Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Apologizing for the actions of others

Hardly a week goes by when some Christian group or leader isn’t apologizing for the actions of our society or churches or for the actions of Christians in the past. The crusades, slavery, sexual abuse, and persecution for heresy are probably the most common ones. 

Of course, these were terrible things for Christians to do.  I would be the last to suggest otherwise.  But are today’s Christians responsible to apologize for the acts of others or previous generations? 

Kevin DeYoung, in a recent blog entitled False Apology Syndrome, draws upon C.S. Lewis’ article “Dangers of National Repentance” in suggesting that it is “always dangerous when we are apologizing for something we disdain in someone else. Some solidarity with your country or your own history can be a good thing, but is can also easily turn into the sin of pride where we ‘confess’ all the stupid things our benighted forefathers weren’t smart enough to avoid.” As Lewis wrote, “The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting of our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others.”

DeYoung continues, “The (false apology) syndrome is dangerous because it allows us to feel good without having to be good. We get all of the moral high ground that comes with confession and none of the personal pain….We get to feel grandiose for “our” guilt without actually having to change.

It would not take guts for me to stand on my soap box in Kenya and confess America’s high divorce rate, our alarming number of out-of-wedlock births, and the countless abortions we perform. Nor would it be big of me to preach a series of sermons apologizing for the church’s faults where I lament our wicked popes, our positive thinking Jesus, and our watered-down seeker friendly megaplexes. I already think all of those are wrong and I always have. And I have no part in them. What courage or humility does it take for me to “apologize” for these wrongs when none of them are mine? Such a sermon series would be viewed as thinly disguised disdain for other people’s problems.

I took the time today to read through Lewis’ original essay and was struck by its relevance after all of these years. Confession should never be easy. It is hard and it costs.  Confessing or apologizing for the so-called sins or actions or others or other generations costs us nothing and is most often simply a cleverly disguised expression of pride – the exact opposite of what confession is really all about.

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