Apologies are hard. When you have to own up to your mess and admit you’ve done something wrong, it can be difficult to find the humility and vulnerability necessary to say you’re sorry. Which explains why so many recent apologies have been criticized as anemic, lacking genuine remorse. Many have asked, in the wake of the #metoo movement, what exactly should those accused of misconduct and the objectification of women do to make amends? Is there anything that a man can say once he’s been accused of acting inappropriately that will show he understands what he’s done and that he’s genuinely filled with remorse and wants to make things right?
So far, it seems the answer is no. No matter what kind of apology has been given, the watching world says that once you’ve violated the boundaries of sexual assault or sexual harassment, there is no forgiveness. But I am part of a different world. I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we are not bound to public opinion and open and shut cases. There’s grace among us, or at least there should be. We serve a God who redeems all things. The problem is that we haven’t yet figured out how to hold ourselves and one another accountable while still offering the grace and forgiveness we see in Jesus. We don’t know what that’s supposed to look like yet.
But we do know what we’re not looking for. We don’t want to see excuses. We don’t need to hear about how the victims who have come forward have destroyed you. We definitely don’t want just words. This has played out so clearly in the Paige Patterson story. In case you missed it, the leader in the SBC has come under fire for inappropriate comments made about a young girl as well as his sermon illustration about counseling a woman who was being abused to stay and submit to her husband so maybe he’d come to Christ. He apologized this week. Well, sort of. His is just the latest in a long line of #sorrynotsorry apologies made by leaders caught up in #churchtoo scandals. The grace and compassion some feel is appropriate just seems like giving a pass to others. And I think the root is in the lack of action in his apology. So I thought I’d try to offer an example of what Dr. Patterson’s apology could have been:
I’ve made comments that were damaging and harmful to the image of God as reflected in women. I also once gave a battered wife the terrible and dangerous counsel of staying with her abusive husband instead of leaving that night. Rather than understanding my error, I have used that story over and over in my sermons, giving women the impression that God hates divorce more than God hates abuse. It doesn’t matter how long ago these things occurred. I was wrong, and I’m truly sorry. I have participated in the sin of misogyny and patriarchal views of women, and I recognize this is not the action of a Godly man. We live in a world of hurt and sorrow, and the last thing that I need to do is add to anyone’s heartache. Please forgive my thoughtless and careless speech. Words have power, and I’ve used that power destructively.
I would also like to explain that I now utterly reject any form of abuse in demeaning or threatening talk, in physical blows, or in forced sexual acts. There is no excuse for anyone to use intemperate language or to attempt to injure another person. The Spirit of Christ is one of comfort, kindness, encouragement, truth, and grace; and that is what I desire my voice always to be from this point forward.
To all people I offer my apology, but especially to women, to the family of Southern Baptists, my friends and the churches. I sincerely pray that somehow this apology will show my heart and may strengthen you in the love and graciousness of Christ. To demonstrate my remorse, I am choosing to step down from the pulpit at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting this summer in Dallas. The alternate, Dr. Kie Bowman, will do a wonderful job of unifying the Southern Baptist Convention so that we can move forward.
There. Fixed that for you.