I came across two unrelated articles in the Herald this morning. Both of them got me thinking about the nature of apologies and how often we say we’re ‘sorry’ but try to protect ourselves in the process.
The first relates to a series of racist tweets fired off by a South African model (here). After the remarks on Twitter that cost her sponsorship and an award, she tweeted back her ‘sincerest apologies’, but stated that it was ‘not in her nature’ to be racist. However, according to the Herald, this incident was not isolated and the twittersphere erupted with the discrepancy as soon as she tweeted it.
The second relates to a slanderous tweet by writer Catherine Deveny about Cardinal George Pell (here). The context was the Q&A debate where Cardinal Pell had paused between saying “We were preparing young English boys”, and, ‘for Holy Communion”. Deveny pounced on that paused and insinuated in a tweet that Pell condoned pedophilia. As a result, Pell threatened to sue Twitter, at which point Deveny issued an apology. However, her apology seems to me to be loaded with hidden barbs. Read it for yourself:
“Clearly it was significant enough hurt and embarrassment caused for him to lawyer up and spend the Catholic Church’s money to pursue defamation action against Twitter and me,” she wrote.
“There must have been deep deliberation over the decision to spend thousands of dollars of parishioners’ money on legal fees.
“Spending money that could have been spent feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless or alleviating suffering, instead of on defamation litigation, clearly illustrates how serious the breach I allegedly committed was in the eyes of Cardinal Pell.”
In both incidences, “sorry” does seem to be the hardest word (thanks Elton John). Why couldn’t the South African model just apologise unreservedly? If racism wasn’t it her nature, then where did it come from? It’s not good enough to assert, as she did, that it happened when she was frustrated and angry. I would have thought that it’s in times of stress that our true nature comes out. Clearly, racism was in her nature and she should have just stopped with a repentant ‘I’m sincerely sorry and I have no excuses.”
In the other case, why couldn’t Deveny just swallow her pride and say an unreserved ‘sorry’ without simultaneously taking a swipe at the Catholic Church once again? To me, her apology was so passive-aggressive that I commend the graciousness of Cardinal Pell even to accept it.
All of this turns the question back to us: do we apologise with a series of ‘but…’s and excuses? How many times have I apologised to my wife only to subtly (or not so subtly) defend myself in the process? In so doing, not only are we undermining the sincerity of our apology, we’re also heard as saying “it’s your fault”, or, “you (or the situation) made me do it”.
Those who have been liberated by the gospel to receive God’s grace don’t need to make excuses. As Tim Keller is often quoted: ‘We are more wicked than we ever dared believe but at the same time more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope.” When we sin, whether against God or others, we ought to come with unreserved apologies: “I’m sorry. I have no excuses. This was in my nature and my broken nature needs God’s grace and yours. Please forgive me.”
Jesus calls that spirit of mournfulness and brokenness ‘blessed’ (Matthew 5:3-4).