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What makes an apology genuine?

When someone who has hurt you says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong and I apologize. Will you forgive me?” How does it sound in your ears?   Bob from Alaska wrote me and got me thinking about apologies. He said he wasn’t an Evangelical, but that he appreciated some of the things I say on the blog….
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
When someone who has hurt you says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong and I apologize. Will you forgive me?” How does it sound in your ears?
Bob from Alaska wrote me and got me thinking about apologies. He said he wasn’t an Evangelical, but that he appreciated some of the things I say on the blog.
I thanked him and thought for a while about how the word “Evangelical” has fallen on hard times.
To some people it’s a synonym for “Judgmental.” When you say “I’m an Evangelical,” they hear, “I’m a Judgmental.”
So many people have had poor experiences with Evangelicals. Cathleen Falsani, a writer who happens to be an Evangelical puts it this way, “Most of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose
voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat
Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Chuck Colson. Not surprisingly, my friends
hadn’t experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving,
accepting or open-minded.”

We say we have a personal relationship with Jesus.
We say that we just want to love people.
We wear our politics on our sleeves.
And yes, we are known for being judgmental.
It’s a problem.
So, I decided to write a letter of apology to all the people we Evangelicals have hurt. Perhaps it would help people like Bob to know that some of us who wear the Evangelical label prefer to focus on grace and authenticity instead of pointing fingers.
I was going to post it to the blog, but then came doubts. Can I really speak in such a broad way? Wouldn’t a lot be lost in translation? Can it be an apology when you’re addressing the blogosphere?
When I polled them, my friends were split on the subject.
And I realized that, while apologizing is in general a good thing, it has to be done right. A blanket mass apology works when say, you’re the Chancellor of Germany apologizing to the Jewish people. Or perhaps you’re a politician whose bad policies led the nation into an economic slump and you just now realized it.
But when the person doing the apologizing doesn’t have enough skin in the game, it can sound hollow. Or it doesn’t work if the apology is coupled with qualifiers, as in, “I’m sorry the economy is poor, but my predecessors are responsible,” or “I wish I’d been present in the home more while you were growing up, but the demands of work were heavy.”
We all mess up and need grace. The irony is that many of us are waiting to hand out grace if the apology would just come and if it were sincere. My guess is most of you reading this are either needing to apologize for something or are waiting for an apology.
Humility can be hard and sometimes if it’s there, we can’t find the right words. How about you – are you waiting for someone to apologize? Or is there a relationship where you need to apologize? What would it look like if you were to do it?

Comments (11)

  • Hey Seth,

    I don’t think it is bogus at all. It counts, if it is genuine.

    I think we can make a confession to God on behalf of a people group, we can also apologize for whom we associate, culture, people group etc.

    But God is all about reconciliation, and we are on a mission to love like Jesus and in reconciling the hearts of the children towards their Father, agents of reconciliation.

    So I say go ahead and make your apologies. I stand with you and apologize for all the ways we Christians, me included, have acted unlike Jesus.


  • As an “evangelical” (don’t really know if I still qualify) I feel apologetic all the time. The heart of the word means “good news” or “something that someone would want to hear”. I’m not sure much of the news we give out is really that “good”.

    Brian McLaren in his book “A Generous Orthodoxy” differentiates between big E and little e evangelicals. The former has become a political move – a prescribed way to think about social issues, science, immigration, health care, even the Bible. The later is a focus on spreading the good news through love, meeting felt needs, and walking in grace.

    We should, therefore, never apologize for spreading the good news of God’s love and acceptance. But we should absolutely apologize for making it about who you vote for and what you vote for…

    thanks Seth

  • Sounds like the basis of “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers” (thanks, BTW). But where does it end?

    Sorry for how we’ve treated gays.
    Sorry for turning church into a country club.
    Sorry for neglecting Jesus on the streets.
    Sorry for __________ (fill in the blanks)

    At the end of the day we can’t be apologists for anyone but ourselves. Especially if we continue to do the things we’re apologizing for.

  • @ Glenn– book or movie? Just bought the book the other day… because the title is… catchy (and resonant)

    I grew up in a multi-racial church and remember, as a kid, our “racial reconciliation dinners” where we would hear each other’s apologies for ways that others of my race have hurt those of yours. As a kid, it didn’t make sense how healing that was for the people in that room.

    Growing up, and seeing these same kinds of broad apologies happen on a sweeping level- on behalf of fathers who have forgotten their families under the weight of success at work, on behalf of children who have said “I hate you” and run from home, on behalf of peers who have turned and walked away when they should have run to your aid, and on behalf of the church to the LGBT community and others– having seen those as an adult, it’s started to make sense.

    Because there’s something about an apology, even when it’s not from the in-flesh-person who did the hurting, that breaks down walls and encourages reconciliation and repentance… particularly because a refusal to forgive affects us in so many more relationships than just the one– it’s baggage we carry everywhere.

    This is a good conversation. Thanks for opening this door.

  • Seth,
    I think this post turned out alright.

    And with Melinda, Glenn, Joy, and the gang (sounds kind of like Kool & the Gang…), I’ll stand with you on this one.

    And hope that my life leaves the footprints of grace and a loving God rather than the shenanigans of self-import and judgement. Geez. I’ve got a long way to go.


  • My gut reaction when reading this post was that it is absolutely OK to apologize…humbly for not always representing Christ in a way that is praiseworthy. If it is finger pointing and splinter examining at others, rather than self reflection, and humbly examining the plank in our own eyes, then it is problematic. But if the common denominator is Jesus and the sorrow he feels when he sees sin (any kind) I believe it is appropriate and have made these verbal connections with people myself.

  • Thanks Seth for provoking some thought here. Cathleen Falsani is a Wheaton College graduate and a friend. She has a very interesting book called “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Cohen Brothers”.

    I think apologies are meant to be personal for the most part. And in the end we all are compelled to forgive which is more or less difficult depending on the offense.

    The comments here had me hearkening back to a season when I connected with someone whom I believed I offended. After offering an apology and asking for forgiveness he responded…”Let me get back to you on that.” That was seven years ago…

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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