Crysdale records some of her own journey of wrestling with how to personally and theologically reconcile her evangelical background with the truth she has found in feminist and liberationist Christianity. Her work is integrative at several levels. For example, she integrates theories from both theology and the social sciences, and she is well-attuned to the spiritual struggles of both individuals and social systems. What makes her model particularly relevant to our discussion is her integration of forgiveness and empowerment. We suggest that her model goes beyond many traditional Christian theological views of the cross and offers a sound and just theological foundation for understanding the social dynamics related to humility and forgiveness.

Crysdale's (1999) major thesis is that Christians can affirm "two sides" to the cross and resurrection (see Figure 1). Traditional orthodoxy has emphasized the gospel's promise of forgiveness of sins for those who are humbled by the cross into repentance. This side of the cross speaks most directly to those who come from a place of privilege and social power. Crysdale suggests that the other side of the cross is primarily for those whose social location involves oppression. Along with many liberation and feminist theologians, Crysdale argues that the gospel speaks to disempowered victims of oppression of a loving God who identifies with innocent victimization yet overcomes evil with good (also, see Volf, 1996). For the oppressed, the gospel first offers healing for the wounds of social shame (Jewett, 1997) and an affirmation of selfhood and voice (also, see Cone, 1991; Jones, 1995).

One of the unique dimensions of Crysdale's (1999) contribution is her suggestion that both sides of the cross (i.e., the healing of wounds and the forgiveness of sins) are ultimately relevant to every person in order to break the victim-perpetrator cycle. Social location influences the side of the cross that represents a person's primary initial need. A victim of oppression needs the empowerment of voice, but eventually that person also needs to experience repentance and the forgiveness of sins. A person from a position of social privilege needs to experience the humility of repentance and the grace of being forgiven, but eventually that person also needs to grow into the empowerment of true voice. It seems to us that western psychotherapists have tended to focus on the side of the cross that involves the healing of shame and woundedness and the empowerment of voice without necessarily using the theological language. Evangelical Christian churches have focused on the side of the cross that invites humility re pentance, and offers the forgiveness of sins. Based on Gassin's description, Eastern Orthodoxy also appears to focus on humility, repentance, and the forgiveness of sins. However, much is lost when either side of the cross is neglected.

We will briefly highlight three theological themes from Crysdale's model that are relevant to an approach to forgiveness that integrates both sides of the cross. These themes include suffering, sin, and salvation.


The title of Crysdale's book, Embracing Travail (1999), is the major motif for her model. Embracing travail is likened to the process of giving birth, and it speaks to the centeredness of being that is open to new life including both the pain and the responsibilities involved. She suggests grief and suffering are often pathways to healing (and probably forgiveness, see Augsburger, 1997; Layton, 1998), yet she is concerned about a theology that over-valorizes suffering or martyrdom. Over-valorizing suffering can be an insidious way of maintaining social hierarchies and keeping power from those who are oppressed. While some project evil onto others to justify domination, others have been socialized to introject evil into themselves, resulting in a theology of self-denigration and self-defeating shame. In contrast, Crysdale points out that Jesus refused to project or introject evil. Crysdale's work challenges us to consider how we socialize people into the sacrificial virtue of forgiveness and whether issues of voice, power, and boundaries are also part of that socialization. A Christian integrative model of forgiveness and empowerment should suggest the importance of helping people overcome tendencies to either project or introject evil.


Sin has been traditionally viewed as pride, arrogant ambition, or narcissism by many Christian theologians (Crysdale, 1999; VoIf, 1996), and pride seems to be a dominant sin motif in Eastern Orthodoxy (Gassin, 2001). But Crysdale (1999) effectively argues that narcissism is not the universal core dynamic of sin. Other themes and metaphors for sin are needed in order to generate contextualized models of forgiveness and reconciliation. For example, Volf (1996) suggests exclusion of those we find different, strange, or "outgroup" is an important dynamic of sin that wars against forgiveness and reconciliation. Crysdale suggests that sin can take the form of denigration or accepting "too much limitation" (pp. 128-129) among oppressed groups of people. She warns that an over-emphasis on humility can exacerbate this problem for people who already struggle with self-denigration (also, see McMinn, 1996).

A call to name one's victimization is part of overcoming the effects of evil and sin. Crysdale (1999) writes," 'Confess your sins' and 'embrace your wounds' are both true" (p. xii). The redemptive drama of the bible describes a God who sees innocent blood crying out from the ground (Gen 4; see Volf, 1996) and promises to bring ultimate justice. Integrative models of forgiveness will need to give much greater attention to the relationships between interpersonal forgiveness, systemic sin, and social justice.


