Can Christianity Learn to Say, “I’m Sorry”?

Im Sorry Campaign
Jesus never said “I’m sorry.” Sure, when He was being crucified He cried out “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (NIV)” But technically He was apologizing on behalf of others and not for a sin He actually committed.

Apologizing is one of the only Christian virtues Jesus didn’t do Himself.

Maybe this is why Christians rarely hear sermons or teachings about apologizing to non-Christians. Mainstream Christian culture teaches the opposite: believers are always right. The inner-circle perception is that Christians don’t make mistakes—only non-Christians do.

As children we’re taught to apologize for lying, stealing, hitting our little brother, budging in line, cheating on a test, and swearing (among other things). Most people with common decency apologize to each other for these trivial wrongdoings, but when it comes to spiritual things—especially on a widespread and corporate level—Christians rarely apologize to people beyond their faith.

When Christians do apologize, it’s often reserved for fellow believers and viewed as an act of righteousness, or it’s a forced act of public accountability, but even then it’s infrequent. We’ve all witnessed theologians, pastors, and parishioners verbally attack one another—but a heartfelt apology is rare.

Related: It is time for the American Christian Church to Surrender the Gay Marriage Fight, Apologize, and Share Love – by Ian Ebright

Despite vast Biblical support requiring followers of Christ to apologize, historically, Christians have been guilty of using “forgiveness” as a pseudo-weapon to point out the sins of others. Forgive the gays, the abortionists, the liberals, the Communists, and the Muslims! Spiritual leaders have manipulated “Christian forgiveness” into a subtle way of pointing out the faults of those we disagree with. They’re sinners. They’re guilty. They’re ignorant.  They’re wrong. “Apologizing” can quickly devolve into Apologetics—becoming a form of self-righteous elitism.

We burn books, boycott, create petitions, post hateful social media comments, hold up protest signs, shame individuals, attack, ridicule, engage in endless culture wars—then we expect them to apologize to us. For decades Christians have been guilty of this because they’ve been in a position of mainstream acceptance and power and faced little resistance.

Christians mistakenly believe that apologizing discredits everything they’ve ever said. As if saying “we’re sorry” will somehow negate the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. In reality, apologizing promotes honesty, transparency, authenticity and humility, things all Christians should exhibit throughout their lives. When Christians apologize, it adds integrity and legitimacy to their words and actions.

Recently, Alan Chambers from Exodus International, a controversial interdenominational organization that “ministered” to homosexuals, apologized for the harm his ministry had caused to various people. The reaction was amazing, and most of the response was overwhelmingly positive. Ironically, Chambers probably gained more respect from the Gay community by apologizing than he did from all of his previous years working at Exodus.

The apology raised headlines because it’s rare for Christian groups to apologize (especially publicly). Unfortunately, Chambers’ apology is the exception to the rule within Christianity, and corporate apologies (or any type of apology) continue to be uncommon—but they shouldn’t be.

Brave New Films

The Marin Foundation, another group working with the gay community, started an entire movement entitled ‘The I’m Sorry Campaign‘ in an effort to apologize on behalf of Christians for the enormous pain and suffering caused because of homophobic bigotry. There was (and continues to be) tremendous and affirming feedback to their work.

Also by Stephen: Christianity’s 5 Most Popular Scapegoats

As Christians, we need to continue this trend. When our pastors, leaders, churches, and organizations sin against our neighbors and communities, we must apologize instead of rationalize. There are no excuses.

Millions watch as Christians spew hateful things in the name of Christ, and fellow believers are often painfully silent. We’ve been silent for too long. There is no shame in admitting our sins and owning up to them. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is constantly correcting his disciples and holding them accountable—we need to do the same.

Apologizing is a sacred act. Christians need to stop seeing themselves as being more morally and spiritually superior than those around them and start embracing the idea of being humble servants who fiercely love everyone. Apologizing is intrinsic to loving. Imagine how the world would be different if Christians throughout history had been brave enough to say these two simple words: “I’m sorry.”

Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Photo Credit: Michelle Gantner / Maladjusted Media

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About the Author

Stephen Mattson

Stephen MattsonStephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. Paul. Follow him on Twitter @mikta and on his personal blog stephenjmattson.comView all posts by Stephen Mattson →

  • Kristine

    Good article, I would just add that it doesn’t just become another “Christian trend” but that it is always an apology from the heart and that comes with genuine remorse and not just because people want to jump on the bandwagon of another “movement.”

  • Frank

    I think that we all should be free with authentic apologies when required. What we do not have to apologize for is speaking Gods truth about marriage and sexuality.

    • Wesley van der Linde

      What is ‘God’s truth’ about marriage may I ask?

      • Frank

        I think you know…. God made them male and female be fruitful and multiply. Affirmed and restated by Jesus.

