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Sin, Apologies, and Forgiveness

August 7, 2014

It happens over and over.  Somebody sins, perhaps sins egregiously.  We are all shocked, even horrified.  Next, the offending person apologies, maybe even profoundly and profusely.  Third, we are told he or she needs to be forgiven.  It all seems pretty straightforward.  And straightforward is what we evangelicals are hungry for.  We like clarity.  Follow steps 1, 2, and 3 and everything is back to normal and we are all happy.

Or not. 

I shared several days ago that Seattle-based mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll was revealed to have posted, under an assumed name, a lot of vile and vulgar stuff on the internet.  Predictably this set off a widespread chorus of condemnation from more people than I could possibly link to.  We have now come to step 2, the next phase in the process, the apology.  Driscoll, in a letter to his congregation that was picked up by Christianity Today, issued his public apology.

If things go according to script we are all supposed to forgive him and restore good old evangelical unity.  If all goes according to actual history however, that will not happen.  People by the dozens will write angry refusals to accept what they will see as a half-hearted apology and an attempt to force us to do an evangelical three-step back to sunny unity.

I’d like to take another approach however and ask myself what, in this specific instance, I might have to learn.  It is said that we learn from our mistakes but I’ve always felt it is easier, and less painful, to learn from somebody else’s mistakes.  Here are a few things that come to mind:

  1. I don’t have any standing to either accept or reject the apology.  I don’t go to Driscoll’s church.  I was not in any of the target groups he spewed hate at.  (Note:  My wife disagrees.  Driscoll at one point ranted at “sensitive” men.  My wife counts me among that number.)  But I need to remember what, if anything, is my role here.
  2. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to trust the one who wronged you. If somebody steals from my house I may want to forgive him but I don’t have to give him a house key.  Driscoll has given all of us a reason not to trust him.
  3. Forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he said isn’t hurtful. I don’t have to act as if there has been no pain inflicted.  I note that absent from the people Driscoll has apologized to are the people he directly insulted; gays and women mostly.
  4. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. The “step 3” phase we all seek is way too often seen as an immediate requirement for those who are hurt, making the wounded seem as if they are at fault.  When I hurt someone I have no right to demand instant forgiveness, when I am hurt I have no obligation to grant it.
  5. This is a time to examine the theology that drives the debate. Driscoll is an ardent complementarian.  While, to be sure, not all complementarians are abusive this makes me think that complementarian theology has abuse of women as a weak point.  His attitude on gays is also suspect.
  6. It is a good time to examine my theology too. What blind spots do I have and what errors might they lead me into?  I know all that “login my own eye” stuff but frankly it is more fun to look at the one’s in Driscoll’s eye.  More fun maybe but not more Christ-like.

All in all, I think this is a better time to be introspective than to be putting Driscoll under the microscope

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