Tuesday, February 26, 2008

All About Apologies, Part 1

The process of biblical same-mindedness often involves dealing with offenses which parties have committed against each other and which need to be made right. Apologizing and forgiving are the two relational tools God prescribes for just such an occasion.

Apologizing refers to a wide range of responses an offender might direct to a person or persons he has offended. Deborah Levi, an expert in mediation and negotiation, suggests four types of apologies:

1. tactical - recognizing a victim's plight in order to make him or her more agreeable to some desired resolution;
2. explanation - offering an excuse to make the offended party understand the nature and motivation of the offending behavior;
3. formalistic - simply doing what is required by the situation or by an authority;
4. happy ending - taking responsibility or signaling remorse.

Researchers Jennifer Brown and Jennifer Robbennolt offer an alternative way of categorizing apologies based on "whose regard is of central concern": the offender, the offended, or a third-party. If we were to combine the two approaches, we might place tactical and explanation apologies under the category of those for which the central concern is the offender. Formalistic apologies would fit under the category for which the central concern is a third party, and happy ending apologies under the category focused on the offended.

The four categories reveal why so many Christian counselors do not like to use the term apologize to describe an offender's biblical responsibility to acknowledge the nature and consequences of his offending behavior. There is only a one-in-four chance that an apology will actually fulfill what many see as its only legitimate purpose: that is, to take responsibility and signal remorse.

The behavior of taking responsibility for some harm one has committed and signaling remorse seems communicated best by the biblical word repent. However, the original NT word for repent is broader than simply taking responsibility and signaling remorse. Repent also communicates intentions and behaviors associated with all three of the other categories of apology. So if we want to understand the biblical process of same-mindedness, we'll have to look more carefully at all four categories. Along the way, it also would be a good idea to examine the question of when during the process of coming to same-mindedness should apologies be issued? At the beginning? Near the end? Or at some other time?

Perhaps the best place to begin a more detailed discussion of apologizing is with a clear statement of its function in relation to biblical same-mindedness. The purpose of an apology (or of "saying I'm sorry", or of "asking for forgiveness") is to express guilt and responsibility or to explain one's behavior in relation to the violation of a biblical standard, and to affirm one's commitment to conform to the standard in the future, out of loving regard for both God and the offended person.

You might be able to improve on my statement. Nevertheless, it begins with the idea of "expressing guilt and responsibility or explaining one's behavior in relation to the violation of a biblical standard." Doing this is serious business. One writer suggests a series of questions to ask oneself introspectively prior to issuing any apology:

"What mistakes did I make?
Did I dismiss another person, their wishes, feelings, or ideas?
Did I take credit when it was not due?
Why did I do this?
Was it an impulsive, thoughtless act?
Was it calculated?
Was it a result of my fear, anger, or frustration?
What was my motivation?
How long have I let this go on? Is this the first or repeated time? Is this behavior becoming a pattern in my life?
What is the truth I am not dealing with?
Am I better than this?"*

To these questions we might add:

What does the Bible say about this type of behavior?

Is this the way I would treat Jesus himself?
What does this behavior say about my relationship to the Lord?
Is this something I want to be known for before men? Before God?

The purpose of questions like these is to prod us into taking the goals of apologizing seriously right from the start.

To be continued...

(next week's blog will focus on other specific aspects of the purpose of apologies especially in relation to repentance)

Application and Discussion Questions:
1. Has someone ever apologized to you in a hollow way? Describe what happened and how it made you feel.
2. Search the Scriptures for examples of the various kinds of apology: tactical, explanation, formalistic, happy-ending. What do learn from these biblical examples (both good and bad)?
3. Make an effort to talk with other members of your ministry team about the questions to use for introspection prior to issuing an apology.

Note: For more information on the process of biblical same-mindedness, check out "Where Do We Go From Here: The Path To Biblically Resolving Conflict" by Randal L. Gilmore. Available here.

*See also "Apology in Negotiation" by Jennifer Gerarda Brown and Jennifer K. Robbennolt in The Negotiator's Fieldbook, edited by Schneider and Honeyman. The questions quoted above are attributed in the article to Ken Blanchard and Margret McBride and can be found on p 428-29.


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