The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The Power of Forgiveness


The Power of Forgiveness is a documentary directed by Martin Doblmeier, who also directed Bonhoeffer (Journey Films, 2006). He says: “The word ‘forgiveness’ may be the most provocative word in our culture today. There is an underlying anger in our country that we see regularly in our movies, in our news, even on our highways. For some, that anger is acceptable while others are calling for a new direction in our thinking and the way we interact with others. Forgiveness proves itself not only to be good for our health, but it offers a solid first step in that new direction.”

Many different facets of forgiveness are explored in this 78-minute film by a wide spectrum of religious people. The most poignant moments are several remarkable stories that touch the heart. Donald Kraybill explains the religious views behind the inspiring example of the Pennsylvania Amish community that was able to forgive after a man killed five little girls in its school. Robert Enright shares his experiences of working with teachers from Roman Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland to design curriculums focusing not only on forgiveness but also on mercy. Lyndon Harris talks about his idea of a Garden of Forgiveness in New York City on or near Ground Zero.

One of the most moving segments focuses on Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix. Ples’ grandson murdered Azim’s son. After Azim reached out to forgive, the two men became friends. They now go to schools to tell their story and encourage children to forgive. These people and others are proving that this spiritual practice can transform lives (Journey Films, not rated).


The Power of Forgiveness, a companion volume to the film, is by Kenneth Briggs, former religion editor of The New York Times. Payback and revenge are much more prevalent in our society than most are willing to admit. Jesus is the touchstone for forgiveness for Christians, and the other faith traditions all speak highly of this practice. Briggs examines the scientific findings on forgiveness, noting that it is helpful and healing in personal, social and political realms.

Another chapter takes a hard look at the refusal to forgive and the reasons behind it. The ideal of self-forgiveness is one that many individuals find challenging. The complex issue of the relationship between justice and forgiveness is examined next, and here many thorny ethical issues arise. This complexity is also present when many parties bear some guilt and shame and require mutual forgiveness.

In the final chapter Briggs assesses forgiveness in terms of the survival of a nation in Northern Ireland, South Africa and Lebanon. This companion volume to the DVD would make a perfect adult education resource for churches to use in conjunction with any discussion of the film (Fortress Press).


Carly Ritter

Carly Ritter

Posted at 2:06 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/21/2008

Thank you for your terrific article on The Power of Forgiveness in this month's issue.  I work for The Garden of Forgiveness, the organization lead by Lyndon Harris, and wanted to share with you some of our resources for your perusal: www.gofnyc.org.

In addition to promoting the concept of a Garden of Forgiveness at or near Ground Zero, we are encouraging churches and other organizations and community groups around the world to create and dedicate their own Gardens of Forgiveness, inspired by the original in Beirut, Lebanon.  We want to create a global movement to heal the past and create the future--one Garden of Forgiveness at a time! 

There are four Gardens of Forgiveness in Illinois; one in Long Island, NY; one in Poughkeepsie, NY; and we will dedicate one in NYC at Stuyvesant Square Park next month, in partnership with the Friends Seminary student "Peace Club."  We are also in conversation with community leaders in Soweto, South Africa, for a Garden of Forgiveness there.  The possibilities are endless.

 Thank you, again, for your coverage of The Power of Forgiveness.  Forgiveness is an idea whose time has come, and we are passionate about sharing its healing and transformative message in our wounded world.

 With gratitude,

Carly Ritter

marylyn Ponder

marylyn Ponder

Posted at 10:02 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/31/2009

I have a native plant and wildflower garden that is open to the public.  How do I get connected to the global network of forgiveness gardens?  Somewhere it said you have to order a plaque.  From where?  Marylyn Ponder

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