Crysdale (1999) argues that salvation involves both sides of the cross (forgiveness of sins and healing of wounds), and both sides are eventually important for everyone. She explains, "Sooner or later, in some form or other, one must discover oneself as both a crucifier and a victim. The failure to do this can lead to self-righteousness on the one hand or self-immolation on the other" (p. 20). Salvation leads to a process of transformation or sanctification that means "completing the circle: victims discovering responsibility and perpetrators embracing wounds ... the cycle becomes not victim-perpetrator-victim, but healed-forgiven-healed" (pp. 23-24). The Eastern Orthodox theology that Gassin describes might resonate with Crysdale's process-oriented view of salvation and sanctification, though the contextualized socio-political dimensions of Crysdale's model do not seem to find any parallel in Gassin's account of Eastern Orthodoxy. Also, the concern about self-immolation and the need to discover healing for one's victimhood might run counter to the worldview of persons from an Eastern Orthodox tradition.

Crysdale (1999) goes on to develop her view of salvation by suggesting that the resurrection calls for the risk of voice, telling the story, and the discovery of discovery. Again, she integrates the spiritual and the socio-political in her use of the resurrection as a salvific motif by explaining, "Some people inherit a presumption of voice and the confidence to know they are knowers. Others are socialized into silence and are carefully 'protected' from discovering that they can make discoveries" (p. 76). Western literature on the psychology of forgiveness has given little attention to the relationship between forgiveness and social power (Fincham, 2000; Madanes, 1991; Sandage, 1999). This has contributed to the chasm between therapeutic models that emphasize empowerment, agency, and voice for the disempowered (e.g., feminist therapies) and those models that describe the healing potential of forgiveness. We would like to see greater integration of forgiveness and empowerment in therapeutic approaches, and Cr ysdale's model offers a theological foundation for Christian integration. Therapeutic approaches will always need to be contextualized, however, and clients from hierarchical collectivistic cultures might have greater difficulty identifying with themes of empowerment and voice than clients from individualistic cultures.


Models of forgiveness are embedded in cultural worldviews. Social location provides a powerful influence that should be considered in contexrualizing models of humility and forgiveness. It is important to assess what these constructs mean for a client with respect to issues of gender, race, culture, and religiosity. Gassin (2001) has provided a helpful description of an Eastern Orthodox perspective on interpersonal forgiveness and ways forgiveness might need to be contextualized for clients from that tradition. Considering a cultural and theological tradition different than our own has offered the opportunity to gain self-awareness of our own cultural woridview and to reconsider our theological and ideological assumptions. Following Crysdale (1999), we have suggested that attending to both sides of the cross could provide an integrative theological model that values both forgiveness and empowerment.


SANDAGE, STEVEN J. Address: Bethel Theological Seminary, 3949 Bethel Dr., St. Paul, MN 55112. Title: Associate Professor; Licensed Psychologist. Degrees: BS, Psychology, Iowa State University; MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; MS, PhD, Counseling Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University. Specializations: forgiveness, couples and family therapy, psychology and religion.

WIENS, TINA R. WATSON. Address: 1525 Albert St. N., St. Paul, MN 55108. Title: Marriage and Family Therapist. Degrees: BS, Business, Northwestern College; MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, Bethel Theological Seminary. Specializations: Collaborative and interdisciplinary health care, sexual health, adolescents.

We wish to thank Cynthia Crysdale, Carla Dahl, Samantha Morgan O'Rourke, and Gloria Metz for helping us with this manuscript.

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Table 1

The Contours of Individualistic and Collectivistic Worldviews in
Relation to Forgiveness

 Individualistic [1]

View of the Self [2] Independent

View of Relationships [3] Exchange/Contractual

Primary Face Concern [4] Self-Face

Self-Forgiveness Vital

Forms of forgiveness Personal Insights & Skills
 Professional Techniques


View of the Self [2] Interdependent
 Social, Relational

View of Relationships [3] Communal/Covenantal

Primary Face Concern [4] Other-Face and Self-Face

Self-Forgiveness Implausible

Forms of forgiveness Communal Narratives,
 Rituals, and Symbols

(1)See Triandis (1996).

(2)See Cushman (1995); Markus & Kitayama (1991); Triandis (1995)

(3)See Bromley & Busching (1988)

(4)See Triandis (1995)
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Title Annotation:response to article by Elizabeth A. Gassin in this issue, p. 187
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Sep 22, 2001

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