In these perilous times, when apologies have been fully weaponized, I would like to urge everyone to obtain and read, and depending on the circumstances, possibly memorize, the essay by C.S. Lewis called “Dangers of National Repentance.” It can be found in God in the Dock, and is a word for our time.
I have previously written about how demands for apologies are a central weapon in our cultural conflicts, and how refusal to apologize is often a baseline Christian duty. Check here. And while I believe that every Christian should confess his sins honestly and regularly, I am getting to the point where I believe that if it is in any way related to issues of political correctness, micro-aggression, cultural appropriation, rape culture, critical theory, and what not, a person should not apologize for anything unless the archangel Gabriel himself shows up personally during his evening prayers and gives him a memo from above that says “you gotta.”
But Wait, There’s More:
But there is another way to weaponize an apology, and this is where the C.S. Lewis essay comes in. You really need to read the whole essay, but let me pull some salient quotes for you here.
“Men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable.”
But . . .
“Repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others.”
“You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition.”
Lewis quotes Wordsworth:
Where passions have the privilege to work
And never hear the sound of their own names.
The end result of all this is that “you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion.”
Insert Important Qualification Here:
We live on a screwed up planet, and we are fully capable of screwing it up in more than one direction. So just above I was noting the wickedness of our apology culture, which does not care a farthing (yes, I said farthing, sue me) for justice. The apology culture cares only about advancing the cause, and so condemnation of the innocent is nothing to them.
But we can and do screw it up in the other direction also. Many quadrants of the church really are a Hypocrisy Fest, where church leaders have ogled and groped and fornicated and covered up and lied and misdirected and blame-shifted, and as a result have left devastated parishioners in their wake. Yes, that happens, and it happens a lot. Remember that I wrote a novel about all this, one called Evangellyfish. Not a few churches should really be called Polecat Presbyterian or Bachelor Party Baptist.
There are some who maintain (their condemnation is just) that I am on the side of the guilty because I would like to determine guilt before assigning punishment. Clearly, they say, I must be a defender of sexual offenders because I believe in due process. This is entirely false. I have made this clear in many ways, but would like to say it again in yet another way. If God were to pour out a spirit of real repentance and reformation on the contemporary church, there would be many leaders who would bust themselves, resign their positions, and receive the discipline of the church in all meekness. Their victims, who had to suffer in silence or ignominy, would finally be vindicated.
So due process is not the enemy of the victim. Due process is how we find out who the victim is. When a pastor molests a girl in his congregation, she is the victim. When a girl accuses a pastor of doing so, and the charge is false, then he is the victim. We are required by all that is holy in God to do our level best to find who the victim is before we start ruining people’s lives for them. The fact that this is often a difficult task is no reason to shirk it.
Back to the Apology Party:
Earlier this morning, I tweeted this:
“Now that Beth Moore has apologized for whiteness, and Thabiti has apologized for some eye rolls, I would like to take this opportunity to say that I am not sorry at all for wearing that Chinese dress to the prom. It was cute, and I would do it again in a shot.” #Intersectionality
Clearly I was taking a shot, but at what?
When we seek forgiveness from another, we are seeking the restoration of a relationship. Sin has disrupted it, and we have acknowledged our fault in that disruption, and we are seeking to put things right.
But when I read things coming out of the apology culture that is now taking root in the soft evangelical Reformed left (and you know what I mean), it does not have that effect at all. The reason is—and I refer you back to Lewis’s insight—these apologies are simply veiled accusations or attacks, and sometimes not so veiled.
When I see someone lose patience with somebody else, and he says a bunch of reckless things, and I then see him come back into the room five minutes later in humility and contrition, I am observing the restoration of relationship. This is the kind of thing that should delight every true heart. It addresses sin, it does so in an honest and biblical way, and it is entirely edifying.
But if a man comes into a room where there is a man who has lost a leg, and he apologizes to him for his still having ten toes, something other than restoration of relationship is going on. In fact, a number of things are going on, and one of them is veiled accusation. The thought immediately occurs to me . . . “I have ten toes too. Does he think that I am wronging this fellow also? Why am I feeling accused all of a sudden?” You are feeling accused because you are being accused.
Masculinity is a gift, not a sin. Whiteness is a gift, not a sin. I was about to balance these statements in all the predictable ways, but decided not to—not because I don’t believe in such balance but because I want to invite all the reasonable people out there to fill in the balance for me.
Individuals, churches, families, denominations, and tribes should all be willing to confess sins. They should be willing to make restitution as needed. But if some missional sob sister starts seeking forgiveness from the brown-eyed of the world because the blue-eyed have enjoyed a disproportionate share of all the good luck, you will have to excuse me while I tap out. I’m gone. And I won’t even feel bad. It is my duty to not feel bad.