The Sacred Work of an Honest Apology
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
On June 26, 2015, George Robertson, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, wrote an essay entitled, “We, and Our Fathers, Have Sinned.” The article was reprinted on August 3, 2015, at the Gospel Coalition. Here’s an excerpt:
As white members and leaders of evangelical churches, we must repent of our passivity and/or proactivity during the dark days of our Nation’s Jim Crow era. We must repent of our passivity: our sins of omission in which we failed to seek justice, follow the golden rule, and resist the cultural temptation to hoard power. But we must also repent of our activity: the ways that we actively contributed to and participated in the sinful and exclusionary culture of the day both knowingly and unknowingly. Jesus said that whether or not you are actually guilty of offending your brother, if/when you learn that he has something against you, you must “get going” and pursue reconciliation with him. Even if you are in the middle of a worship service, you must “leave your gift and be reconciled to your brother.” Through the decades, we have learned that our African-American brothers rightly have “something against us.” In their years of struggle, even to the present day, we have failed to validate their oppression and at times have contributed to it.
If this excerpt stirs up strong feelings in you, I encourage you to pause, take a moment to read the brief High Calling reflection, “Five Prompts for Praying the News” by Kristi Atkinson, and then come back here.
I’ve been engaged in conversations about race in the North American church for many, many years. Often, these conversations go around in circles with people taking sides and building up walls. George Robertson’s essay feels something like forward movement, and I worry that people may invalidate Roberston’s perspective or poke holes in his argument.
Apologizing for something is hard work, and accepting an apology is a holy and sacred charge.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he included these words: “ … forgive us … as we also have forgiven.” When we go to God, seeking forgiveness, he tells us he is quick to forgive. He doesn’t keep a record of our faults and failings. He extends forgiveness to us and continues to woo each of us back to himself.
We do not forgive as quickly as God; we are human, after all. But perhaps we can remember how hard it is for someone to apologize, and let that stand for something.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What is the most difficult part of offering an apology? Is there someone whose apology you need to accept? Is there someone to whom you need to apologize?
PRAYER: I want to be able to forgive when I need to and to apologize whenever necessary. Help me to be gracious and to treat honest and sincere apologies with the kindness and respect they deserve. Let my apologies be honest and sincere, and let my forgiveness be a sacred act of reconciliation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.