Should Christians apologize?

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As you may have heard, Shane Claiborne wrote a letter to non-believers for Esquire this week. He opens the letter with an apology, saying, “I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity. Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.”

Claibrone’s heartfelt apology reminded me a little of Donald Miller’s story of the “confession booth,” recounted in Blue Like Jazz, in which Miller and a group of young Christians apologized to their Reed College classmates for everything from the Crusades to televangelists.

For those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it’s inevitable that we will be confronted now and then with the humbling discrepancies between the way of Jesus and the way of Christianity. The regret I felt over my own shortcomings compelled me to issue a public apology to the LGBTQ community in a guest post I wrote for my friend Adele’s Queermergent blog entitled “An Evangelical’s Apology.” 

But lately I’ve been wondering if apologies are effective. As those of you who are married certainly know, apologies are meaningless unless accompanied by a change in behavior. So what are Christians to do when we know we will always fall short of our Savior? Is our hypocrisy made worse when we apologize without change? And how can we effectively apologize on behalf of a large and diverse community over which we have little control?

Things get especially complicated when you consider the fact that Christians disagree over which behaviors should be changed in conjunction with our apologies.

For example, most Christians I know agree that gays and lesbians have been horribly mistreated by the religious community, and that it’s time for a change in attitude and approach.  The problem is that some of us think this means we should stop picking on the gays and lesbians regarding their civil rights, that the 84 million dollars spent on Proposition 8 could be better spent somewhere else—on poverty and hunger, for example. Other Christians think that abandoning the fight against gay marriage signals a lack of conviction. Both sides are pretty convinced they are doing what Jesus would do. Are we making things worse by apologizing on behalf of one another and exposing our lack of unity?

I am not ashamed of the Gospel, but I sure as hell am ashamed of abuses of it. And I imagine that you are too. But how do we respond to these abuses in a Christ-like way?

For Christians: What do you think about apologies? Have you ever apologized to a person or to a group of people for falling short of your commitment to live like Jesus? Have you ever apologized on behalf of the Christian community? How can apologies be more effective?

For Skeptics: How do you respond when Christians apologize for their shortcomings? Do you find it encouraging? Ironic? Hypocritical?

For Those Who Have Been Hurt By Christians: How have you been hurt? Has anyone ever apologized? How would an apology make you feel?

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