Sunday, March 25, 2012

Christian apologies

One of the trends among more liberal Christians is to apologize behalf of other Christians.  A recent example is a guest post on Blag Hag.  But I've bookmarked a few older examples.  I also vaguely recall one or two Christian groups at UCLA offering apologies on the main public walkway.

I have a slightly negative reaction to these apologies.  I've criticized religion, but to be honest I don't really expect religious people to apologize in response.  Somehow it just seems like the wrong reaction, a sort of faux pas.   As is frequently the case with these things, it's an emotional reaction, and I need to do some forensics to figure out why I feel that way.

One common objection raised is that people aren't really apologizing for their own actions, they're apologizing on behalf of other people.  One of my examples is about Christians apologizing for pastor Terry Jones, who is famous for burning a copy of the Quran.  It's a well-intentioned sentiment, but it doesn't do what apologies are supposed to do, which is promise improvement.  Most Christians have no power to change Terry Jones' behavior.  The person who should be apologizing is Terry Jones himself.

On the other hand, I feel like there are times when apologizing on behalf of others is appropriate.  If you're at a party, and a friend you brought is misbehaving, you would apologize on their behalf.  There are also public examples of this kind of apology, such as the British PM apologizing for the prosecution of mathematician Alan Turing for homosexuality in 1952.  In this case, the apology is mostly about repudiating the principles that led to Turing's prosecution.  Apologies are a rather complicated social practice, so perhaps the promise of improvement isn't the only legitimate purpose of an apology.

Another common objection raised is that Christians are not really following up on their apologies.  Even when it comes to their own actions, they're failing to really improve things.  One of my examples was about people putting up these signs at a pride parade.

If you look at the people behind these particular signs, you'll see that they explicitly don't take a stance on the question, "Is homosexuality a sin?"  I believe they're trying to be a "bridge" between people who would answer that question in different ways.  Perhaps that is a useful role to play, but it makes me feel that the apologies are dishonest.  They may be sorry, but they're not really trying to be unequivocal LGBT supporters.  It's like they're there just to score points without really deserving those points.

On the other hand, I'm sure plenty of Christians who make apologies really are part of LGBT- and female-friendly churches.

I think my main problem with the apologies is that they're making it about themselves.  They're saying, "Look at me, I'm not like those people. I'm trying to be better!"  They're expecting a reward for being decent human beings.  Sometimes the way it plays out, the next step is to complain that we're not being very appreciative of their hard efforts.  And the next step is to say that it would really help our cause if we weren't so mean to would-be allies.

Oh, and another problem (last one, I promise).  The guest post at Blag Hag said that the church's wrongdoings were contrary to Jesus' teachings.
Those of you who consider yourself atheists are, in my experience, pretty familiar with the things Jesus said, and are even more familiar with the way followers of Jesus, at best disregard and at worst, contradict and insult those teachings. And it probably makes you angry.
This is slightly ignorant, because the mainstream atheism I'm familiar with would not necessarily concede that Jesus was all nicey nicey.  More generally, I don't appreciate the argument that if people practiced Christianity "correctly", then they'd behave a lot better.  That's just an attempt to score points for Christianity, despite the actions of Christians.  I'm not impressed.


Aydan said...

Coming from a feminist and Christian perspective, my view on "apologizing" for others is that it doesn't make a lot of sense, but what does make a whole lot of sense is to say something like "I believe your actions are not in line with our common belief systems and I want to go on record as opposing them." I think that might be what a lot of people are trying to get at.

miller said...

I think that's sensible.