Friday, September 18, 2015

What counts as an apology?

I am interrupting my string of game notes from Dungeons and Dragons to write something that seems to be relevant to a broader cultural issue.

This week there is has been a couple of public incidents where apologies were issued.

  1. Joy Behar on The View, made comments about Miss America contestant, and nurse, Kelley Johnson. The next couple of days were filled with the retractions, re-framing, and re-positioning necessary to smooth the waters.
  2. Stephen Amell (currently one of my favorite actors on television), made a comment that was leaped upon by his social media followers. His response was to vacate his very active social media presence for a time.
  3. Ahmed Mohammed, a 14 year old high school student, made a clock from scratch and took it to school. The school misunderstood it's nature and declared a bomb threat. He was removed from class, detained in a room, interrogated without representation or parental presence, and branded as a terrorist. This got nation-wide media attention but there has not been a public apology or making amends from the school or local law enforcement to offset the stigma that they placed upon a young person.
These are three cases were something happened and another was harmed in some way (mostly emotionally or with regard to reputation). But each of them was handled in different ways. Which one of these involves a true apology?

But maybe the bigger question should be, how should a follower of Christ handle a similar situation?

The majority of Christ-followers is not a media star. It may be easy to think, "I would never be in one of those situations." But what if we reframed the situation?

  1. Have you made a mistake and when confronted with it you used justifications or explanations without getting to a heart-felt or appropriate apology?
  2. Have you done something to offend another person and chose to follow the path of least resistance? By that I mean, you chose to avoid them for a while until things smoothed over.
  3. Have you ever been justified in doing something to another person because circumstances allowed you to do whatever it was?
We don't have to be media stars. We run into enough opportunities to be in a place to offer an apology. I do it fairly regularly. Usually with those people who live under the same roof as I do. How should Christians be truly apologetic?

How about we don't apologize.

Followers of the way are not about offering words of apology. They are about offering words of healing, of reconciliation. Apologies don't get close to that sometimes. It takes a special effort to go beyond saying, "I am sorry."

I teach in sermons and pastoral counseling that the six most powerful words we can use are "Please, forgive me," and "I forgive you." Those six words are not used enough. But they are words of healing and reconciliation when they are applied correctly.

In Christian love, we are to be forgiving and grace-led. When we have hurt or offended another, we should use these qualities. Grace should motivate us to see that how we harmed another person is not right. We broke the relationship and should move to heal it. Grace asks that other person, "You are the one who has the power, you are the own who has the authority to make this right. I am the one who broke what we had. Will you extend forgiveness toward me?"

Forgiveness is not our right. We are not entitled to be forgiven. It is a gift the other person extends to us. It is theirs to offer. We only have the right to ask. And if they choose not to forgive us, that is their choice.

In Christian love, we are to be forgiving and grace-led. When we have been hurt or offended, and that person comes to us asking for forgiveness, then we are in the place to follow God's example. God offers forgiveness and grace to any and all who come, seeking forgiveness, and repenting of that harm that they did. God chooses to forgive. And according to the New Testament, God expects us to offer the same that was shown to us.

We are not required to forgive. But there seems to be heavy statements in the New Testament that withholding forgiveness negates our own ability to know or understand the forgiveness shown to us by God. In choosing to say, "I forgive you," there is no requirement to forget the wrong done. There is no assumption that all things will be done away with.

Instead, it is because we can't let go of the past that constant forgiveness is necessary. Giving that gift of forgiveness has to happen every time the thought of that wrong doing comes up. We may have to do it mentally. We may have to do it face-to-face with the person. But forgiveness doesn't happen once-for-all in the human experience. It is a practice, a discipline, that takes time and repetition to make stick.