        • William Dhalgren

          How many kids did Jesus have?

          • Frank

            None. What’s the point? He was not married and did not engage in sex, no need to.

          • John

            Didn’t both Jesus and Paul say that it’s better not to marry?

          • Frank

            Exactly, which if Jesus is the standard, celibacy is the standard. So celibacy is the best way to honor God and heterosexual marriage is next best. There are only two ways to honor a God sexually.

    • bluecenterlight

      I think when it comes to the homosexual community there are a lot of things we can apologize for without condoning their “sin”. During the AIDS epidemic, when we should have come along side them, and ministered to them, sat in the hospital with them, been Jesus to them. We pointed our finger at them and called down Gods wrath. When TV preachers blamed hurricane Katrina on them. Every bloated corpse, nursing homes filled with drowned elderly people, precious children who were taken away from their parents. We either laid that responsibility at their doorstep, or we were silent. When we were in school, and those who were weaker and didn’t fit in were pushed around and called “faggot” and we didn’t say anything because we were afraid. We could apologize for those things.

      • Frank

        Yes the Church should apologize for those things and any Christian who participated in that should apologize as well.

        • bluecenterlight

          I think the point of the article is that when the church apologies because it is told to, or forced to admit it was wrong, it carries the same weight as telling your child to “apologize to your sister” after you pushed her down in the dirt. It doesn’t carry much weight.

          • Frank

            You are right it doesn’t. That’s what happens when you have to force apologies.

  • Kristine

    When we stand before The Lord on that day Frank, do you think Jesus will ask; “Well, how many kids did you have? How many miracles, signs, wonders and healings did ‘you’ perform, how many people did ‘you’ correct, how many words of prophecy did ‘you’ give, all these things he equips us to do. The question I believe he will ask us is, “Did you learn to love?” That takes free will on our part, to love those we may not agree with, not to beat people with scripture we take out of context and make a doctrine out of and cast people out if they don’t abide by it. Ugh is all I have to say about modern Christianity. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

    • Frank

      Theree is no love whatsoever in supporting, affirming, accepting, condoning, celebrating or remaining silent over sinful behavior. So yes you are correct I think. We will be asked “Did you learn to love?”

      • Kristine

        Well Frank, we are to support each other as human beings, not black, white, gay, or straight, we support each other because we still live in a fallen world and it is love that reaches out. We accept each other as human beings, children of God, everyone. Condoning, that is a slippery slope of a word because people are broken, have bias, and still have woundedness in many areas, so to say we condone or don’t condone is a judgment. And you can pick many verses out that I am well aware of and say we are supposed to judge, however always err on the side of love, not judgment for God is merciful and kind and it is that kindness that leads anyone of us to repentance, not people pointing a judgmental finger. Remaining silent? I disagree. We can bring everything to Jesus quietly in prayer and leave the convicting to the Holy Spirit. Sinful behavior? Do you realize that when you say this to another human being that wants the same things as straight people, like love, family, acceptance, you devalue them and that is why they get angry and protest. Not everyone who is gay does get angry and protests though, many get hurt and feel so depressed they choose to take their own lives over it, so be careful of being silent and speaking, for life and death are in the tounge, and let no perverse thing come from our mouths. Speak love, compassion, edification, think on the things that are lovely and you will see how you see gay people as just, people, people that want the same things as you do. You have these freedoms, they don’t, think if you didn’t. If you were beaten for holding your spouses hand or frowned upon, spit upon. What would you do? Or better yet, lets use a real Christianese cliche, what would Jesus do? He would love. Thanks for reading Frank.

        • Frank

          He would love and forgive and say “Go and sin no more.”

          Homosexual behavior in any form is a sin. Letting people habitually sin is an act of hate not love.

          And yes no perverse things should come out of our mouth including “its ok to engage in sinful behavior.”

        • Drew

          I agree that Frank can be out of line and divisive when there is no need to be by hijacking threads and making them about homosexuality or abortion when there is no need to do so.

          That being said, most of your response lacks a Biblical foundation. Unfortunately, liberal Christianity has trade in the Biblical definition of love for a worldly definition of love. Love, according to liberal Christianity, is whatever makes us feel good. That could not be further from the truth.

          Hiding in your closet and letting the Holy Spirit convict is not found in the Bible; you have made that up yourself. Matthew 18:15-17, the “Red Letters” that most “Red Letter Christians” claim but ignore, tells us that we when a brother sins that we should tell them, not run and hide and pray. I know it makes liberal Christians uncomfortable, because they are concerned the world will not love them, but let’s follow Jesus in this matter, not a philosophy that we have made up ourselves.

