Ethos Education

Captain America: Civil War: In what way does forgiveness benefit the forgiver?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of Christian teaching on forgiveness.
  • Awareness of the importance of forgiveness and repentance in Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon factors that make it easy or difficult to forgive.
  • Reflect upon different attitudes towards revenge as shown by characters from the film Captain America: Civil War.
  • Analyse biblical teaching on the subject of forgiveness.
  • Reflect on the importance of reconciliation for those who have wronged others.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a letter to someone faced with the choice of forgiveness or hatred.

Supporting Values Education:

The value of mutual tolerance is based on a belief that forgiveness and reconciliation is possible between individuals and groups who believe themselves to have been wronged by one another. This lesson encourages students to consider the Christian arguments for pursuing forgiveness in such situations, and to reflect on why Christian teaching is that forgiveness is a much better choice than the pursuit of revenge.


Set up a continuum line across the classroom with the words, ‘Impossible to forgive’ at one end and ‘Easy to forgive’ at the other. Tell students you are going to read out a set of scenarios. For each one, students must decide how easy they would find it to forgive the perpetrator and place themselves accordingly on the continuum line. Pause between each scenario to ask individual students to justify their positioning.

As a static version of the same activity, give pairs or small groups of students a set of the Forgiveness Scenario Cards worksheet. Ask them to set up a continuum line on their desks with the card, ‘Impossible to forgive’ at one end and the card, ‘Easy to forgive’ at the other. Divide the scenario cards between the students in the group and ask students to take it in turns to read out a scenario card and place it on the continuum line according to how easy or difficult they would find it to forgive the perpetrator, justifying their decision to the rest of the group. Students should challenge one another’s decisions whilst acknowledging that, having discussed it, they may agree to differ.

These scenarios are replicated on the worksheet for use with the static version. If any of the scenarios are too close to home for some students (for example, if there has been a recent bereavement in the family in similar circumstances to one of the cards) you might want to remove that scenario and not use it.

  • Your best friend stands by and does nothing as bullies beat you up.
  • Your best friend repeatedly fails to help when bullies pick on you.
  • At a party, your boyfriend or girlfriend flirts with somebody else.
  • At a party, your boyfriend or girlfriend kisses somebody else.
  • A classmate tells the teacher that you were fighting at lunchtime.
  • A teacher wrongly accuses you of starting a fight, and you are internally suspended for a day.
  • Someone lies to the police, and you are arrested as a result.
  • A jury wrongly finds you guilty of a crime, unaware that the evidence presented to them is false.
  • A drunk driver kills a member of your family and drives away from the scene of the crime.
  • A drunk driver kills a member of your family, hands themselves in to the police and promises never to drink and drive again.

Encourage discussion and elicit feedback on what makes forgiveness harder or easier. Consider: the seriousness of the wrong; the extent to which the wrong can be put right; the age or mental stability of the perpetrator; the remorsefulness of the perpetrator; the changed nature of the perpetrator. Explain that in this lesson students will be exploring the Christian mandate for forgiveness.


Introduce the clip from Captain America: Civil War (Marvel, 2016, certificate 12).  Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that in the film, the Avengers have been divided as a result of the manipulation of Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). He has staged events to flush Captain America’s old friend Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) out of hiding, causing some Avengers to come to his defence while others seek to capture him. Among Zemo’s acts was an attack on the United Nations which killed King T’Chaka of Wakanda, whose son the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) vows to avenge his father’s death. Explain that this scene happens immediately after Iron Man (Robert Downey Junior) discovers that rather than dying in a car accident several years ago, his parents were in fact murdered by the Winter Soldier, who had been put through mind-control programming and was unable to do anything but carry out the missions he was given by his Hydra masters. Ask the students to compare the attitude of Iron Man with that shown by Black Panther later in the clip.

  • Start time:       1.57.33 (beginning of chapter 17 of the DVD)
  • End time:         2.04.13
  • Clip length:      6 minutes and 40 seconds

Ask the students why they think Iron Man is so determined to take revenge on Bucky, even though (as Captain America points out), Bucky had no choice in what he did. By contrast, why do they think that Black Panther chose not to take revenge on Zemo once he had the opportunity to do so? You might like to remind them of Black Panther’s line, ‘Vengeance has consumed you; it’s consuming them. I’m done letting it consume me.’ You might need to explain that the tragedy Zemo refers to that has led him along his path of revenge was a consequence of the events in the earlier film The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

To what extent do the students think that vengeance can consume someone? What does that mean? Do the students think it sounds like a good thing or a bad thing for the person so consumed?

Split the class into pairs or small groups and ask them to read the following Bible passages together. For each passage they should make a list of what that passage has to say on the subject of forgiveness. Once everyone has completed this, bring the class back together and go through their observations together. If you want to get through this part of the lesson a little more quickly, you could only give each group a couple of passages and make sure that they take notes about the other passages during the collective feedback time. Here are the Bible passages: Matthew 5:38-48; Matthew 6:9-15; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11.

You might like to read the following quote to the class. Explain that Mary Foley is the mother of Charlotte, a 15-year-old girl who was stabbed and killed at a party in 2005. This is part of what she has to say about her decision to forgive Charlotte’s killer:

‘For myself I knew that if I didn’t forgive, anger and bitterness would turn me into a person Charlotte would not have liked. A person that none of my family or friends would have liked, for that matter.

At first forgiveness was about freeing me, because without forgiveness I felt I would have ended up a prisoner’.

For Mary’s full statement, go to


Ask the students to write a letter to someone with a reason to hate someone else. It could be someone who has been the victim of violent crime (or the relative of a crime victim), someone whose partner has been unfaithful or any other scenario that the students can think of. The letter should encourage them to choose forgiveness rather than hatred, explaining why this is a better choice for the wellbeing of the recipient of the letter. Students should demonstrate their understanding of Christian thinking on the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation.


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