Google search “forgiveness day” and a number of different dates pop up on the internet. June 26. July 7. October 26.
The date proliferation for forgiveness day is telling. Most national or international “days” focus on a topic for a single date. But the practice of forgiveness is so important to the well-being of individuals, families and societies that it is highlighted for three.
Maybe it should be for more. Such as on October 2. That’s when the latest profound — and controversial — display of forgiveness happened between Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham Jean who was wrongly killed inside his apartment while eating ice cream, and Amber Guyger, the police officer who killed him. In a Texas courtroom, Jean forgave Guyger immediately after the trial with a teary embrace.
When Dr. Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, professor of psychology and chair of the department at Hope College, sees and hears of acts of forgiveness, she’s well-acquainted with their emotional and physical side effects from decades of research. She values the importance of safety and accountability in relationship to forgiveness — a moral response to relational injustice that resists both minimizing offenses and reducing people to their offenses, instead seeing the humanity of the offender and desiring that person’s genuine good. Forgiving does not necessarily mean reconciling or restoring a person to a role; sometimes that is unsafe, unwise, or impossible even when a person genuinely forgives another.
vanOyen-Witvliet has produced extensive research projects and papers on forgiveness. As a result, she has conducted more than 120 media interviews about forgiveness, with her research featured in Time, Newsweek, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, ABC, CBS, Michigan Radio and international newspapers. Her research is referenced in blogs and books, including The Book of Joy, co-authored by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama in 2016, and The Science of the Virtues: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church by Mark McMinn in 2017.