December 27, 2013 by J. Truett Glen
What’s in an apology? An apology, by definition, is saying that you are sorry that you did or said something to someone that you regret. The word ‘sorry’ has other contexts, but it is related to an apology only when there is personal transgression involved. So, when someone says that they apologize for the actions of others, this might sooth the emotions, but it reconciles no one. If anything, apologizing for someone else’s actions is simply a way of saying, “I’m on your side, not theirs.” More times than not, I have observed that this practice only embitters parties even more towards one another rather than drawing them into reconciliation. I have a great amount of respect for those who are in the habit of asking for forgiveness for their own actions. It’s meaningful to own up to your responsibility in wronging someone, but self-serving to pretend that you speak for someone else’s conscience. I can’t speak for Evangelicalism or Christianity or even Baptists. I can, however, speak for myself. There is a saying that says, “False modesty is a telltale sign of ambition.” I think that another saying could be that an attempt at a surrogate apology could be a telltale sign of self-gratification.
So, am I saying that we can never apologize for a group, family, or organization? No, I’m saying that you ask for forgiveness for what you are responsible for. So, if the Southern Baptist Convention (meaning the meeting of board members, staff, and representatives that meet once a year) wants to formally apologize for the SBC’s stance on slavery and racism over the years, that’s a legitimate apology. But if they want to apologize for the actions of all Christians in America throughout our nation’s history, that’s a bit ridiculous and probably reveals an intention more politically motivated than anything else. I think it is a great idea to encourage reconciliation between friends when wrongs have been committed. I also think it is a great idea to encourage thoughtful conversation between differing points of view. However, apologizing for someone that you don’t speak for, to a group that you are trying to get into good graces with reveals someone in the shadows apologizing to the darkness for the consequence of the sun.
Side note: My wife and I teach our children that saying ‘sorry’ is a drive-by way of showing remorse. If you wrong someone, submit yourself to their hurt and offer them the opportunity to forgive you by asking for forgiveness. They may not, but you’ve shown them that you have considered their pain and desire to be reconciled. I’m still learning how to do this after 38 years of wronging people.