          • Frank

            I didn’t hijack this thread. The “I’m Sorry” campaign was part of the blog post and I think its important to understand what we do and do not have to be sorry for. We are to be sorry if we have treated anyone without love and compassion but we don’t need to be sorry about stating Gods created order as what we should be striving for.

          • Drew

            I know one of your weaknesses is being defensive, Frank, so I’ll just respond with “God bless” and leave it at that.

          • Frank

            Ok but I was not being defensive here (not saying I am never defensive) I am simply stating why it was appropriate to bring this issue on this thread. But if it makes you feel better that you “corrected” me and can walk away self satisfied then go for it.

          • Drew

            The worst way to prove you’re not defensive is to be defensive about being defensive, which is what you’ve done. Anyways, clearly you need to have the last word as well, so I’m done on this one.

          • Kristine

            Soooooo you got the last word, eh? Lol

          • Kristine

            I have been around and even told others about the biblical foundation, the problem for me with that anymore is a lot of scripture and foundation has been shaped by the writings of ‘inspired men’ and even inspired men are still just men, flesh and blood, with bias and wounded issue, with grudges and anger that is not godly, so in saying that I try to live my life now from a loving foundation,muses the fruits of the spirit as my guide, not scripture verses that others use as a weapon to beat people into submission. Look Drew, I have been in the famous Christian world for a while and it is disturbing what happens behind the scenes. The Lord told me when I first starting walking with him that he’d take me to many churches, ministries, nations and people’s and show me what the inside of the cup looks like, know what I mean? The heart of a nation, ministry church or person and he has certainly done that. I have never hidden in a closet remaining idle. I have never lived my life according to what only felt good, quite to the contrary. I lived my life for 12 years with only one suitcase, sleeping on whatever was available and walking through doors only The Lord could open, so please, I am not blowing smoke up anyone’s butt on here, I speak from hard core experience. The way I live my life before others and how I judge, is by the fruits of the sprint, on which there is no law. I have rarely been comfortable in the places I have been asked to share something, quite contrary, most times The Lord had shown me some real disturbing things within the church walls and a lot of times after I was invited because of gifts they saw, I was uninvited because I was shown these disturbing things and church leaders did not want to hear it, so please, do not assume to clump everyone into your own bias category ok? And Frank was not being defensive, he was at least being real. You seemed too point out quite a lot about your brother in Christ, pretty divisive thing to do in an open forum. Tis I know grieves the heart of The Lord more than many obvious sins you choose to point out in people. Religious arrogance is a stench in the nostrils of The Lord.

          • Frank

            Hey Kristen thanks for sharing more about yourself.

            I think we all need to keep reminding ourselves that communicating on a comment board is not the best way to communicate clearly and fully. There are so many things that are left unsaid and so many things that cannot be adequately expressed through this medium (intentions, tone, etc…)

            Drew and myself are more alike than I would care to admit so while he loses focus at times and gets distracted in one-upmanship I choose to cut him some slack as I would want that for myself.

        • DrewTwoFish

          Are you new to “Frank”? His raison d’etre for wrt these discussions is letting people know that “x” is wrong and that the highest form of love is letting people know that “x” is wrong. (X usually being homosexuality)..oh,and getting the last word in. Almost every other consideration is inconsequential. Having said that, I still find myself rising to the bait. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. : > )

  • bluecenterlight

    When you reflect on scripture and church history, apologies should come easy for us. We have seldom got it right, and when we have, it has only been brief glimpses before we’ve screwed it up. When Jesus says “how long must I suffer you?” (He still says that today BTW), the only response is, “I’m sorry”.

  • Michael

    “Despite vast Biblical support requiring followers of Christ to apologize, historically, Christians have been guilty of using “forgiveness” as a pseudo-weapon to point out the sins of others.”
    Which is what is being done here! These “apologies” are just backhanded ways of pointing out the faults of the other Christians who did the things being apologize for.
    I’d like to take a moment to apoligize for this essay. Am I being humble or insulting?

  • Mary Van Orshoven

    I am confused. Is this article saying that by Christian’s are apologizing to homosexuals (otherwise known as non-Christians)? There are many gay people who are Christians. It’s just that some Christians have shunned others Christians (not just homosexuals).

  • SamHamilton

    Is there a Biblical warrant for apologizing on behalf of what other people have said or done (corporate apologies)? For some reason it always bothers me when one person apologizes for the actions of another person. It’s like they’re trying to gain some sort of credit without admitting any sort of wrong doing on their part. I think it’s different if the appointed leader of an organization apologies on behalf of an organization he or she leads.

  • Joel Kessler

    Being sorry is the first step, but actually fighting for the rights of gays in the world and in the church is the next step. “Being gay is not a sin” is a great website by Matthew Vines. His youtube video will take away any excuse people might have for not supporting those with a gay orientation. Repentance doesn’t just mean being sorry, but producing the fruit of repentance.

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