The art of the half-hearted apology

(Related: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Let’s say a long-time alcohol abuser wrote to his estranged wife whom he battered for years: “If I have done anything to offend you, I apologize and ask your forgiveness.” How do you think she’d react? How should she react? Could you blame her?

I’ve written elsewhere before: “Even a simple short letter from Sam Lee or Sarah Barry with even a qualified (half-hearted) apology like, ‘If we have hurt you, we sincerely apologize‘ would have put out a lot of fires and been satisfactory to many former members. But they cannot even do a simple thing like that. It’s much more important to them to save face, even the face of a dead man.” A half-hearted apology is a simple act with a potentially big payoff. If I had been in Lee/Barry’s shoes, I would have done it to possibly quickly defuse the anger of 2000-2001. A half-hearted apology would have been an expedient move. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s half-hearted. (In the case of an abusive cult, such an apology would be less than half-hearted. Maybe quarter-hearted. But let’s not quibble.)

See stupid UBF defense trick #1: Everything is about subjective feelings; you FELT “hurt” or you FELT “offended.” No, the problem isn’t that people (plural) were “offended” by what UBF subjected them to. The problem is that actual, specific abuses were ordered, took place and were approved of, for which there must be renunciation and accountability. It’s not that you “upset” some “overly-sensitive” members as you may claim; it’s that you committed or approved of practices that are absolutely wrong and resulted in real damage in people’s lives. Sorry, we can see through your half-hearted apologies.

And unfortunately, this hasn’t changed: UBF’s practices are still spiritually abusive, and those in positions of authority still stand in approval of past and present abuses. Half-hearted apologies are but a symptom of this reality. Even a sincere-sounding apology, though a definite improvement, would not be a guarantee that abuses and sins have been repented of. More than apologies (words) are needed.

I would not be honest if I said that I do not struggle with forgiveness. For my own good, I should forgive. For my own good, I am commanded to forgive. Any bitterness should be replaced by compassion, even for the authoritarian abusers in my past and their continuing supporters, all victims–in a way–of an abusive system. Any bitterness should be overshadowed by the joy of a new life, the opportunities of a new start that God has graciously given. But as the late Jimmy Rhee wrote:

Even so, now I realize that there are so many innocent victims and my silence cannot be justified any longer. My forgiveness also does not exclude speaking the truth (Eph 4:15).

Biblical forgiveness should not require an apology, half-hearted or otherwise. But biblical forgiveness does not equal reconciliation with a repeat abuser (or repeat abuser supporter). Reconciliation is so much more complicated and costly. And unlike forgiveness, reconciliation (among people) may not be an absolute necessity.

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