In Monday’s post, the one on Al Mohler’s apology regarding CJ Mahaney, I made a comment that I would like to develop a bit more. I said this:
“One of the hardest things in the world for human pride to do is to seek forgiveness when you have done genuine wrong. This is why it is easy for sensitive and genuine Christians (like Al Mohler) to be manipulated by those who use demands for an apology as a weapon. What they are doing is offering Christians an easy way out that is disguised as the hardest thing that any of us ever have to do. You can give in to the external pressures while believing that you are following the internal pressure of the Holy Spirit.”
We all know that when we need to humble ourselves in order to go seek forgiveness from someone, the resistance we feel—a resistance located about two/thirds of the way down our esophagus—is pride, pure and simple. We know that we need to humble our pride in order to put things right. That is straightforward enough. Pride is bad and humility good.
The sin that was committed is something that needs to be addressed, and so seeking forgiveness—which entails swallowing your pride—is the way to address it. So when we know that we have sinned, the apology is needed to put things right again.
But sin is defined by the Scriptures, and not by the feelings of those who claim to be offended. Sin is defined by Scripture and not by hurt feelings. Offensive behavior is not defined as behavior which is followed by offended behavior in someone else. Offensive behavior is that which God prohibits.
Now of course we are allowed to notice what happens when people disobey His prohibition. We are permitted to see why God prohibited such things by looking at some of the destructive consequences of disobedience. But the moral obligation does not arise from the consequences. The moral obligation arises from what God requires of us. Confusion on this point has been the source of no end of trouble.
When someone has decided to be permanently offended and aggrieved, they do create an uncomfortable situation, one that is comparable to what happens when you sin against somebody. Suppose you wrong someone, and they become cool and distant. But suppose there is another situation where you do the right thing to someone, they don’t like it, and so they also become cool and distant, just like the first one. In either case, you are dealing with an uncomfortable situation. In both cases you would like to fix it. When you are the wrong-doer, you can fix it—humble yourself and seek forgiveness. You did wrong, according to Scripture, and so you compare your behavior to what the Bible requires of you, you recognize your fault, and you go put it right.
But when the other person is the one who did the wrong, and their coolness and distance is simply their version of emotional blackmail and brinksmanship, there is a pressing temptation to apologize simply as a way of putting things back to normal. After all, it puts things right when you do need to seek forgiveness and you just do it. Apologizing when you have done wrong and apologizing when you haven’t can each get things back to a semblance of normal.
But this is just another way of saying that when things are cool and distant, you can fix it by telling the truth and you can also fix it by telling a lie. But a servant of the Lord, a Lord who is truth itself, should hate lies.
So apologies can be offered because they are owed, or they can be offered to make a situation go away. The former is the way of truth, and the latter is a lie. The juke move that is being made here works on many Christians because they are being enticed to take the easy way out (i.e. make the situation disappear), but all while reassuring themselves that they are doing the principled thing, the hard thing, and that they are walking the high mountain paths of humility. But cowardice is not humility, and humility is not timid.
Suppose I were to make a modest little joke while introducing somebody—I know, unthinkable, right?—and the next day a phalanx of victims and survivors show up to protest at my office. What makes them “victims and survivors?” The answer is the mere fact that they identify themselves as such. The fact that they are organized as a lobbying group in order to exert the kind of pressure that will get me to walk away from a friend. One advantage of being associated with a classical Christian school is that I could go talk to our classicist in to find out how to say “pound sand” in Latin. I think it is pellete harenam.
The reason I put scare quotes around “victims and survivors” in the previous paragraph is not because there could be no genuine victims in their number. But a phalanx of “victims and survivors” who are demanding that we surrender the protections of due process are a group of people who are in the process of becoming victimizers themselves. Anybody who wants to surrender the processes of justice to Trial by Internet—where under any given bridge you can find twelve trolls who would love to serve on the jury—is someone whose cynicism about human nature could use a few steroid shots.
A few months ago, leftists were kind of surprised at the blowback they got from women over their tactics against Justice Kavanaugh. It turns out that many women have fathers and brothers and husbands and sons who are dear to them, and they never want to see them get “the treatment.” They never want a mob to descend on their house. Genuine victims and genuine survivors have as much interest as everyone else in protecting the precious gift of due process. They simply have no interest in being victimized again.
It used to be that vile speech was speech that was vile. Now vile speech is defined as speech which provokes vile behavior in others. It used to be that offensive speech was offensive. Now offensive speech is that which causes offended behavior in others. It used to be that hateful speech was speech that exhibited hate. Now hateful speech is that which causes hatred to erupt from others. This is no way to run a culture. Or a church. Or a denomination. Or a popsicle stand, for that matter.
As we all know, Jesus didn’t say very much at all at His trial. But one of the few things He did say concerned this principle. “Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”” (John 18:23, ESV).